A good beach read is a light page-turner that you read in your lounge chair by the sea. Right? Well, sometimes. These are a bit different. These books are guaranteed to increase your appreciation of the sea. Bring one of these on your next coastal sojourn—even if they’re a bit meatier than the latest thriller.
Beyond the Outer Shores by Eric Enno Tam
No tropics here: you’ll hear about the astonishing coastal explorations of Ed Ricketts, a largely self-taught, hard-drinking zoologist who plied the tidepools of Monterey and the cold, rainy coast of British Columbia. The warm that’s missing from the water, though, is more than made up for in the warmth of a unique and powerful friendship between Ricketts and his drinking buddies and collaborators: locals John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell (you may have heard of them). Many late nights and untold bottles of booze later, the trio had revolutionized two fields, written the great American novel and landed a Nobel Prize.
The Log From the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
Another product of the collaboration was Steinbeck and Ricketts renting a boat and traveling along the Baja coast. More than an ordinary ship’s log, the travelogue pairs two of the best observers in recent history: Ricketts of the natural world, and Steinbeck’s unparalleled ability to plumb human nature.
The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux
This book is guaranteed to make you want to take a leave of absence from your job, grab a folding kayak and head for Polynesia. You probably can’t do that, but Theroux will still take you on a page-turning journey that spans everything from paddling the tropical seas with sharks to hobnobbing with Tongan monarchs and visiting with island cargo cults.
Pacific High by Tim Palmer
It’s easy to forget that the entire Pacific Coast from Baja to half of Alaska is a single mountain range. Based out of a converted van, river rat Tim Palmer reminds us. He turns coastal, tracing the spine of the crinkly edge of the Pacific on the edge of North America from Baja to Kodiak Island, Alaska. His journeys include everything from the timber country of northern California to the shorelines of Southern California, and everywhere in between.
Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina
Song for the Blue Ocean is also a beach read, but one of a different sort. You’ll spend time on tropical beaches, with fishermen hunting for giant tuna and in the deepest undersea depth. Part odyssey, part science, part political manifesto, you’ll never look at the ocean the same way again.
A Paddler’s Journey by Bryant Burkhardt
Bryant Burkhardt is a follower of the past less travelled. Unlike Safina, who writes from the relatively secure position of an endowed chair at Stonybrook University, Burkhardt chose to forgo a dependable income to pursue his love of kayaking. His personal reflections go well beyond the highs and lows and joys and fears of the sea in an honest reflection of what it takes to chart an atypical, but passion-filled course through life.
The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
In 1997, an unemployed forest engineer named Grant Hadwin carefully swam across a river in the Queen Charlotte Islands under the cover of night, packing a chainsaw. His purpose was to fell the Golden Spruce, a tree sacred to the Haida. His strange reasoning, the ripple effects of his act and what became of Hadwin are a fascinating—and true—story about a fascinating place and the intersection of cultures.