Does A ‘Beach Read’ Actually Give You Permission To Indulge In Less Than Eloquently Written Books?

The Fitzgeralds in their swimming gear.

My “beach read” is The Great Gatsby. This decision is partially because I’m an asshole and a snob, but mostly because it’s my favorite summer book (and my favorite in all the world!) and I read it every year. If I want to spice things up, I’ll go with, oh, some light reading like Anaïs Nin, but mostly summer is devoted to The Great Gatsby — which I’ll actually read more than once in a summer. It’s something about the heat, the sweat and day dreaming about standing in front of a beautiful man as I hauntingly whisper “You look so cool. You always look so cool.”

But for others a “beach read” is something light and airy; a book that won’t make an impact and they can probably get through in one sitting. They’re not looking to be moved, astonished or forced to read certain lines out loud simply because they sound that gorgeous when done so. No; for some they want, for lack of a better word, crap. I’m not judging, of course, because I never would! But I’ve just never understood that when people go to the beach, they think it’s time to shut off their brain.

In the hopes of evolving past my asshole ways, give me some “beach reads,” please! What are you guys reading this summer? The more embarrassing, the better!


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    • Jen

      Halfway through book 4 of the Game of Thrones series. Not exactly light reading! Ha.

      I don’t really have a “summer reading” preference, though. I pretty much always have my nose in a book. I’m partial to sci-fi because I’m a big nerd that way, but I’ll read just about anything. Except for that 50 shades of whatever… accidentally read an excerpt of that online recently and all I can say is WHAT. Talk about literary crap. Made my brain hurt.

    • Brooke

      This is embarrassing but the first book I read to start of the summer was the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel by Charlaine Harris. The last few books haven’t been great but I still pick it up at the beginning of May as I have the last few years. I think it is more out of habit now than actual enjoyment. I know it sounds bad, but after being in school most of the year it is nice to be able to read something that requires no thinking.

    • Elizabeth

      Zombies vs. Unicorns.

      Though I wouldn’t call it a “beach read” because I really hate going to the beach.

    • holleeta

      No, I don’t think so! There are so many books I still need to read that I find it difficult to read the typical beach book (what seems to be most of the fiction NY Times bestseller’s list)

      Like Jen, I also am reading the ASOIAF series as my beach read – easy to read but long as hell.

      My solution: Read short stories from eloquent writers!
      Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger and The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov by guess who are my two favorites. They are perfect because they aren’t trash yet are short enough where you can finish a story in between ocean dips.

      Previous summer reads have been:
      Anna Karenina
      War and Peace (not recommended…)
      Guns, Germs, and Steel
      The Stranger (<3)
      Exile and the Kingdom (more short stories)
      Fahrenheit 451 (I read this book once a year)

    • Lindsey

      I think it’s funny how people get snooty about books.

      “But for others a “beach read” is something light and airy; a book that won’t make an impact and they can probably get through in one sitting. They’re not looking to be moved, astonished or forced to read certain lines out loud simply because they sound that gorgeous when done so. No; for some they want, for lack of a better word, crap.”

      I wouldn’t consider light reading crap. It really trivializes both the writer and the reader. Maybe someone is mentally exhausted from work and would rather read an easy mystery novel than watch Law and Order reruns. Maybe they want to be entertained rather than moved. Entertainment is kind of the reason books are consumed.

      Also, ‘great novels’ aren’t usually that funny. They’ll make me smirk or smile, but it’s usually light reading that has me in stitched.

      Why don’t you try to read something you would otherwise look down your nose at? Maybe you’ll be pleasantly amused. I quite enjoyed the Bridget Jones books last summer. Right now I’m going through the Song of Ice and Fire books, which I would recommend if you don’t mind putting some time into it. Because once you’re done with the first book you’ll need the second and so on and so forth.

      • Cee

        Whole heartedly agree!

      • snickers1514

        I am a book snob too, but I actually consider Bridget Jones’ Diary to be quite deep. Anyone else?

    • Eileen

      Meh, not really. Right now I’m reading Wolf Hall. (Took it to the beach Tuesday with my best friend, who was reading Oscar Wilde) The previous time I was at the beach, I was reading The Pillars of the Earth. On the beach, I basically read the same stuff I do in regular life, which is a bunch of academic history books, reasonably decent fiction, and the occasional easy to read book for young women.

      The one book I don’t recommend for the beach is The Plague. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

    • Lastango

      “Never read a bad book. There isn’t even enough time to read all the good ones.”

      I no longer recall who said that, but it guides my habit. I read only solid stuff because that’s where people who have learned something about life and our world share their facts, reasoning, and wisdom.

      Here’s what’s on the side-table these days:

      The Common Stream: Two Thousand Years of the English Village (Parker)

      The Fate of Africa (Martin Meredith)

      Your’s Jack (The letters of C.S. Lewis)

      T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems

      Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)

      Every so often I’ve got to read some Faulkner, some of the books of the Bible, and a work of history.

      David Brooks “Bobos in Paradise is about as light as I get.

    • Veronika

      I love reading. so I like to spend my time on beach/pool (or pretty much anywhere) with a book in hand. Today I did not see a single person reading while I was on the beach…lame.

      My last ‘beach read’ was Ch. Bukowski – Hollywood. Now I am reading J. Kerouac’s On the Road and after that on my future list is T. Capote – In Cold Blood or E.M. Forster – A Room with a View.

      • Sabrina

        In Cold Blood is so so so excellent!

    • Georgette

      I actually usually read Y.A. during the summer, call it nostalgia. But I did just finish Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, and I highly recommend it! It’s one of the best narrator’s I ever read.

      Right now, I refuse to read 50 Shades of Grey, but inspired by the concept of salacious literature, I’m starting D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. It won me over with chapter one.

      • Amanda Chatel

        I read Lady Chatterly’s Lover back-to-back with Sons and Lovers… it’s safe to say I had an extreme obsession with Lawrence that summer.

    • Sam

      The Watchmen because I could seriously read this book a million times and never get sick of it and never give up hope for a different ending

      The Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton (if you want to be feel semi-depressed)

      The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg

      Several issues of Family Circle…I have a subscription because I love (!) the recipes

    • Kj

      This is awesome, I am going to check out some of the titles you good people have mentioned.

      @Jen – I’m reading Game of Thrones too, just finished the 4th book. They are amazing, but so, so depressing at times. I’m actually taking a break from them right now – I picked up something at the super market (Shaddup, I’m poor) as a bit of a metal palate cleanser.

      What with the Spanish Literature degree, I can’t stand garbage writing any more. I literally feel like I’ve eaten too much candy after reading something really, really dumb. And I don’t mean that it’s light hearted – just that it’s lazily written. But then again I get super depressed when I read something that’s too heavy.

      Anyways, as to Beach Reads, I was just in Mexico reading “Island beneath the sea,” also the following were amazeballs:

      – The book of Negroes
      – Dona Flor’s two husbands
      – Mistress of the Art of Death
      – Like Water for chocolate.

      Intelligent enough to be fulfilling, light hearted enough that you won’t want to kill yourself upon return from your little vacay. At least not because of the books.

      • meteor_echo

        Someone else reading Jorge Amado? Oh fuck yes. Have you read “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”?

      • kj

        No, but it’s on my amazon wish list! I plan on buying it as soon as I have “money.” I also want to buy “Macunaima,” but it’s always in and out of print. God, I am obsessed with Brazil.

    • Natalie

      I completely agree with you! For me, “light” books are those by Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, or Edith Wharton. Not because they are any less of writers than other classic authors, but because of their writing style and subject matter are less heavy-handed than say, Dostoevsky or Steinbeck (who are my designated fall/winter authors). The delicate, delectable language and style of these authors make their books perfect for warmer weather.
      Clearly, you can have a light read without giving up on quality. I refuse to punish my eyeballs with crappy writing.

    • lucygoosey74

      Ha. When I went to the pool the other day, I did not want to be disturbed, as I often am, by chatty strangers.
      It was very simple, I brought my very oversized copy of “The complete encyclopedia of serial killers”.
      Nobody spoke to me.

      • Kj

        LOVE IT!

    • Amanda Chatel

      SO many amazing suggestions for everyone! Thank you to all who played!

      Although I would like to point out that having arrived safely in CO today, my sister spent the first two hours of our visit gushing over 50 Shades of Grey… not because of the writing, but the content. Apparently, I’m not allowed to leave this state until I read it… despite the fact that as I type this I’m in her library of over-the-top pretentious books.

      I’m reaching for The Color Purple instead at the moment.

    • Alex

      My summer reading plans include Steinbeck and Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. (Another you might have heard of is Tale of Genji.) And I just finished the first of Proust’s books about cookies and masturbating.

    • Sabrina

      I’m reading the Great Gatsby right now too! And it’s my summer read every year! Yay!

      • Amanda Chatel

        Great minds, Sabrina, great minds!

    • Naomi

      fyi, the great gatsby is something you should be able to get through in one sitting, forget about more then once a summer. also, considering that it’s assigned reading for high school freshman, it’s not exactly the most challenging read.

      keep feeling snobby, but I don’t see how being stuck in your high school reading list makes you a more discerning reader than people reading a song of fire and ice or other, less-than-classic books.