What exactly is a beach read? I think a beach read is any book that you want to read at the beach, or the pool, or wherever you are carefree and have the leisure to read. Which, if you have children, you know is neither the beach nor the pool, but I digress. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda, I once took Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” to the beach. While it was a phenomenal biography, I didn’t finish the 730-page book on that trip, and unlike Miranda, I was not inspired to create a groundbreaking theatrical sensation.
The idea of the beach read came about early in the 19th century, when urbanization and industrialization made getting away from the city popular, and steamships and railroads made it accessible. Advertisers began using images of summertime leisure activities, and publishers began touting summer reading. At a time when novels were not considered proper reading material, this was an opportunity to rebrand them as “an acceptable middle-class pleasure,” according to Donna Harrington-Lucker in her book “Books for Idle Hours.” However, in 1876, Reverend T. DeWitt Talmadge wrote that he believed that there was “more pestiferous trash read among the intelligent classes in July and August than in all the other 10 months of the year.”
In 2020, a beach read is typically an easy-to-read fictional book. It might be a romance, or maybe a thriller; if it’s pestiferous trash, you may want to keep it away from the kids.
Although not a work of fiction, if you’re looking for a book that requires zero thinking on your part, let A.J. Jacobs do the thinking for you in his 2004 book, “The Know-It-All.” It’s an entertaining memoir of his quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. He touches on everything from Ancient Eastern Asian music to a town in South Central Poland, as well as why a man would set this goal for himself. While you may not be required to think, you might learn something.
If you prefer to keep your mind sharp, grab “The Scotland Yard Puzzle Book: Test Your Inner Detective by Solving Some of the World’s Most Difficult Cases.” I’ve been training for this for years! Some of my favorite books are British police procedurals, like Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. If you try “The Scotland Yard Puzzle Book,” let’s compare notes.
If you really want to embrace the beach in your beach read, Mary Alice Monroe has an entire series devoted to it. Her “Beach House” series includes “The Beach House,” “Swimming Lessons,” “Beach House Memories, “Beach House for Rent,” “Beach House Reunion,” and “On Ocean Boulevard.” Her newest book, “The Summer Guests,” published in June 2019, moves inland as people, dogs, and horses escape a hurricane.
For the ultimate beach read though, what could be better than Emily Henry’s newly released and appropriately titled “Beach Read?” This book has a little bit of everything. It’s funny; it’s dark. It’s sexy. There are misunderstandings and reconciliations. There is pride and there is prejudice. Don’t miss it! And happy beach reading, wherever you are!
by Nancy Carstens