Tried and True Beach Reads

The following article, which I wrote today, was first published as Endless Beach Reads: Summertime Escapism in the Sand on Blogcritics. Hope you enjoy it.

Big onscreen awhile back (okay, forty-five years ago) was a movie called Endless Summer, a documentary following two surfer dudes in search of the perfect wave. I propose we go in search of the perfect beach read. In general a beach read is light reading as opposed to difficult or demanding reading. A beach read will not send you to a dictionary to learn the meaning of a critical word. It will not encourage you to stop and think, to contemplate what the author is telling you. A beach read is a book you can put down anytime you like and pick it up again without losing the thread of some major thought. A beach read is pure entertainment.

Every summer many newspapers and magazines put out lists of recommended beach reads drawn from current book releases. I’m going to harken back in time, however, and list some personal favorites from prior years. In addition to the types of books below (which don’t include romance novels, for instance, since I’m not a big reader of those), there are mass market paperbacks galore at your local supermarket, pharmacy, big box stores. Enjoy your summer. Be sure to wiggle your toes in any sand you can find that the ants haven’t already claimed.

  • Suspense: The Cradle Will Fall by Mary Higgins Clark—This was the first Mary Higgins Clark book I ever read, so I have a fondness for it that may go beyond reason. This one involves a murderous fertility doctor. If that’s not your choice of topic, take a look at other MHC books. They’re all grand beach reads.
  • More Suspense: Misery by Stephen King—Think you’re not a Stephen King fan? This one may change your mind. There’s nothing about the supernatural here, just good old-fashioned scare you silly the way only an insane person otherwise behaving normally can. Plot line: A famous author meets up with his biggest fan.
  • Humorous Memoir for Boomers: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson—Bryson recalls in his own wonderful, wacky way the amazingness of growing up in the fifties in Des Moines, Iowa. His comments on his parents, neighbors, school, food, and current events (think the atomic bomb, for instance) will give you a lot of material to read aloud to the person sunning next to you.
  • Humorous Essays/Memoir: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris—Typical of Sedaris’s essays, these won’t disappoint. My favorite is about his love-hate interactions with a particular neighbor in a New York City apartment building. This book also describes his decision to quit smoking—thus the title of the book.
  • Thriller 1: Watchers by Dean Koontz—My first and favorite Koontz, though as with Ms. Clark above, you can pick just about any DK book out of a pile and head off to the beach in an elevated mood. In Watchers we have some biological experimentation gone awry, and a battle of good and evil ensues between two “dogs.” The good dog, named Einstein, reminded me of my own.
  • Thriller 2: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane—If you saw the movie, you may not want to read the book. On the other hand, it would help you understand the movie—especially that last scene on the steps. One great read.
  • Thriller 3: Coma by Robin Cook—Probably Cook’s best. First published in 1977, it will be somewhat dated by now, but it is a true roller-coaster medical thriller. When they made the movie of it, I worked for a textbook publishing company in the building the filmmakers used to represent an intensive care facility. We had fun that day trying to spot Michael Douglas and Genevieve Bujold.
  • Literary Fiction: Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons—Sweet, touching work of fiction about three generations of women, narrated by the grown granddaughter, set in Raleigh, North Carolina. The women and their (bad and good) men are wonderfully quirky and believable characters. This is a book to sink into and relax.
  • More Literary Fiction: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler—My favorite Tyler book. As usual, it’s filled with eccentric characters, and it’s all about human feelings and relationships. In this one, a divorced man moves back in with relatives and finds life again through a female dog trainer that constantly surprises him.
  • Cyberthrillers: Daemon by Daniel Suarez—I learned about this book within a review of its sequel (Freedom), which said the two books set the bar when it comes to cyberthrillers, and one would do best to read them in order. The book’s detective character needs to have a lot explained to him; this helps non-geeks to keep up. If you hate anything that starts with the word “cyber,” have your geek friends read this (we all have at least one, don’t we?) and tell you about it. They will go nuts over it. The second book in the series has the same title as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, released around the same time.
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