The Last Word
Beach books - selection criteria and some suggestions
If one is judged by the books one reads, all judgment is suspended in two cases: the airplane book and the beach book. Both are frequently trendy, light, and with agreeably short chapters. If you're a visitor, selected beach reads are possibly set on Martha's Vineyard; if you're not, then books definitely set elsewhere. Large print is useful to a certain crowd, i.e., not having to choose between eye protection and arm length - although I have found reading sunglasses at the Corner Store.
I can tell by touch if a book is going to be a good beach read. The fine braille of sand beneath the cover of a library book tells me that someone has already thought that it would. I borrow a book with that bumpy texture in mid-winter and instantly I'm on the beach, the soft susurration of the tropically green July water a short distance away, the feeling of cool damp sand beneath my bare feet. That pesky gull lurking about, hoping that I'm too engrossed in whatever I'm reading I won't notice he's encroached on my territory to snatch away that peanut butter and jelly sandwich beside me. Ah. Oh, wait. It's December and the only gull around is perched on the bulbous apex of the cupola atop the former elementary school in OB.
It always amazes me when no one in authority at the library seems to mind that the books are being taken on outings to the beach. There is an apparent tolerance for sand beneath the clear protective covers; as if they only need to be protected from fingerprints, not from being dropped in the sand. How else to explain how the fine grains insinuate themselves under the cover? Would we be so careless with our own hard covers? So too, on a day with a persistent on-shore breeze, the fine grains of sand are wind blown into the book. The history of the book writ in grit.
Paperbacks fall into another category all together. This is not a suggestion of the relative merits of one author over another, who writes a better beach book, although there are certainly scores who do write the sort of books that are easy to read and watch the kids at the same time - Ulysses (James Joyce's version, not Homer's hero) is not a beach read, even in paperback. What I'm talking about is the ease with which a book fits into a beach bag; how heavy is it when a beach reader falls asleep with the book flattened on his chest. Will the cover wipe off with a damp beach towel and the library never know about the unfortunate contact with Andy's Frozen Lemonade?
I'm guessing that the latest Harry Potter tome will qualify for a beach read despite being contrary to most of the observations made above, hardcover, heavy, riveting. Mothers and nannies beware, don't sink into this one while the kids are paddling out to sea in their little plastic rings.
Some recommended reading. Two charming books by Tim Farrington: The Monk Downstairs and the Monk Upstairs and Elizabeth Buchan's What She Thought She Wanted. They've already got sand under the plastic, so no one will blame you.
Susan Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Oak Bluffs. Visit her web site at susanwilsonwrites.com.