Monday, May 22, 2017

In Praise of Paperbacks

By Shari Randall, wondering where my beach towels are

Hot weather has returned to my part of the world. The heat is early, but not unwelcome. It just took me by surprise. Where are my sandals and shorts? They’re in one of these boxes, somewhere.

Along with the change of wardrobe, the warm weather brings a change in other parts of life. Lighter fare from my kitchen - okay I’ll be honest, from the take out. The lilacs are bursting, perfuming the air. The ants are back for their yearly visit, the punctual little critters necessitating a bump in my housekeeping game. There are ever more comic book blockbusters at the movie theater.

The change in seasons also brings a change in reading. Some books are built for cold weather. I adored Lincoln in the Bardo, but its melancholy has no place in the bright sunshine. Horror is made for the long nights of fall and winter shadows. Classics are back-to-school books, best saved for September.

The perfect beach book?
Summer demands a different kind of reading. The stores and libraries are full of books with covers of that beautiful shade of blue that evokes the sensual pleasures of the beach – sparkling water, sun-warmed skin, a bubbly prosecco, instead of the realities of the beach – sand where it shouldn’t be, some guy blasting the Beastie Boys on his personal speakers, the smell of kelp.

Dozens of beach read lists will crop up between now and August. Not enough of these lists recommend short story collections, which are perfect for the shorter summer attention span.
Anthologies? Yes!

The best beach read is, of course, the book you want to read. But an exotic setting, a thrilling plot – easy to follow as you put the book down every time you take a dip to cool off – and a certain lightness make a great beach book.

I have one other requirement for a beach book. It has to be paperback. Maybe it’s the librarian in me (okay, it is the librarian in me), but any book that has to stand up to sunscreen, ice cream drips, water, and sand should be disposable/recyclable anyway. Someone who brings a hardcover to the beach is just asking for it.  Also the paperback’s sheer portability, the ease with which it slips into a beach bag or suitcase make it seem right, more at home in the elements, than a Kindle.

Do you have a favorite beach book? Please share it in the comments.


  1. I have no problems taking my Kindle Paperwhite to the beach. I have a vinyl cover so it doesn't get sandy (unless the sand is blowing, which means I head home) or wet. I can read it with or without the umbrella. My favorite beach reads? Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews (who under her real name used to write mystery), Janet Evonovich, Sue Monk Kidd, and anthologies. Not many mysteries in there, but everyone needs to venture further afield to enjoy getting away from it all even more.

  2. I read paperback thrillers (Daniel Silva) on airplanes and novels about women (Elin Hilderbrand) at the beach or pool. Summer saps my brain.

  3. Nice post here, Shari—and I agree, some novels and stories fit the season better than others! I remember a couple of columns from Washington Post critic Michael Dirda that talked about reading ghost stories in the winter and then reading longer books in the winter because each seemed more appropriate. I'm sure I lean in certain directions myself, but don't have anything specifically "seasonal" on the near horizon--though the next book I'm reviewing for the Post does have a boat on the cover, so......

  4. Shari -- I don't think my reading habits change between summer and winter. On those rare occasions when I do go to a beach, I have a tendency to bring my Kindle Paperwhite because it takes less room and is easier to read in bright light than physical books. My only rule is to not take library books anyplace where I might damage them.

    And thanks for having Fifty Shades of Cabernet as one of your illustrations. Tina Whittle and I share a story in that anthology.

    ~ Jim

  5. I make my beach reading even easier--I plug in my ear phones and listen to a recorded book. That way I can listen to the recording and still watch what's going on around me. And with several books loaded onto my iPhone, I can switch among the recordings to suit my mood. It is cool and rainy here today in Virginia, so a day at the beach sounds so good.

  6. I don't tend to read at the beach--it's so bright & inevitably I'm talking to someone, or keeping an eye on kids in the surf (cousins or nieces/nephews)

    I do read sitting on the porch of wherever we're staying. I don't live near enough to the shore for day trips anymore.)

    When I add book club selections to my TBR list, I have enough to chose from, so I read in whatever format that book is.

  7. EB, I think you and Jim are going to sell me on a Paperwhite! And I'd love to know Mary Kay Andrews' real name, so I can check out her mysteries.

    Margaret, I'm with you. Something about the summer heat makes me less likely to tackle a weighty book.

    Hi Art! I'll look forward to your review. Books with boats say summer to me!

    Jim, I so enjoyed the story you and Tina did together. Short stories are perfect for summer's shorter attention spans.

    Grace, I just listened to an old favorite - Krista Davis' Diva Runs out of Thyme. The reader was so good it was a pleasure.

    KM, you need some baby-sitting free beach time! There's no relaxing when watching little ones at the beach.

  8. Shari, I rarely go to the beach. When I go on vacations I tend to be camping. My sisters and I
    after hiking tend to sit around the campsite reading. I like reading print books, and prefer paperback ones especially if I'm reading in bed. However, when I read a book club pick, I usually get them from one of two local libraries, and they are almost always hard backs. It's hard to read a hardback book in bed so those I read in my nesting chair. I always take several print books with me when I go camping or fly to California to visit my daughter. I can't imagine a life without books.

  9. I'm usually underwater and not on the beach, but in the boat, I do like paperbacks. Anthologies are best, bonbons of stories to read between dive sites. I do buy used paperbacks for boats though, they rarely last more than one trip. The soggy factor is too great.

    I do go to pools. My paperwhite Kindle comes along for the ride on those. It's lighter than a paperback and it lets me shuttle among stories easily. Grace, I'm tempted to learn to listen to books. It would be a boon poolside, or even hiking, or on runs.

    Favorite beach reads? Romances. Isn't that odd. I love mysteries, thrillers, I'm addicted to the dark side, but give me sunshine and water and I want romance too. Must be the margaritas!

  10. Hi Gloria, I'm picturing you all reading around the campfire. What fun!

    Hi Kait, I love your bonbon comment! Maybe it is the margaritas. Romances - especially Victoria Holt, something really gothic - are just perfect beach reading.