I don’t know about everybody else, but one of my favorite things to do on vacation is to tan, and to read while doing so. And not every book has to be deemed “breezy” or “for the beach” for you to actually read it in the sand with your shades on — I’m a firm believer in quality over, well, anything really.

So while not every book on this list will be sunny and optimistic, it’s easy reading and great writing that will keep your mind working instead of frying from the sun. Here’s my list of book recommendations for when you’re bored on a family vacation, relaxing with your literary-appreciative friends or looking for a way to be productive while poolside.

“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes
Nostalgic and bittersweet, this book reveals the story of a man as he ages from childhood to adulthood. Forced to face one of his oldest friends and, subsequently, his first flame, he must deal with the way his past affects his future. I won’t say more because the road to discovery is beautifully written and surprising. Barnes tells this subtle but worthwhile story in only 163 pages, so you’ll finish it quicker than you can shake out your beach towel.

“I’ve Got Your Number” by Sophie Kinsella (or anything by her for that matter)
This is Kinsella’s latest novel, and it’s as great as all of her others. A fun, fast-paced and witty read, this is chick-lit at its best. The book follows a woman in her twenties who accidentally steals the phone of an employee of a good-looking, mysterious businessman. At the same time, she loses her engagement ring, which belongs to her pretentious fiancé’s family. All of this leads up to shocking surprises and characters that you’ll find yourself rooting for. It’s everything you could want in a page-turner at the beach.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
Purely on the list because I just jumped on the Foer train. As soon as I watched the movie adaptation, I picked up the book and fell in love with this intricate story of a young boy, whose father died in 9/11, who searches around New York City extensively looking for a lock that goes with the key his father left behind. It’s a heart-warming story, written imaginatively and filled with lasting images, that I think is worth reading whether it’s at the beach or in front of the air conditioner.

“Gossip Girl” by Cecily von Ziegesar
Go back to basics. When I do want that aforementioned quick, breezy read, I always turn to “Gossip Girl.” While the TV show might be a dying fad, rereading the first novel is always refreshing. What better way to enjoy the sun and ocean than to read about the scandalous and obnoxious lives of Upper East Siders? One thing they can be jealous of: they’re not at the beach with you, but stuck in their overpriced penthouses and apartments.

“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
The subject matter seems immediately depressing — the true story of a woman who grew up in a funeral home run by her late father, who was strict in life and even more frustrating in death. But the most interesting part of this autobiographical book is that it’s a graphic memoir — Bechdel wrote and drew the memoir in its entirety. So if your eyes aren’t up for small font and a time-consuming read, Bechdel’s non-fiction masterpiece is just as fulfilling.