Essays

Stacks on the Beach: How to Achieve the Ideal Beach Reading Day

I consider myself a bit of an expert on beach reading. It’s probably my absolute favorite pastime, since it combines two treasured activities: reading and swimming. I have a particular method, which also works well for poolside reading if you don’t have a beach available. Pick a hot day and go to the beach/pool. Immediately get in the water and experience refreshment. Hop out after a few minutes; commence reading. When you’ve dried off enough that you’re starting to get hot, it’s time to get back in the water. I can repeat that cycle all day and have an absolute blast.

valley of the dolls at the beach
The author in her natural habitat, with the epitome of beach reading.

It’s taken me a few years of trial and error to get everything right. There’s actually quite a lot to consider when it comes to the ideal beach day, believe it or not. By the summer of 2020, I finished acquiring everything I needed for an outing to the beach at my local state recreation area. I knew beach reading was a relatively pandemic-safe activity, and I certainly wasn’t going to be spending any money on travel that year. My investment has served me incredibly well, and I’m looking forward to taking my beach reading setup on the road this summer to an upcoming family reunion. So let me show you the steps in getting ready for a perfect beach reading day.

Research Your Beach

This may seem obvious, but every beach is different. Knowing what to expect at your beach will help you achieve a fun day. You need to make sure the beach is open to the public, in case it has seasonal availability or only allows swimming during hours with lifeguards on duty, etc. Beaches that are on lakes can have closures due to high water levels or toxic algae blooms (gross, but we can’t all live in Fiji, can we?). Many beaches, including the one at my local state recreation area, require a fee to access them. I purchase an annual pass to my state park system, so I can go to the beach as often as I like. It’s important to know how parking or public transit works at your beach, so look into that. Similarly, you’ll want to know what facilities are available or nearby, like drinking water, restrooms, showers, and barbecues/grills, so you can plan accordingly.

catherine the great book at the beach
The beach is a great place to read Catherine the Great’s biography.

Also pay attention to special rules. Some beaches don’t allow dogs, for example. Some have rules about what kinds of floats are allowed. Many have rules about whether and where fires are allowed. Glass typically isn’t allowed, so bring canned beverages. Some beaches are clothing-optional or have clothing-optional sections. I, for one, like to know whether I’m expecting to see strangers’ naked butts on a given day. There are important safety considerations, too. It’s generally unwise to swim alone at a beach with no lifeguards, for example. If you’re at a beach with strong tides and currents, know how those work. And hilariously, at my local beach, we have to be on the lookout for black vultures, because they apparently enjoy damaging cars. Who says the Midwest is boring?

Get Comfy

A truly luxurious beach reading day is going to cost you a pretty penny. It involves renting a cabana at a gorgeous seaside hotel beach where you have staff eagerly bringing you everything you desire. If you want to splash out on that, please do. Otherwise, you’ll want to create your own beachside bliss.

For me, that starts with a shade tent. I have no patience with umbrellas or flimy sunshades. Once I saw fellow beachgoers putting up canopies on my local beach, I knew I needed to follow suit. I have this tent, which fits in my hatchback car easily and pops up in about a minute. It’s spacious enough for a few people depending on how seating is configured. It can become a bit of a sail on a gusty day, though, so consider investing in sandbags, too. I like to set mine up a short distance from the water but as far from groups with rowdy beachgoers or stereo systems as possible.

adirondack chair at the beach
Pull up a seat, it’s beach reading day.

There are any number of chairs you can bring to the beach. I’ve brought plastic Adirondack chairs as well as fairly standard camping chairs. I don’t personally love those very low beach chairs because they’re awkward to get in and out of, but maybe you like them. I haven’t yet brought my portable freestanding hammock to the beach, but I have brought it to my local drive-in theater, so I know it would work splendidly. As far as seating in the water, I’m not a float person, because I’ve yet to discover a float that also provides good shade. Also, I fear reading atop one would make me, a total weenie, seasick. But maybe you also want to bring something fun and inflatable.

Dress For Success

I have found that a surf poncho is a great item to toss on and off when doing the swim-read-swim cycle, but bring your cover up of choice. I also really like the Turkish towels that don’t track sand as much as the terry cloth kind. And don’t forget sunglasses and your preferred beach shoes. I love Freedom Moses slides because they come in a million colors and can be hosed right off if they get sandy. And in case you’re still a bit damp leaving the beach and taking a car home, I recommend these scuba fabric seat covers to keep car upholstery from getting damp and musty. I told you, I’ve really thought this through.

And I’m always thinking about how to deal with my sworn enemy, the sun. The ideal beach reading day involves spending a long time outdoors, including plenty of time out in the water. When I think about sun exposure, I think of sunscreen as my last line of defense, after considering shade, time of day, and clothing. Make sure you bring along your preferred sunscreen and reapply often, and don’t be shy about wearing a floppy hat out into the water if you’re not planning to dunk your head.

Food and Drink Sidebar

There’s so much variation between what’s available at the beach and what everyone’s needs are. Still, you certainly need to plan for food and drink. I always bring my comically huge water bottle that keeps water cold even on the hottest days. I’m never without fizzy beverages like flavored seltzer. And who doesn’t want to bring snacks to the beach? My local beach doesn’t have so much as a snack bar, so I have to pack in all my grub. I’m hoping you have more to choose from, like shaved ice and crab shacks and all that good stuff.

Finally, Let’s Talk About Reading

Sure, read what you want, where you want, how you want. If you want to know more about what makes a good beach read specifically, we’ve gone deep on that. And we’ve listed some great choices for beach reads. But I do have opinions about the best kinds of books to read at the beach.

a spinner rack at a used book store
A used book store in Maui, AKA the beach reader’s paradise.

First, you don’t want to tote along a precious volume, because sand and water and who knows what else — tiny crabs maybe — could get in those pages. So my advice is to treat yourself to a beach reading shopping spree. Find a used bookstore. And then find the spinner rack. Buy the most alluring, pulpy paperback you see. Beach reading should be juicy, gossipy, and fun, in my opinion. The more salacious, the better. And then really take that book to the beach. Crack that spine, lay it face down in the sand, let water drip on it, turn the pages with cheeto fingers. That book will have its own story to tell about its travels.

eloisa james's pleasure for pleasure at the beach
This book was bought from the spinner rack at a used book store, as is proper.

You are, naturally, free to ignore my wisdom. And you can take your eReader to the beach if you so choose. You’ll probably want to bring along one of the waterproof models, as we’ve noted in our 2022 roundup, or if you’re cheap/daring, zip your eReader into a plastic bag. Still, I suggest reading something really dishy.

knitting at the beach
You can’t tell, but I’m reading in this photo.

If you’re an audiobook reader, that’s great too. I also love bringing audiobooks to the beach so that I can combine three of my favorite activities: swimming, reading, and knitting. If you want to take your audiobook into the water with you, I love my bone-conducting waterproof headphones, which leave ears exposed in case of a lifeguard’s whistle or other important noise. And again, if the audio book you’re listening to is making you blush and avoid eye contact with fellow beachgoers, you’re doing it right.

Pictures or It Didn’t Happen

Forget the hot dog legs beach photos. Show me what you’re reading at the beach! As you can tell, I love trying to get a little vista in with my book covers. People complain about social media as a vehicle for jealousy and a provider of one-sided depictions of life. But honestly, do we need to see photos of flat tires, chipped teeth, or other everyday struggles? Sharing a beach reading photo provides a fun little oasis in the timeline, and maybe a book recommendation to boot.

I’m always happy to see beach reading photos, even if I’m up to my neck in snow and a thousand miles from a beach. So I hope I’ve convinced you to find a little sun, sand, and maybe a scandalous saga (or several) this summer, and to share what you’re up to.

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