The 18 Best Classic Beach Reads

This weekend is the Friends of the Houston Public Library's 33rd annual bargain book sale, which means it's a great time to stock up on trashy summer reads just in time for Memorial Day. The sale boasts more than 80,000 books, most at $2 or less. Don't get us wrong. Art Attack loves a good, high-brow novel, but just like beach food, sometimes all you want in the summer is something easily digestible and lacking in any real substance (nutritional or otherwise).

Believe it or not, some of the cheesiest books ever written also have some of the biggest cult followings. Some people might even call them classics. Below are our 20 favorite trashy tomes. Just think of them as B-movies, but for the literate. And if we missed your favorite guilty pleasure, leave it in the comments.

Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley by Suzanne Finstad Forget Cilla's own take on her relationship with The King. If you want salacious details from a variety of sources, look no further than Finstad's account of the controversy and cover-ups surrounding the couple. Bonus points? Finstad, who is a lawyer, also wrote a book on her search for a long-lost heir for Houstonian Howard Hughes.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card You know those big summer blockbusters that get released every year? OSC is the literary equivalent of Michael Bay. In this book, the military creates a class of superior fighting human, who must be trained with games to fight off evil aliens. Plus you'll get sci-fi nerd cred for reading something with Card's name on the spine.

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Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann Addictive and vindictive, if you like the feel of Mad Men you'll love the seedy 1950s world Susann paints in this brainless book that actually turned out to be pretty true to life once the late '50s arrived.

Life by Keith Richards Maybe only salacious for its subject matter, Life has gotten rave reviews from readers and music critics since it came out earlier this year. Read it before Keef dies. Just kidding. Keef will never die. And when you're done with Life follow it up with...

I'm with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres One of the original 1960s groupies, Pam has been "associated" with the Stones, was a nanny to Frank Zappa's kids and boned Don Johnson. The book, her first of several and the first to crack the groupie code of silence, contains excerpts from her diary and dishes on pretty much every musician you can think of who was famous from 1965 to 1985.

Hollywood Babylon: The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets by Kenneth Anger Remember that B-movie analogy we made up there? Here's where it really comes into play. Anger, a child actor who later became an art-film director often cited as an influence of David Lynch and John Waters, wrote this book in 1959 (!) revealing some of the darkest secrets of the Silver Screen's golden years. Half the stories are probably not true -- in fact, it's 100 percent gossip -- but that doesn't make them any less compelling.

 

The 18 Best Classic Beach Reads

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist Shun the Twilight trend with this lesser-known Swedish best-seller about a loner boy and his oddball friend. The book is a lightening-fast read when you aren't bogging yourself down in depression over the topics it touches on -- addiction, loneliness, pedophilia and existentialism. It is, after all, named after a Morrissey song. When you're finished, you can watch both versions of the movie, the Swedish on and the English-language one.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding Why the sequel? The first one wasn't trashy enough.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry Charles Manson's prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi wrote the best-selling true-crime book of all time in an effort to understand the power Charlie had over his Manson Family minions. Why read this when you're hanging out by the pool? Where would you rather read it, in your dark bedroom at night?

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews This controversial novel's plot gets so convoluted it's hard to sum it up, but here goes: Incest on multiple levels, murder, intrigue and inheritance. It's like a soap opera in dead tree form.

Mommy Dearest by Christina Crawford One of the very first celebrity tell-all books, inspiring an entire generation of drag queens. After you read this, you'll never look at a wire hanger the same way again.

Stories Set in the World of NASCAR by Harlequin Romances Yes, such a thing exists. Aren't you even just a little bit curious?

 

The 18 Best Classic Beach Reads

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal Gore Vidal's cult classic about a transsexual was dubbed pornographic at the time, and the resulting film (starring no ballsier of an actress than Raquel Welch) caused riots at theaters. Now it's viewed as a satire of male-dominated culture and Hollywood norms.

Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice Rice was writing vampire fiction before vampire fiction was cool. This first novel is probably the best in her series, and gets bonus points for its Gulf Coast setting.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe Wolfe's deeply researched account of the daredevil test pilots and speed demons (including Chuck Yeager) who trained to become the first men in space will give you a certain knowledge and pride in the NASA program you've never known before. Those guys were 100 percent pure badasses.

Elvis, Jesus and Coca-Cola by Kinky Friedman Or really, any murder mystery by the cheeky Kinky Friedman, if only because it's fun to ask yourself, "What would Kinky do?" Also, why the hell not?

The Call of the Weird: Encounters with Survivalists, Porn Stars, Alien Killers, and Ike Turner by Louis Theroux If you can't afford a true vacation this summer, you can let Louis Theroux (son of noted travel writer Paul Theroux) take you to some of the strangest places in America. A perfect read if you've eve wanted to feel really, really normal.

Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence Trust us, you'll want the "unexpunged" edition. Lawrence's novel detailing the love affair between a wealthy woman and a lower-class man was banned in six countries, including the typically laissez-faire Canada, for it's explicit sexual scenes. Wikipedia states it contained "unprintable words" which is he funniest, most non-sensical phrase we can think of. The book is now considered a triumphant depiction of women's sexuality and likely paved the way for all those Harlequin romances you should pass over instead.

Admittedly, some of these books are out of print or hard to find. Your best bet for scoring the HPL book sale's choicest picks is to become a member of the Friends of HPL. For $20, you'll be giving money to a severely cash-strapped institution, and you'll also get access to the early-bird sale on Friday (Protip: memberships are available at the door). If you wait until the end of the weekend, Sunday is the free-for-all known as "bag day," where $10 gets you a sack (provided by Friends of HPL) in which you can take home anything you can cram into it.

Friends of the Houston Public Library Book Sale, May 13-15, George R. Brown Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A. 4:30-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.


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