Your Beach Book Doesn’t Have to Be a “Light Read”

It’s May, which means it’s almost June, which means it’s ALMOST SUMMER. I’m marking red X’s on my wall calendar like I’m a cartoon character, I’m so excited.

As amped as I am for beach and pool time I am equally excited for reading by the beach and the pool time. But as the “Summer/Beach/Poolside Reads” lists start to appear on the internet (as they do in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day ever year) I’m seeing over and over again “light reads” being recommended.

So here’s the part where I have to disclaim hard and say there is NOTHING wrong with “light reads.” These books, usually commercial fiction and pop nonfiction, are completely valid choices for reads. Read your light reads ’til the cows come home. Read your light reads for the rest of your life. You’re fine, I’m fine, everyone’s fine.

What annoys me about this rule for beach reads that we trot out year after year is that it assumes that all people bringing a book to the beach are the same kind of reader. It assumes that “heavy reads” aren’t engaging or enjoyable enough to last you the afternoon. Light reads are for vacations, and heavy reads are for homework back when you were in high school.

I don’t normally read the genres that fall under the category of “light reads.” I try! Every time a thriller gets Gone Girl big or a YA book gets Divergent popular, I always try to pick up that book/author and give it a whirl. Some of these experiments work better for me than other ( I LIKE Gone Girl and Divergent, stop throwing heavy objects at my head already). Still, these genres are not the books I love the best and they are not the books I would be most excited to bring to the beach.

I was lucky and got a few days of spring vacation this spring (I say lucky because spring vacation when you’re not attending school feels like you won the lottery of calendar days). My husband and I sped off to Palm Springs for a middle-of-the-week weekend. You don’t get much more poolside vacation than Palm Springs. The two books I brought were Geek Love by Katherine Dunn and The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. You don’t get much LESS light reading than those two books. That said, they were the perfect poolside books for me, they completely absorbed me and were great company to keep while splashing my feet around in the pool and drinking awesome amounts of alcohol. Last summer I stayed at the same Palm Springs resort and my books then were You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, the first literary fiction, the second YA. I’m sure you could argue that E&P comes the closest to being a “light read,” it’s YA, it’s about young love, but the undertones of this book are SO dark that I don’t know how a person could read that book cover to cover and call it a “light read.”

“Light reads” just don’t work for all readers. I’d love for us to switch the phrase over to something that worked across all genres: “page-turning reads,” “all-consuming reads,” or even the more generic but more accurate “awesome reads.”

There. I’ve said my peace on summer reading, a topic I’m only now realizing I’m weirdly passionate about. What are your favorite beachside/poolside/summer reads: genres, authors, specific books, what have you? What are you planning on digging into this summer?

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