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18 best novels and books right now about life on Martha’s Vineyard

best Martha's Vineyard books

What are the best Martha’s Vineyard books? Here are 18 of our favorite books – including novels, mysteries, island history and inside takes on the black community – that are either about or set on Martha’s Vineyard. If you’re wondering what to read before you visit Martha’s Vineyard – or how to recapture some of the glow after you return home – these are great places to start.

What are the best novels and books about life on Martha’s Vineyard?

For people who love Martha’s Vineyard, the answer to the question about the best Martha’s Vineyard books is pretty simple. They’re the ones that immediately transport us there, even when summer is long over and we’re far away from our beloved island.

Or books that reveal some new element of the place that makes us love it even more (if such a thing is possible).

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Happily, there are several excellent authors among the regular visitors and residents of the Island. So unsurprisingly, there’s a shelf full of equally excellent books that are either set on Martha’s Vineyard, or that are about life on Martha’s Vineyard.

what to read Martha's Vineyard

Our picks for the 16 best novels and books to read set on or about life on Martha’s Vineyard.

The toughest decision you’ll have is which one to read first.

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the best novels and books set on or about Martha’s Vineyard

Novels, poems, island history, inside takes on the black community and even cookbooks, here are 18 of our favorite  books about life on Martha’s Vineyard.

1. The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen Carter.

 

books to read set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, including island history and the black elite.

The Emperor of Ocean Park  is a novel set in two privileged worlds: the upper crust African American society of the Eastern Seaboard—the black elite families who summer on Martha’s Vineyard—and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school.

When the family patriarch, Judge Oliver Garland – a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee – is found dead under suspicious circumstances, his son must risk his marriage, his career and even his life in his quest for justice. This first novel from Carter, who is a professor at Yale Law School, remains a classic. This is a great novel to read if you want to immerse yourself in life on Martha’s Vineyard, especially if you’re interested in the history of the black elite on the island.

BUY NOW: $10.15.

2. Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman.

 

The best novels and books set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Illumination Night  brings a fiction writer’s sense of whimsy to what is already a magical annual ritual on Martha’s Vineyard: the Grand Illumination at the Campground in Oak Bluffs. It’s a wonderful novel to add to your collection of books set on Martha’s Vineyard.

The novel illuminates six lives, all in varying states of distress. Vonny is a potter and young mother preoccupied with her son Simon’s apparent failure to grow normally. She also fears that her husband Andre is cheating on her. Possibly with Jody, their teen-age neighbor, who has been sent to care for her grandmother, Elizabeth. After years of not seeing much, the elderly Elizabeth suddenly sees everything. And then there’s the mysterious Giant, somewhat taller than the tallest of basketball players. He hides his sorrow by staying hidden, painting miniatures, and nighttime gardening.

The six connect and disengage in surprising ways, as people living on a small island sometimes do. The New York Times review concludes: “this is a novel irradiated with color and heat and filled with the spookiness of ordinary things.

BUY NOW: $10.99.

3. Vineyard Voices by Linsey Lee.

 

Vineyard Voices: Words, Faces and Voices of Island People is one of the books we recommend when people ask us what to read to better understand Martha’s Vineyard. It’s an excellent series of oral histories.

Historian Linsey Lee has made it her life’s work to capture the oral histories of Martha’s Vineyard residents. Her third volume of oral history, The Third Vineyard Voices: Words, Faces and Voices of Island People has just been published, and is the focus of an exhibit at the newly-reopened at Martha’s Vineyard Museum. You can purchase a copy at the museum shop.

This new volume includes portraits and stories of 66 Vineyarders, whose voices help chronicle the last 100 years on the Vineyard. The Museum notes that the new book takes readers “from World War II to West Tisbury barn cats, from the Mooncusser to the Marine hospital, all in the voices of fishermen, writers, teachers, musicians and environmentalists.”

All three books are marvelous ways to understand the history of the island and the unique haven Martha’s Vineyard has been for the black community.

BUY NOW: $27.79.

4. Finding Martha’s Vineyard by Jill Nelson.

 

books to read set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, including island history and the black elite.

Finding Martha’s Vineyard: African Americans at Home on an Island is another one of the books that are about or that are set on Martha’s Vineyard – many featuring the history of the black community – that are a perfect addition to your collection.

Nelson employs photographs, personal narrative, memories, and historical detail to convey the special magic of the island. And the black families who have summered or lived there for generations. As a summer and occasional year-round resident of Oak Bluffs for decades, this is a heartfelt insider’s story of life on the Vineyard.

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5. Casting into the Light by Janet Messineo.

 

The best novels and books set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Casting into the Light: Tales of a Fishing Life is a memoir of one of the few female striped bass fishermen (fisherwomen?) on Martha’s Vineyard.  The author shares the journey she took over several years to join the male-dominated fishing community on the island.

The author worked as a waiter at the Black Dog, Helios, and the Home Port by day and learned to fish by night (striped bass fishing is always done after dark). Her stories of the men she fished with – and the women who created a path for others – are fascinating. The book ends, perhaps fittingly, with eighteen of the author’s favorite fish recipes.

BUY NOW: $17.49.

6. Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.

 

Caleb’s Crossing is a novel based a true story, written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. It illuminates a fascinating slice of Vineyard history. Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660’s amid a small band of English Puritans. She meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond. Caleb eventually becomes the first Native American graduate of Harvard College.

BUY NOW: $13.99.

7. Midnight Farm by Carly Simon.

 

The best novels and books set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

One of our most beloved retail stores on Martha’s Vineyard was the now-shuttered Midnight Farm in Vineyard Haven. Founded by singer Carly Simon, it was a charming shop filled with all kinds of things you never knew you needed: books, candles, wall decor, clocks, and other ephemera.

Sadly, it closed several years ago. The spirit of the store lives on, though, in two books that we keep on our shelf at home. The first is Midnight Farm. In this whimsical fable, on a hot summer night, two young brothers join a fantastical nighttime musical extravaganza. Their hosts? The plants and animals on their farm on Martha’s Vineyard.

8. Potluck at Midnight Farm by Tamara Weiss.

 

Potluck at Midnight Farm: Celebrating Food, Family and Friends on Martha’s Vineyard distills the spirit of Midnight Farm into the meals and gatherings that we can all create on the island – or after we return the mainland.

BUY NOW: $10.95.

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9. Poems from the Pond by Peggy Freydberg, edited by Laurie David.

 

Poems From The Pond: 107 Years of Words and Wisdom – The Writings of Peggy Freydberg is a wonderful read about life on Martha’s Vineyard. Freydberg began writing a lifetime’s worth of poems at the age of 90. Thereby proving that its never too late to find your inner voice and share it with others. She writes of life, love, fear, aging, and loss.All with the delicate beauty and melancholy of the Vineyard’s hushed spaces after summer is gone. 

10. By Vineyard Light by Rose Styron.

 

By Vineyard Light is another beautiful collection of poems about the Vineyard is written by Rose Styron. A long-time summer visitor, she began her sojourns there in 1959. The poetry evokes ocean waves, lighthouses, and the lantern-lit night of the Grand Illumination. Styron writes eloquently of oxen on a farm Up Island, foggy Chilmark Pond, and the limbs of an ancient oak tree in West Tisbury. In this lovely volume, photographs of the landscape further illuminate her words. It’s a serene virtual tour of this little slice of heaven.

11. To the New Owners by Madeleine Blais.

 

To the New Owners: A Martha’s Vineyard Memoir by Madeleine Blais. In the 1970’s, the author’s in-laws purchased what was at the time a shack on the shore of Tisbury Great Pond. For decades, although the structure became larger, there was no heat, television, or phone service. Just starry nights and meals with friends by candlelight. In 2014, the family sold the house. This memoir memorializes the home that Blais’s family created there over generations, and the island life they cherished.

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12. The Morning Glory Farm books by Tom Dunlop and Alison Shaw.

Another beloved shop that is a must-visit whenever we’re on the island is Morning Glory Farm in the Katama section of Edgartown. Fresh produce, eggs, baked goods, honey, coffee, sunflowers – it’s farm-to-table summer ready to be served up on a plate.

Two books are perfect ways to relive the joy of a visit.

Morning Glory Farm: And the Family that Feeds an Island by Tom Dunlop and Alison Shaw.

And Morning Glory’s Farm Food: Stories from the Fields, Recipes from the Kitchen by Gabrielle Redner and Alison Shaw.

The first book is the story of how the iconic farm came to exist 30 years ago, along with 70 recipes. The second is comprised of recipes from chef Robert Lionette of the farm’s kitchen. And some favorite recipes from home cooks around the Island.

13. Vineyard Harvest by Tina Miller, Christie Matheson, and Alison Shaw.

 

Author Tina Miller grew up on the Vineyard as the daughter of one of the founders of the Black Dog restaurant. Later, she became a chef in her own right. Whether you love to cook – or like us, just love to read cookbooks – Vineyard Harvest: A Year of Good Food on Martha’s Vineyard is a perfect addition to your bookshelf.

BUY NOW: $49.95.

14. Behind the Times on Purpose by Nina Bramhall.

 

The Charlotte Inn is one of the loveliest small luxury hotels we’ve ever seen. Not just on Martha’s Vineyard, but in the whole world. It’s like staying in a grand country house in Europe. Except that all of the joys of Martha’s Vineyard are just outside your door. The coffee table book Behind the Times on Purpose: The Charlotte Inn of Martha’s Vineyard is a perfect read before you go or after you return from a visit to Martha’s Vineyard. Whether you stay there or not.

15. Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham.

 

books to read set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, including island history and the black elite.

Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class is always at the top of our list when people ask us what to read before visiting Martha’s Vineyard. Full disclosure: the author is my late beloved husband.

This is the definitive account of the experiences and legacy of African-Americans who have occupied the top economic and social rungs in the black community. For generations, Martha’s Vineyard has served as the epicenter for summer gatherings and vacations for this group. This is one of the best books to read if you want to immerse yourself in life on Martha’s Vineyard, especially if you’re interested in the history of the black elite on the island.

It’s also really of-the-moment: this fall Executive producer Lee Daniels will launch a television drama based on Our Kind of People on Fox (home of Empire), starring Morris Chestnut, Yaya DaCosta, Nadine Ellis, and Joe Morton.

BUY NOW: $15.00.

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16. Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin.

 

books to read set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, including island history and the black elite.

Our friend Sunny Hostin is a triple threat: television host, lawyer and novelist. In her first entry in a planned series of three novels, Summer on the Bluffs, we are transported to Martha’s Vineyard and into the heart of a family in distress. This is a great novel to read if you want to immerse yourself in life on Martha’s Vineyard, especially if you’re interested in the history of the black elite on the island.

BUY NOW: $20.75.

17. Martha’s Vineyard New Island Homes by Keith Moskow and Robert Linn.

 

The best novels and books set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard

Who can resist a good volume of real estate porn? Reading New Island Homes is almost as good as randomly driving around and ogling the gorgeous homes that hug the shore. Maybe it’s even better, actually – no fear of getting in trouble for trespassing!

This is an insider’s view of twenty-five new houses on the island that extend the traditional Vineyard shingled houses and cottages into new directions. Some reference nautical themes, others environmental concerns, and still others appropriateness of materials and scale.

18. The Wedding by Dorothy West.

 

books to read set on or about life on Martha's Vineyard, including island history and the black elite.

It is fitting to end our list of the best fiction and non-fiction books that are about or that are set on Martha’s Vineyard – many featuring the history of the black community – with West’s iconic final novel. In The Wedding, she offers her own intimate glimpse into black life on Martha’s Vineyard, this time in the ’50’s.

Set in “the Oval,” a proud community of the best and brightest of the East Coast’s black community, the prominent Coles family gathers for the wedding of daughter Shelby.  With “a whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions,” Shelby agrees to marry a white jazz musician from New York. The resulting shock wave forces the Coles and their neighbors to grapple with their dearest beliefs about community, family and love.

BUY NOW: $16.00.

What are the best books about and on Martha’s Vineyard?

Those are our picks for the best novels and books to read that are set on or that are about life on Martha’s Vineyard, including island history and the black elite. Any of these are a great solution to what to read before or after you visit Martha’s Vineyard. What’s on your list, dear reader?

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