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Heading to the Lake: Thoughts on Beach Reads

Thoughts on Beachy Reads

This weekend, the boyfriend and I are heading to my parent’s cabin (soon to be retirement home) in northern Wisconsin for some family celebrations. Prepping for the first summer weekend at the lake always gets me thinking about what makes a good beach read.

The kind of book that’s good for a long, warm, boozy afternoon is a rare beast, but after many cabin weekends I’ve got a pretty good idea of what kinds of books work particularly for me. Here are the four things I look for, plus a few books that I think fit the bill for a beach read.

It’s easy to pick up and put back down.

Most of my time at the beach or on the lake is also time spent with other people. While I love a good, absorbing book, one of the things I’ve been working on is remembering that many of the best moments in life happen when you look up off the page and engage with what’s happening around you. A good beach read is one that grabs my attention, but that is also easy dip in and out of as the day goes on.

It has simple prose and a simple plot.

This goes back to to my first quality. Good lake reads are books that don’t take much extra mental energy to read. I tried a Jane Austen book at the cabin once and I just couldn’t do it — classic prose seems to take too much effort. I also need the plot/structure to be relatively straightforward because I’m often too distracted to follow plot jumps or other experimental prose.

It’s not depressing or political.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that beach reads have to all be light and fluffy. I don’t mind reading books that take on substantive topics while I’m by the lake, but I don’t want something that’s entirely grim because I’m just not in the mood for that. And I tend to avoid political books at the beach because I don’t want to get into drawn out conversations about those kinds of topics when I’m with so many other people — nobody likes a current events debate while trying to enjoy a margarita.

It’s a paperback.

This one is negotiable. I prefer to read paperbacks at the lake — they’re lighter, cheaper, and easier to stow away — but I’ll bring a hardcover if that’s what is calling my attention at the time.

With all that in mind, here are a few of my favorite books that I also think would be great reads by the beach:

  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach — I was tempted to recommend my favorite Mary Roach book, Stiff, but figured a book on dead bodies doesn’t scream “beach read.” But Packing for Mars, all about what we do to prepare astronauts for the rigors of space travel, is pretty much perfect. It’s funny, has short and simple chapters, and is full of fun facts to share with other readers.
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters — “Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962…and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.” I read this book on the beach in Greece last fall and just adored it.
  • The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette — If you have any nostalgia for the Beanie Baby crazy of the 1990s, then this book is a must read. The story behind the craze, and eccentric creator Ty Warner, is such a fun read.
  • Americanah By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — At first glace, a story about race and identity in America seems like a tricky choice as a beach read. But the love story at the core of this book keeps everything moving along, and Adichie’s observations about how we talk about race in the United States are often very funny.
  • Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman — Just out of college  in 1986, Susan and her friend Claire decide to travel around the globe, starting in the People’s Republic of China. This memoir heads in such crazy directions, it’s hard to even describe. I loved it on audio, and I think it’d be great on the beach.

I’m still trying to decide what books I’m actually going to bringing with me this weekend. I’m leaning towards Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam (which breaks my paperback rule, but otherwise seems excellent) and You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein (a collection of essays by the head writer of Inside Amy Schumer I grabbed at BEA). But that all may change as we’re heading out the door tomorrow — given my abysmal reading record so far this month, I definitely need to go with mood reading now more than ever.

What beachy reads are you planning to pick up this summer?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.
{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Sarah's Book Shelves June 16, 2016, 6:35 am

    I’m with you on the paperback qualification! Back when I wasn’t e-reading all the time, I always waited for the paperback. Hard covers were just too cumbersome, especially at the beach. And I also like some substance without it being overly complicated.

    Sweetbitter is my top summer book recommendation so far!

    • Kim June 19, 2016, 7:09 pm

      The paperback rule is the one I break most often, although paperbacks are so much easier that hardcover when you’re trying to lug them around.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) June 16, 2016, 8:17 am

    Yep, a simple plot that’s easy to pick up and put back down is perfect for the beach. We’re heading to a family wedding this weekend so I doubt I’ll get much reading done.

  • Amanda June 16, 2016, 9:49 am

    Beautiful Ruins is a great beach read! I’ve been kind of waiting for the Wisconsin beach for A Court of Mist and Fury and Sarong Party Girls. I think Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore was a great beach book and I’m still hopeful for her new book June.

    • Kim June 19, 2016, 7:08 pm

      I just got a copy of Sarong Party Girls in the mail for review consideration — that might make it into my Fourth of July beach bag.

  • Kristen M. June 16, 2016, 9:59 am

    I also like rereads for beach reads because I already (usually) remember the basic plot and, like you said, I can dip in and out of them.

  • Kailana June 16, 2016, 6:14 pm

    I wish we were going to the lake this weekend, but really.. The weather has not really been beach (or summer) weather… So, might not be all that much fun anyway! I hope whatever you choose to read works for you. 🙂

  • anmiryam June 17, 2016, 7:12 am

    Beautiful Ruins is a wonderful beach read. My top of the list paperback recommendation this year are: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler and The Visitors by Simon Sylvester, though they may be too engrossing to meet criteria #1. For a smart and witty read, I’d recommend The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane — a mother daughter relationship fraught and filled with love. Especially good when spending time with your family as it will remind you that it’s always a good time to enjoy them even as you realize you will never understand them.

    • Kim June 19, 2016, 7:08 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Jenny "aka sister" June 17, 2016, 7:31 am

    I enjoy a good/terrible romance or contemporary YA or “chick lit”! These are usually pretty fluffy and a good love story will keep me interested even if I have to stop for a bit to interact with the people! I have my tablet stocked with some good books, and a couple of paperbacks ready to pack! Looking forward to Unexpected Everything by Moran Matson which seems like a great beach read, Summertime contemporary YA is always great! Bring on the books, burn, booze, beach, and boating!

    • Kim June 19, 2016, 7:07 pm

      You always have good recommendations 🙂

  • Athira June 17, 2016, 8:03 pm

    I’m with you on all of your points. But I also prefer it if the book is not too light. That is, I want some good substance in it.

    Enjoy the cabin! We were at one last month and had lots of fun in the water.

  • tanya (52 books or bust) June 18, 2016, 4:52 am

    Undress Me In The Kingdom of Heaven is truly one of the best titles ever.

  • Chelsey June 18, 2016, 9:06 am

    I love this post! A long, warm, boozy day by the lake with a book sounds like perfection – I hope you have the best time :). It’s been a while since I had a vacation like that but I used to love reading chicklit (for lack of a better word) when I was at my uncle’s cottage. I could tear through 2-3 Cecelia Ahern novels in a week. They were my favourite but that was years ago. Still need to read Americanah!

    • Kim June 19, 2016, 7:04 pm

      I mostly get long weekends at the lake, although I’d love to just hole up there for a week and not talk to anyone. Maybe next summer I’ll do that instead of traveling.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End June 19, 2016, 10:56 am

    I was planning to read Daniel O’Malley’s sequel to The Rook, Stiletto, on my beach vacation. But then I hit a snag downloading it to my Nook (Adobe Digital Editions was being a pain in the ass, try not to die of shock), and then my mother had a physical copy, and what with one thing and another, I read it before the vacation had a chance to get started. :p

    I am thinking of Lindy West’s Shrill as a substitute, though! Essays, which is what I think her book is, are always a good beach situation. And then I’m going to read at least one big nonfiction book, because that’s a good thing to do with uninterrupted reading hours. 🙂

    • Kim June 19, 2016, 7:03 pm

      Big nonfiction is a good choice. I considered The Gene for an upcoming vacation, but I should probably be focusing on books I actually own instead 🙂

  • susan June 19, 2016, 7:56 pm

    Yeah I also posted about summer beach reads this weekend. We are on the same wavelength. I think summer reads should have a good, swift pace and not be too dense. From my list, The Girls and Into the Forest might be good. Perhaps also Everyone Brave Is Forgiven. Enjoy the cabin!

    • Kim June 25, 2016, 6:59 pm

      Those two really are key, lightness and swiftness. I can deal with most other things, but the pages for summer reads need to turn fast 🙂

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey June 28, 2016, 3:06 pm

    Great list of requirements! And Packing For Mars and Beautiful Ruins are definitely books I’d take to the beach 🙂

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