Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sunday Salon: Just what are Beach Reads?

With the warmer days and higher temps, grills working and pools open, everyone and their grandmother starts to come up with summer reading lists. The Wall Street Journal posted one. The LA Times has one. CNN posted a compilation of a handful of author's choices. Schools and libraries around the country have put together their own lists as have authors and booksellers. I've put together my own summer reading list here as well. And while some of these lists are called "Summer" reading, many of them throw around the word "Beach" as in your "summer beach reading". But what exactly makes a book a beach read?

There are many definitions floating around. says that "A good beach read will be engaging and will allow you to read most of it before your sunscreen wears off. A beach book isn't necessarily literature, but a beach book will entertain." CNN says:

"They're books you've likely seen in the hands of readers at the pool or under the shade of a beach umbrella, often a dog-eared paperback folded in two and smeared with sunscreen.

While there are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes a "beach read," the idea is that they can be read quickly, or that they're light in tone. Always, they're captivating and preferably escapist."

And Good Housekeeping created their list based on the premise that beach reads are "relaxing books that are perfect for toting on vacation."

So consensus seems to be that beach reads are fast paced, generally light, sometimes trashy, and definitely completely engaging. But there's often little overlap amongst the lists. Some lists concentrate on only new releases. Some on bestsellers. Some list some pretty hefty tomes, both in size and in literary merit. Some only highlight books that wouldn't get a mention at other times of the year, like certain genre books. There's even at least one list that purports to be the 10 Best Beach Reads of All Time. So despite the seeming consensus on a definition, it seems what constitutes a "beach read" is all in the eye of the beholder. (And this entire argument leaves out all the people who like to tackle only big or complicated books while on vacation under the assumption that they have more time than usual to get through these heavyweights.  And yes, we all know one of these martyrs, I guarantee it.)

I don't tend to use the term beach read myself. I prefer to call it summer reading. I prefer it because it reminds me of those happy school-aged days when the teachers would hand us our list of required and suggested reading for the summer. (Yes, I was a nerd.) But I also prefer it because I don't really like the beach. I know this is splitting hairs but I am a lake or pool girl and beach to me always conjures the ocean and sand. And sand in places I don't want sand. In the books, you dirty readers, you! In the books. I prefer summer reading because for me, a good book to read in the summer is one I'd be perfectly happy to read in the winter, spring, or fall too. It's not just a book I save for the beach.  If it would put me to sleep as I sit in the hot sun listening to water splash or lap against the shore, then it will put me to sleep sitting on a couch under a blanket when it's cold too. But I do admit that if a book has a summer scene on the front cover, a beach or ice cream or anything that screams summer vacation, I do find myself thinking that it should go on my summer reading list (bravo arts and marketing departments, bravo). The power of suggestion and all that.  And if you look at the covers from my list this year, you'll see a handful of books that fit this bill for sure but you'll also see any number whose covers do not invoke hot, lazy summer days too.

So what about you all? Do you prefer to call it summer reading or beach reading?  Does it matter?  Do you make yourself a list? And does it vary any from your reading the rest of the year or are you just like me and adore list making for list making's sake?


  1. When everyone starts talking 'summer reading' or 'beach reads' it just gets me excited to DO MORE READING :)
    I don't take vacation so it's just a matter of what goes on my overall TBR list.
    Still, I DO get excited. ;)

  2. I just call it reading... I basically read the same books in the summer as the winter and fall and spring... Whatever appeals to me!

    Linda in VA


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