Beach Reading

Every year, dozens of places release their “beach reading” lists or thinkpieces about beach reading come out of the woodwork for the summer season. Many of them cause some amount of eye rolling.

We recently received an email from Reader Big K:

I saw this piece in the Boston Globe, and I thought I’d check it out to look for some books for an upcoming vacation.

Categories included: literature, non-fiction, mysteries, and sports. Seriously? I love three of those four categories, but if you are going to break down summer beach reading past fiction and non-fiction, I need the Globe to include romance. To add insult to injury, at least a couple of the books in the “literature” category are sci-fi/fantasy, but NONE of them seem to be romances. I apologize if you did this already and I missed it, but would you please send out a list of beach reads for the summer? The Blue Castle, for instance, which you guys just reviewed, would be a great beach read. My sister and I read that one every year. Ilona Andrews’ last book in her most recent series is coming out in August, so people could read the first two and then devour the last one. ?

I’m going to write the Globe now — sports but no romance? Are we still having this conversation?

Sarah: I’ve talked about this before, and it’s never a problem to mentally project myself onto a beach and ask myself, “What do you feel like reading?”

I love beaches, and I love reading, so really, I can play this game all day long. For me, a beach read is almost always a romance (guaranteed HEA all the way!) and is usually one that’s funny or on the lighter side, without a lot of dark emotional angst or wrenching tragedy. I don’t read that on a normal day, so I’ve schlepped myself to a sandy, waterfront location, and remembered the sunscreen, I don’t want to cry and worry and get anxious.

Now that I think about it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, I have a few very vivid memories of the beach in New Jersey, and the ocean trying to eat my library copy of Rising Tides by Nora Roberts.

Atlantic Ocean: You want Rising Tides? Yeah? I’ll show you rising tides. Fuggedabahadit.

Most of Nora Roberts’ contemporaries (not the suspense and not the ParaNoras) were my go-to beach reading when I was younger. I’d borrow at least one trilogy from the library and read straight through. I remember reading the Chesapeake trilogy (before it became a quartet) in a beach chair, and the Born In series as well – plus Naked in Death ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ), back when my brain wasn’t so easily undone by entrails, suspense, violence, and murder.

A good beach read is one that I can dip in and out of easily (again, like the ocean), and my preference is for comedy with excellent dialogue and smart characters doing intelligent things. There’s a considerable amount of overlap in my “comfort reading” and “beach reading” requirements, in part because both are indulgences with a specific task in mind: relaxation.

So for my recommendations, here are a few:

No surprises here: Act Like It and Pretty Face by Lucy Parker ( A | BN | K | iB ). I’ve re-read them many times, and am still charmed.

Kate Noble’s Summer of You ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) is still one of my favorite historicals, and it says ‘Summer’ right there in the title. IT’S A SIGN.

And most recently, Shelly Laurenston and the Call of Crows series ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ) were great beach reads, in part because of the unabashed silliness of some of the crows, and the inspiration that I derive from watching women kick all kinds of ass together.

Elyse – would you recommend Jennifer McQuiston’s Summer is for Lovers, for historical beach reading?

RHG: This past weekend, I was at Nahant beach reading Petra Durst-Benning’s The American Lady ( A | BN ), the second book in the Glassblower Trilogy recommended at our Reader Rec Party at RT. Would recommend! (Honestly, I brought three books with me, because what if I didn’t like one? I do not bring my kindle to the beach, not even in a plastic bag.)

I agree that a beach read needs to be light, both in density and angst. The beach is a distracting place. At the beach I regularly go to, there’s usually at least three soccer games going, with some fine specimens of humanity, (shirts optional). You have to be prepared to defend your snacks against marauding seagulls. There’s also swimming! These are all very distracting things, so I can’t take something that is going to require concentration. And I often want something on the happier side of things, because the beach is happy place.

So I would suggest Sarah MacLean’s Numbers series ( A | K | G | iB | Scribd ) or Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ) or something by Caroline Linden or Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).

Remember your sunscreen!

Amanda: I am not a fan of the beach. It’s hot. Bathing suits are uncomfortable. Sand gets in every crevice. Bringing a book is the one solace I get, being able to do something I enjoy while trying to fight being miserable.

As RHG mentioned, there are a million distractions at the beach and, if you go with friends or family (and they’re anything like mine), they won’t stop pestering you until you go in the water at least once. So bringing something that you can easily pick up and put down is a good idea. Maybe don’t bring a book with a plot that requires a ton of undivided attention and, of course, that varies by reader.

One series that I’m totally over the moon for is Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, which Big K suggested. The first book is Burn for Me ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ). It has magic and a great cast of fun characters. There’s also a lot of fireballs being thrown about, which is perfect when you’re roasting out in the sun.

Anthologies are a good pick-up and put-down sort of reading. Unfortunately, a lot of anthologies I’ve read or seen are pretty Kindle-dependent, if you don’t want to mix technology and the elements. Me? I don’t mind bringing my Kindle to the beach since my presence around water is slim to none. I just want to read and nap on a towel.

I’d also suggest Christina Lauren, namely The Wild Seasons series. They have a good mix of romance and humor, plus plenty of sexy times. The covers are all bright and colorful too!

Elyse: For me beach reading is vacation reading because, while there are beaches near me, they are on the Great Lakes and the water temp is 50 degrees on a good day. My husband and I try to vacation somewhere warm and tropical every winter to break up the long gray months.

When I travel I try to pack light, but I don’t like using my tablet by the pool, so I usually try to go with mass market paperbacks that I can leave at the hotel for other readers.

Most of my reading is romance, so therefore most of my beach reading is romance. I try to bring a few historicals, a contemporary and a couple of mysteries. I usually read about a book a day on vacation plus one on each flight.

The last trip I took I found some serious Old Skool WTFery at my local used book store, Lovespell by Nelle McFather. It was glorious beach reading. I kept stopping to read my husband passages. I think this book involved a hero who inherited a family curse and everyone knew because he was born with an extra finger.

I’ve also read most of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache mysteries while on vacation. It’s a little weird to be sitting on beach imagining a frozen Canadian winter, but I powered through them. I think they are all trade paperback now. I’ve also read the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters while on vacation.

Sarah, I think Summer is for Lovers would be a great beach–or anytime–book!

Sarah: I thought so!

Of course, while we were discussing our recommendations and explaining what we see as a “beach read,” I didn’t expect that the idea of whether or not one should be ashamed of beach reading would be called into question.

Yet again I underestimate the power of people having opinions about what other people do – in this case, read.

Jennifer Senior’s NYT review of The Windfall by Diksha Basu contains this bit of head-tilt: in identifying the audience, she says the book is:

For readers who know little about modern India and are beach-novel curious (but too embarrassed to buy one)

Wow. I’m not sure of the Venn diagram overlap of those two groups, but if you or someone you know is embarrassed to buy a book they are interested in, please come sit with us. We can talk about ebooks, privacy, and reader shaming. Later we’ll tackle internalized misogyny and also the path to not giving a fuck, but for now, we want you to read the books you want to read.

Being so familiar with the shame and stigma heaped upon readers who openly and happily want to read what they like, I despair to think that there are people embarrassed to buy fiction that makes them happy and relaxed, but I also resign myself to the fact that there absolutely are.

(Y’all are so welcome here. Seriously.)

Also, for additional humor, when Jennifer Weiner later celebrated the bravery of women who power through their shame to read a beach book, one reply, from Cathie Cashman, made me snort water up my noise: “Here I thought it was about the bathing suit. I. Am. So. Effing. Brave. Yay me.”

Wear whatever suit you want and read whatever book you want. Hell, put a swimsuit on your book!

Now I’m going to end up Googling neoprene cases for Kindles which is rather off-topic.

My point here is that pretty much whatever book you want to read on a beach is a “beach read.” But when we talk about the confluence of romance fiction and books with strong romantic elements, the beach, and relaxing vacation reading, these are the ones we recommend most.

What do you think about beach reading? Which books are you sticking in your beach bag?

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