Rebecca Ascher-Walsh names five novels that are perfect for the beach

June 12, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

EW’s best summer books — part 2

When it comes to summer reads, I’m in complete agreement with our book editor, Tina Jordan, who shared her faves last week. But I would put another five up there with her seven picks — novels that are so perfectly suited to the season that neither sand flies, heatstroke, nor ”Survivor” reruns will make you look up from their pages. (They are listed in alphabetical order.)

1. Back Roads, by Tawni O’Dell OK, so Oprah has named it as one of her books, but I read it first. Contrary to what we’ve come to expect of the talk show queen’s selects, I don’t think this story of a young boy struggling to raise his three sisters in poverty-stricken Western Pennsylvania will change your life, but you’ll be delighted to make the characters’ acquaintance.

2. The Binding Chair or, A Visit From the Foot Emancipation Society, by Kathryn Harrison I’m in the middle of it right now, and have to admit that I’m slightly on the fence about it. (After all, if it were irresistible, I’d be at home under the covers reading it right now, not writing about it.) But Harrison is a magical writer, and her take on a changing Chinese society is fascinating — well worth hauling to the beach for a day or two.

3. The Dress Lodger, by Sheri Holman This is, in many ways, a perfect book for everyone: A beautifully written story about the relationship between a teenage prostitute and a physician set in cholera-infested England, circa 1831. Holman writes elegantly about some really ”oh gross tell me again” aspects of life, at a time when bodies were no sooner put in the ground than they were hauled back up again by grave robbers.

4. The Fig Eater, by Jody Shields Another period book that I promise doesn’t feel even remotely good for you, this novel focuses on the investigation of the murder of a young woman named Dora in Vienna, circa 1910 (yes, Freud’s Dora). Again, it pays equally thorough attention to both suspense and relationships, á la ”The Alienist,” and is hypnotically written. The only caveat: ”The Fig Eater” falls apart in the last 50 pages, although what precedes is well worth the slight disappointment at the end.

5. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick This nonfiction account of the shipping disaster that inspired ”Moby Dick” makes ”The Perfect Storm” look like milquetoast. It’s the ultimate ”man against the sea” epic, complete with — can you stand it? — cannibalism. And you thought it was gross to see the Survivors eating rats.

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