≡ Menu

The Sunday Salon: Smart Beach Reads?

The Sunday Salon.com

I’m leaving this Friday to spend a long weekend at my family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, and I’ve been thinking all month about the books I plan to take with me. I’m not alone — June seems to be the month where everyone starts putting together their big summer books sections, and I’ve had a lot of fun reading them.

It seems like this year there’s been an emphasis on blogs and on major book websites about the idea of “smart beach reads” or “books you don’t have to be embarrassed by” while you’re out sitting by the lake. Take, for example, this article on mind-bending science fiction that NPR posted a couple weeks ago. In the intro, the author says:

The assertion is that these disparate books offer satisfying, intellectually chewy pleasures perfect for a summer afternoon. That much, at least, is no idle speculation.

It’s like there’s a collective suggestion that we’re over the idea of vacation reads or past the habit of changing our reading habits to fit the place we’re reading it. Or, that it’s somehow become bad taste to pick up books that are more like cotton candy than carrots. Has anyone else noticed this?

I’m not sure what exactly it means. But I am really curious about the idea of how summer reading can be different from every other season reading. In May 2010 I did a feature for my local newspaper about the idea of summer reading where I argued that no matter what you like to read, summer reading choices are more about books that spark conversation than books read during other seasons. As I posited then,

For many people, summer is a time to relax and their reading plans reflect that — chick lit, John Grisham, or the latest murder mystery from a favorite author. But for others, the summer months provide time to catch-up on a classic, tackle a challenging epic or dive into a book they feel they “should” have in their literary repertoire.

What many summer reads have in common, however, is the ability to spark conversation. Summer reading is a public event — we peek over shoulders at the beach, stare at strangers on airplanes paging through paperbacks or check out the cover of neighbor’s novel at the Terrace.

Looking back, I still think that’s true. Whether your summer reads are “smart” or not, the reason we pick them carefully is because they’ll be on public display. I suppose if you’ve shifted to an e-reader that’s not the case, but I’m certainly not bringing my Nook out on the boat when I’m away this weekend.

Sometime this week I’ll have my list of reads I’m taking on vacation over the 4th of July — I have to finalize everything still — and you can judge whether they’re really smart or not 🙂

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeanne June 26, 2011, 12:14 pm

    It’s true that there are some books I don’t want to take out in public, because I know I don’t want to have the kind of conversation that strangers might strike up about them. Perhaps you have to be more of an extrovert than I am to choose a book even partly on the basis of what someone else might say about it.

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:11 pm

      That’s a different point — skipping books because you don’t want to talk about them with someone. Do you think about that more with political books, or something less “smart” then that?

  • Teresa June 26, 2011, 12:16 pm

    I get what you’re saying, but I think it depends on the person. It’s been years since I’ve taken a proper vacation in the summer–mine are usually in the spring. And I don’t read out in public any more during the summer than I do at other times of the year. So my summer reading really is no different from other reading. When I was still taking graduate classes, I used to tackle a bigger book, but now it’s just a matter of when I’m feeling mentally up for it.

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:13 pm

      I don’t take many long summer vacations either, just weekends up at our cabin or trying to get outside for some sun on my days off. I did a big book a few summers ago, but this year I want to read shorter things 🙂

  • Aths June 26, 2011, 1:45 pm

    It’s funny but I was just going to do a post on this a few days back. I was wondering how summer reading is any different from reading in any other seasons. My reading tastes don’t fluctuate based on reading. When I’m outdoors, I can read anything, except the very literary work that makes each word count – books where things happen in each word and so you cannot enjoy the book in distracting environments. But I would still chose books from my preferred genre only.

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:15 pm

      I think I have to read slightly less focused books when I’m outside — narrative nonfiction as opposed to regular nonfiction, or some lighter literary stuff that can hold up during some distractions.

  • Lyndsey June 26, 2011, 1:55 pm

    Every year I take an intense thick classic book on holiday thinking, I’ll never have time to read this in real life….and every year it stays in the suitcase while I read some historical fiction or thriller. My holidays tend to be holidays from proper reading too!

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:16 pm

      Ha, so true! I carried around Infinite Jest a couple summers ago and never read it while I was on “vacation,” just when I was around the house.

  • Steph June 26, 2011, 3:33 pm

    While I admit that I always peek at what other people are reading when I see books around me (at the beach or otherwise), I still kind of don’t care what people think of what I’m reading! When I’m going on vacations where I’ll be lounging on the beach or by the pool, I do tend to take some of the lighter books from my TBR pile where reading them with a sun-drenched brain might not affect my powers of apprehension quite so much, but generally if a book is good, I’m so absorbed by it that I don’t even notice how others are responding to me!

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:17 pm

      I’m a peeker too — I must look like a nut at airports or when I’m around strangers. And good point: if you’re absorbed in a book, who cares what other people think!

  • Jenny June 26, 2011, 5:26 pm

    I feel like nobody ever asks what I’m reading when I’m reading something that I think speaks well of me, if that makes sense. People only ever ask when I’m reading a child’s book, or something a bit dumb, or something a bit trashy. Or all three. And I am fond of whatever the book is, so I never want to be defensive about it, but I feel like saying, Wait! This is not all I read! I read quite clever things too!

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:19 pm

      Lol, this comment made me laugh! I actually don’t get asked what I’m reading very often — maybe my family just assumes it will be weird 🙂

  • Amy June 26, 2011, 7:19 pm

    Interesting point. For me I tend to just read whatever I read all year, I don’t think my reading changes at all in the summer or while on vacation. For example, I faced tons of ridicule for bringing both Paul Farmer and Bhutto with me to Mexico on a family vacation, as well as a history of anorexia. I couldn’t be bothered to pick what anyone else considers “normal” books though as I just wanted to keep reading what I would have been reading at home!

    • Kim June 26, 2011, 8:20 pm

      I just started the Farmer book — I’m enjoying it so far. But I am trying to finish it up before I go to the lake this weekend. I don’t think I’ll be able to focus while I’m out in the sun.

  • Amy June 27, 2011, 6:35 am

    Oh I can’t wait to read that one 😀 I will be waiting anxiously for your review. I haven’t picked up my own copy yet.

    • Kim June 28, 2011, 5:43 am

      I like it so far. His writing style is funny, like he’s very much trying not to be academic or sound like a doctor, but every once in awhile he just can’t help himself (and then apologizes for it). But what happened in Haiti is just devastating and hard to read about.

  • Erin June 28, 2011, 8:01 am

    “intellectually chewy”…love that phrase! It’s funny, I don’t feel I pick my books based on what others might think if they see me reading them, but I do like to spy on other people’s reading.

    • Kim June 30, 2011, 5:42 pm

      Me too! It’s so fun. And I am a huge reading spy, it’s one of my favorite things when I’m out traveling.

  • Michelle July 4, 2011, 8:28 pm

    I honestly don’t care what I read in public. I read what I want, no matter if it is considered high-brow or fluff. Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I don’t think we should really judge others for what they read. Heck, as long as someone feels comfortable enough to read in public, s/he should be commended!

    • Kim July 5, 2011, 8:21 pm

      Not judging people by what they read is a lesson I’m still learning. I was not always so nice to my sister about her reading choices, but I’m getting better. I still love seeing people read the kinds of books I like to read in public though!

      • Michelle July 5, 2011, 8:45 pm

        I’m not the greatest at this either; I tend to scoff at my co-workers who only chatter on about Nicholas Sparks or Janet Evanovich. It is easier said than done, especially when there is such wonderful literature out there that gets ignored, for the most part, by the general public.

        • Kim July 6, 2011, 5:44 pm

          So true! It’s hard, at least for me, to remember that people read for all different reasons and to not judge about it.