Whither the Beach Book?

To whit:

To address all of this, I should start by saying from the offset that I view “summer reading” as a load of poppycock. This may have something to do with living in a city where the weather remains fairly consistent year round. But I suspect too that my reading habits stemmed from spending my teenage years living in Sacramento holing myself up with books and films in the coolest indoor environs available. (Because of my pallor, I was known to roast into ruddiness and sometimes burst into flames, thus precluding me from completely enjoying movies where vampires exploded with pyrotechnic splendor along these lines.) So the notion of reading a thick Doestoevsky novel keeping me in a cool place was infinitely more rewarding than hours-long exposure to the sun (although friends, respective of how little effect the strongest sunblock had on me, were kind enough to drag me away).

The real question then is whether climate has any bearing on reading habits. If we are to understand the definitions posited, nice sunshine and wearing little clothing is conducive in some sense towards one reaching for a “beach book,” generally described as a book with little substance, little in the way of grit, and much in the way of lobe-flabbing sensationalism.

I’m not necessarily badmouthing trashy reading or relaxing. Sometimes, it’s necessary to aid a rebound from a synapse-bursting bout with Ulysses. I’m just curious why we’re all intended to, framing the image in literary terms, turn into margarita-sipping idiots for three months.

I suspect the term “beach book” arose from the “summer movie” concept, when seasonal distribution results in Hollywood bombast being deployed in every multiplex from here to Tripoli. But a movie involves a two-hour experience. A 300-page book, at 30 pages or so an hour, might involve an experience that lasts around ten. So if one is submerging one’s self into a book for such a lengthy period of time, why then would one reach for nothing more than comfort reads during a three-month period? Would not instant gratification (or chill time) be better served through the film conduit?

Conversely, if readers are supposed to dumb themselves down for three months, what then is the purpose? Anyone who has ever been in a library for hours at a time knows that, with their far-from-lavish budgets and their malfunctioning heaters, they are just as sweltering as a summer day without a breeze. The temperatures are comparable, but in the library’s case, the results are insufferable. The beach, by contrast, is intended as a comfortable spot to perch up and laze away with a potboiler.

I would ask those who champion the beach book why they are content to champion a dull novel in a comfortable environment. Surely, if a reader is placed in a comfortable clime, he will be more relaxed and perhaps more willing to exert his mind into a William Gaddis novel.

Does it not then make sense to champion robust and multi-layered epics as beach book candidates?

© 2005, DrMabuse. All rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  1. I personally would neither eat nor read anything on the beach that I wouldn’t consume elsewhere.
    Sand gets in your sandwich? Eat at home. Can’t concentrate on anything weightier than the Sears catalogue in the midst of all that beachy splendor? Take a nap on the beach and you’ll be well rested and ready for a truly stimulating read later…Just my theory of course. For those who truly enjoy the beach book or sand in their peanut butter and jelly, go for it!

  2. Thanks for linking to my left-brain-compatriot Anthony’s LA Weekly piece. If you must know, I’m the one reading crime fiction in city parks in the last graf….

  3. “Anyone who has ever been in a library for hours at a time knows that, with their far-from-lavish budgets and their malfunctioning heaters, they are just as sweltering as a summer day without a breeze. The temperatures are comparable, but in the library’s case, the results are insufferable.”

    This quote reminds me of my other library pet peeve. Thanks to city budget cuts most libraries are closed on weekends during the summer. Which is a darn shame because being a Boston guy, the weather during the summer would incline me to go more to the library on weekends.

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