What Makes a Great "Beach Book"?

Monday, July 27, 2009
by LuAnn Schindler

War and Peace shows up on many "classics" book lists, but is it a great beach book?

NPR readers and listeners think so.

NPR will release their "100 Best Beach Books Ever" list on Wednesday, July 29. Sure, a lot of publications print a "best beach books" list as summer draws near. But what exactly constitutes a beach book?

It seems there's a difference of opinion. Reader's Digest offers a list and notes that the books "aren't the usual big-name suspects you'll see elsewhere." Oprah offers "sweet, salty reads for bathing and beyond." NPR reports that "while all books on the list should be enthralling enough to inoculate vacation-goers against the vagaries of missed flights and bad weather, many 'great books' aren't great 'beach books'." Heck, the information superhighway is loaded with sites and blogs offering their self-crafted definition of the term, ranging from romance to classics to graphic novels.

Does it need to be a fluffy, light read? According to the blogosphere, several bloggers believe a beach book isn't necessarily literature (note to self: literature, by definition, is a written work so a novel is a work of literature) but an entertaining, light read that can be consumed before sunscreen wears off.

And here I thought that a "beach book" was any book a reader selects to read while at the beach, or outdoors, or wherever you feel like reading. My summer "beach read" is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It's not sexy; it's not light. But it is engrossing and that is what draws my attention to any novel.

NPR patrons presented 600 titles for consideration. Reviewers and editors narrowed the list to 200 and then readers voted for their top pick. To me, the list of 200 contenders is a conglomeration of classics and popular fiction. I've read 28 of the 200 novels, and 20 more titles are on my bookshelf waiting for a trip to the beach. Or my front porch.

What's your summer beach book and where's your summer reading spot?


Analisa said...

For a short trip I like to take a book that if I lose it I won't be upset. Just finished Janet Evanovich's book, Plum Loving. Light funny and very entertaining. I read it at home on my balcony. When I read the last line I was disapointed it was over.Only 164 pages. I might reread the Time Traveler's Wife,before I see the movie. I will soon start Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie.

Melissa Sarno said...

I usually think of a beach read as something light and plot driven. But I read two major books on the beach and they were great experiences: The Fountainhead and Gone With the Wind. If you're having a 'beach week' then there's no better time to read a hefty book because you can get really absorbed in it for long periods of time.

LuAnn Schindler said...

Gone With the Wind is wonderful!! Read it in college and went on a press trip to Clayton County, Georgia, last year. That's where Margaret Mitchell's grandparents lived and where she heard stories about the Civil War. And so, Rhett and Scarlett were born.

I also want to read the Time Traveler's Wife, but I don't know if I'll get it finished before I see the movie.

For me, books are a great escape, and I read anything when I'm at "the beach". My husband laughs because when we go fishing, I always take a book to read and I fish at the same time. Books are much more exciting than fishing!!

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