Beachy Keen – reading on vacay

Last week, NPR posted an article on a recent poll of theirs: Audience Picks: 100 Best Beach Books Ever. I thought it was a perfectly fine idea.  I love book recommendations; I don’t often pick up random books, so it helps if someone (especially someone with similar tastes) tells me it’s pretty good.

What readers should take from this article, well, besides the recommendations, is the fact that people have different ideas of what constitutes a “beach read.”  For me, a vacation to the beach means from sunup to sundown, I do nothing but sit on the beach (except for a slight break for lunch and maybe a nap).  My absolute favorite beach is Gulf Shores, AL with its miles of soft white sand, warm water and relative reclusiveness.  The ocean waves make the perfect backdrop for reading.  My #1 priority on a beach vacation is to read as much as possible while relaxing as much as possible.

For me, relaxing doesn’t mean reading books by Kurt Vonnegut (#68 and 69) or F. Scott Fitzgerald (#7).  (Really, #7?  The Great Gatsby is in the top ten for BEACH reading?)  I want adventure and romance.  I want fantasy and escapism.  I want all the fun stuff I might not have a chance to read otherwise.

For instance, for my honeymoon this past January, I read the last three books of the Twilight series.  I knew they’d probably be trash (the first one is by far the best), but I didn’t care.  They were fun!  I was on my honeymoon!  I also read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and House of Fog.  Those last two are probably more traditionally respectable.  I love love love reading literary books on the beach, but they have to have a quick pace.  I need to be able to skim them.

When I went to Gulf Shores last month, I read Her Majesty’s Dragon and its sequel, as well as two books I found in our condo, Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffin and Sea Glass by Anita Shreve.  The last one was a particularly pleasant random find.

So I like a variety, but bonus points for romance and fantasy.

In any case, I know it all depends on people’s reading preferences.  If you love reading classics, then maybe you’ll read classics on the beach.

What perhaps stunned me a bit (those it really shouldn’t have) were the comments people left on the article.  It was as though this list downright offended them.

I just have to say it again…this list is so so bad…it’s almost as if people picked the books required for high-school reading and then the most popular books of the day as the best ever. Couldn’t NPR have been a bit more critical about this truly dismal and depressing list?

Wow this is terrible. Tolstoy doesn’t even enter the list until 40 and classic writers like Dostoyevski and Orwell aren’t even on it. Then, to top it off, Harry Potter is # 1? What the %$#%?!

Whilst there are some truely (sic) good books on this list, I think the list is generally half-baked. The majority of the books have been published in the last 30 years, with the greater part of this majority being published in the last 10 to 15 years.

Guess what, books have been written since the time of Gilgamesh, and just because there are more books being published now does not mean that the quality of these books has improved.

And my personal favorite.

The Catcher in the Rye and The Hobbit? On the beach? This list is ridiculous. I’m amazed. The Stranger didn’t crack the top 100. Dracula? Really? Why isn’t the Bible on this list? It seems just as innapropriate as some of these. Dune? Ok, now I know this is a joke. Good one, NPR listeners, good one. Nothing like Jaws to make you want to dive right in…..

Everyone has their own book preferences.  Most of the comments were complaining that so-and-so wasn’t on the list.  The wonderful thing about books is the fact that there is so much variety to be had.  But really, lay off other people’s preferences.  I’ve known plenty of book snobs – English majors are among the worst of them – but turning your nose up just limits your reading experience.

Jessica Faust over at BookEnds, LLC wrote a blog post concerning not feeling bad about writing in your genre of choice. More about that later, but the idea certainly applies here.


5 Comments to “Beachy Keen – reading on vacay”

  1. Awesome. The internet, man, it’s full of people who are outraged, OUTRAGED, at everything they read on the internet.

    That last comment is indeed a doozy. I suppose I’m about to be doing exactly what they’re doing but…I can’t help it. So all of the books the commenter mentioned are bad ideas, but THE STRANGER is a good one? I will admit that I never read The Stranger like I was supposed to, but I’m pretty sure that a central event in the book is the main character shooting someone on a beach. Or a desert? There’s sand involved. So I’m not sure that existentialism and murder on a beach is the best read for…the beach.


    The books I read on the beach all feature viking mermen and sea otters and fairy princess ninjas.


  2. Yeah, I don’t want to think a lot while on the beach. I’m on the beach!

    But I think the whole point is that everyone has their reading tastes, both on and off the beach, and to devalue one over the other is rather dumb.

  3. I’m sorry, I can’t seem to get past the part where you say that you read FIVE books on your honeymoon. FIVE?? How long was your honeymoon, 8 months??

    Gah, I must read like a kindergartener, moving my lips and wiping the sweat from my brow all along the way.

  4. Haha. Keep in mind, Chris, that I did have an 8+ plane ride one way, so I had a lot of time to read. Plus, none of those books were particularly long.

    I’m a great speed reader, but I tend to not retain much information when I read that way. So it’s a bit of a trade-off.

  5. Book snobs. Ugh. I can name a few.

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