IIf you want the perfect beach body, just bring your body to the beach. At least that’s what a very wise person with exemplary values said. Probably Opera.
If only it worked that way for books. If you want the perfect beach read, take your time and choose wisely. Or end up like me on a recent weekend in the Hamptons tearfully leafing through All night lovers, Mieko Kawakami’s solitary meditation on alcohol abuse in Tokyo. My Friends Who Chose Better – a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick; Sally Rooney – were emotionally capable of reading the funny bits, even lazily commenting on the tide and popularity of pickleball.
Beach reading is one of the most despised subcategories of contemporary fiction, like “chick lit,” vampire romances, and macho spy thrillers featuring protagonists named Jack. It is also vital. I’ve ruined pleasant afternoons on the sand by packing books I felt guilty I hadn’t read yet, instead of books I was looking forward to reading. Ultimately, however, treating a vacation as a chance to catch up on the cultural program is a recipe for badly spent baggage allowance. We all have our own infinity joke, by which I mean an uncracked book that laughs at us as we drag it uselessly from beach to beach. Mine happens to be infinity joke.
But pick up the right book and it will become one of your most evocative reading memories. I was wearing a dark green one-piece at sunset on the rocky Croatian coast when I finished Blame it on our stars, John Green’s tearful young adult about two teenagers with cancer. I remember the fat police by the name of Mary Higgins Clark on mysteries my mother packed for days on the Jersey Shore. When I now see Higgins Clark’s novels on the shelves of discounted libraries, I find it hard to believe the pages aren’t glued down with sunscreen.
So what exactly is a “range reading”? It’s more of a mood than a genre, but generalizations can be made. Books that pair well with tiki drinks tend to be long on the story and light-hearted for sick kids, though. Blame it on our stars is an exception because he’s big on jokes. Jokes are great by the sea. Genre fiction works robustly in sunny conditions: crime, romance, fantasy. After devouring Philip Pullman The golden compass in the Caribbean (published as Northern Lights in the UK), I was so desperate to start the sequel that I tried a Spanish translation called The Daga – the only copy I could pick up at the time.
Basically – and this is misunderstood, I think – a range reading does not mean have be a “guilty pleasure” of the two-for-ten table. Sprawling, engrossing epics of all brow heights – from Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet to its luscious, ecstatic cousin The thorny birds by Colleen McCullough – are perfect for long mornings spent slowly turning the pages.
And yet, some of the best beach reads are undeniable frolics. A few summers ago, I inhaled a Hunger Games novel a day for three days sitting under a striped umbrella. And I distinctly remember calling The Chronicles of Diana‘gossip details of my beach cover to anyone who would listen, just because I couldn’t be alone with them. (“Did you know he got Camilla a GF-engraved bracelet? For Girl Friday!”) Come to think of it, Tina Brown is a true beach-reading queen. Consider The Vanity Fair Diarieshis work story in the iconic American magazine, or Palace papers, his recent tea party on Meghan Markle. I think Brown would be disappointed if his pages weren’t warped with salt water at the end of the summer.
Which brings us to the number one quality uniting beach reads across genres, from potboilers to bildungsroman. Above all, a beach read must be extremely greedy. Because the beach is hard work. The sun burns you from the outside in. Several times a day you are forced to choose between holding it and burning the soles of your feet to reach the toilet. People nearby have their radios set too high. The seagulls want your snacks; children throw sand. Beach reading is your armor against beach chaos. It’s the escape of your escape from everyday life.
So next time you’re packing your bags for somewhere coastal, I beg you to forget about the classic novel you’ve always wanted to read, plus the hottest new take on millennial boredom (unless you don’t). either Rooney because, again, of the jokes). SPF 45 and any book with sunglasses on the cover is all the protection you’ll ever need.