Sunburn: A Pessimistic View of Beach Reading

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Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

It seems like the perfect option: Reading your newest book while sprawled out on sand. Not so.

First, you will get sunburned in bizarre ways. The edges of your wrists, the skin of your neck– whatever part of you is oddly exposed so that you can stare at the page. Watch out for the earlobe.

Second, your book will be destroyed. There’s sand, for God’s sake, and wave spray. This is the kind of book-hell that your paperback does not expect to come back from.

Third, you will receive commentary from strangers. Sometimes it’s positive! They love Toni Morrison! But, then again, sometimes it’s oddly invasive. You’re reading the The Hunger Games— do you enjoy the violence of that one? So you’re reading poetry on the beach? Are you a poet then? What’s wrong with reading lighter stuff on vacation? These questions wouldn’t be quite so overwhelming if you knew this dude.

Fourth, Eye Sand. No explanation needed.

Fifth, there’s always the oceanic family member/dog releasing a spray of salty water when they come in huffing from cold water. This can be enjoyable, actually– Salty water. This is what the beach is all about! But then the hardcover of Emma Straub’s latest work is starting to morph into some kind of painful blur.

Sixth, the moving shade. It’s hard on the eyes to try to take in page sentences, kids yelling, blue skies and brilliant light all at once, so shade via umbrella or some kind of fabric shelter is ideal. But then the sun moves. Then you move. Then the sun moves. Then you move. Then the sun moves…

Seventh, reading is a convenient excuse to not do adventurous things. I never thought I’d say this, but the option of reading my book has kept me from trying surfing for several years. Which is ridiculous. Priorities are complex.

Eighth, you will lose your book. At the good part. Three-quarters of the way through. Then you’ll find it mummified in the back of a beach chair a year later, dog-eared right where you left off. Or maybe you’ll never find it and that seagull that got ballsy on the beach going through your stuff will now be far more educated on whatever it was you were reading– like the Publishing Industry.

Ninth, you will feel the need to finish the book that you’ve so publicly read. Someone will ask to borrow it. Someone else will ask if the ending is good. Yet, you tossed that one three days before.

Tenth, curling pages. Next year, it will be easy to tell which paperback came back from beach survival.


Then again, when else will you be able to truly breathe while reading? For so many people the beach is the only vacation they go on and the only time they get to really read at length and with gusto. If a book is made of paper, is it meant to feel destruction? If you want to read, is it worth the sunburn?