Happy Birthday Jaws! It's been 40 years since you first scared the bejeezus out of everyone close enough to an ocean to smell the sea breeze. Although it took me quite some time to get around to watching the 1975 cult classic (as an impressionable scaredy cat with a love of the ocean, Jaws didn't initially seem like a wise choice), eventually my love of animatronic monsters and B movies made Spielberg's summer epic simply irresistible.
I broke down, dove in, and nothing has been the same since. Even now, as I sit couch-side, curled up in a blanket, and hundreds of miles from any major body of water, just humming those menacing few bars to myself sends shivers down my spine. Rarely does a film have the raw power to turn people away from the beach on a hot summer day, or induce panic in a crowd at a moments notice. But after 40 years, Jaws still has it.
So, whether you're celebrating the anniversary of the cult classic from the shores of your local beach or the safety of the great indoors, these nine books are the perfect way to summon the magic, horror, and sheer summer fun the one and only Jaws.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
No one evokes the bracing sting of salt water or the quiet, coursing hum of island life quite like Ernest Hemingway. Minimal and masculine in tone, The Old Man and the Sea harkens back to the quiet life of Spielberg's fictional Amity Island before the first attack while also tackling on an altogether different story of terror in the water. Bracing, gripping, and all-engrossing, Hemingway's maritime masterpiece is the perfect celebration of men, oceans, and monsters.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
In the decades since Jaws first leapt out at audiences from the big screen we've learned a great deal about the quiet grace and the warm dignity of sharks. Although the 40th anniversary of Jaws might not be the right time to contemplate a quick swim with the hammerheads, Scott O'Dell's riveting story of one girl's isolated life on an island she shares only with the animals puts the relationship between man and the sea into much-needed perspective. Building a home of whale bones, taming a feral dog, and hunting the elusive devil-fish, Karana tames the seas in ways Quint and Hooper never could, which makes this story of girl power at the edge of the ocean all the more compelling.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has a reputation as enduring as the Jaws legacy, and for good reason. Jules Verne was not only a master of the epic adventure story, but also a camp auteur capable of weaving the strange, mysterious, and utterly unbelievable into timeless tales that have captivated audiences for generations. If you're looking for an adventure story on the high seas to rival the Spielberg shark hunt, try out 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Although it isn't technically about hunting or fishing, Melissa Bank's spirited, boisterous collection of short stories is one of the only books on this list that I actually read on the beach, and perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the summer spirit that Jaws interrupts with those pearly whites. If you enjoyed the hint of sweet summer love wafting throughout Jaws, settle in with The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing to recapture the magic, wonder, and many complications of growing up.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Stylistically, Moby-Dick and Jaws don't have much in common, but as tales of the hunt these two epic adventures are startlingly similar. If after your anniversary screening you're just not willing to let the adrenaline die down, pull Mob- Dick off the shelf and settle in for another wild ride.
The Vampire of Venice Beach by Jennifer Colt
Jaws earns its B movie status with animatronics and explosions while The Vampire of Venice Beach achieves the same effect through the campy detective work of the McAfee twins on the hunt for a fanged menace devastating the population of Venice Beach. If you're looking to relive Jaws for the pure summer thrills and heightened aesthetics, this delightful mystery novel is sure to do the trick.
The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever
When I think "Jaws" I remember screaming masses and empty beeches but also that intoxicating, lazy, hazy feel of life in a small town New England life — exactly the feeling bubbling up from John Cheever's incomparable family drama set within the eccentric confines of a Massachusetts fishing village. So, if you're looking to summon the spirit of Amity Island without ever leaving your couch, The Wapshot Chronicle should just do the trick.
The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
Let a little more murder into your life with Stephen Carter's New England saga of family, summer, and death under suspicious circumstances. Although there are no sharks to speak of in The Emperor of Ocean Park, the emotional roller coaster and the unrelenting thrills you loved about Jaws are all jam-packed into this memorable mystery.
Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand
It all begins on a warm summer evening as swarthy teens pour onto Nantucket beaches to celebrate the coming summer — and if that doesn't remind you of a certain memorable opening scene, you my friend have not been paying close enough attention. Follow Hilderbrand down a dark and disturbing path through a summer that changes lives forever, and make the 40th anniversary of Jaws your own with this captivating, emotionally rich, and devastatingly evocative novel.
Image: Universal Studios