Un-beach Books

I’ve always been irked by those lists of “beach reads” that turn up online and in magazines every summer.  In the first place, it’s difficult to actually enjoy the experience of reading while on a beach.   You get put368px-Riza-yi-Abbasi_008 off by the glare, the blowing sand, your children who stand around and drip on you.  The only time I really took pleasure in reading at the beach, it was a subversive pleasure.  I lived in a seaside town where the public library was ruled over by one of those martinets who is drawn to the profession through a love of order rather than a love of books.  Every volume in her library had a sticker affixed that admonished patrons against taking books to the beach.   So I made the most of thwarting her, sitting by the surf, happily turning the pages of stickered book after stickered book.

Anyway, if you’re going to paste warnings on library books, it seems to me there are more dire fates than a day at the beach.  How about reading in the bathtub and falling asleep while your borrowed edition of Gilead slides gently into the jojoba-oiled waters?  But, I digress.

The bigger problem with most of these lists is the very idea of what makes a good beach read.  Gilead would not be likely to make the cut.  Nor would Middlemarch.  Or  Look Homeward, Angel.  Or My Antonia.  Or even a single collection of Alice Munro stories.  We are pointed instead towards the frothy, the bloody, the haunted, the futuristic.  There’s nothing wrong with this, except for the implicit suggestion that good literature is such hard work that we deserve a vacation from it.

Someday, perhaps, I’ll publish my own subversive list of beach reading.  But, on the whole, I think we might stop making lists and just read whatever, wherever, whenever our hearts desire.  The best books are the ones that take you on a vacation anytime — even after Labor Day.

 

–Suzanne Freeman, fiction editor

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