Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Beach Reads"

by Caren Crane

By now, we have all seen the obligatory book reviews touting some book or other as the definitive "beach read" of the summer. The term "beach read" summons up lovely mental pictures of me lounging on a beach or by a pool, slathered in SPF 50 sunblock, wearing a huge hat and indulging in a thick, juicy slab o' fiction. "Beach read". I like this initial impression, but...

Is this term meant to be complimentary? Book reviewers, unless they are affiliated with genre websites or groups, tend to prefer non-fiction or "literary" fiction. So when a reviewer purports to have enjoyed a slab of fiction couched in the term "beach read", it is usually some genre distasteful to reviewers: romance, women's fiction, chick lit or, Heaven forfend, romantic suspense.

After years of reading these reviews, I recognize the sneer underlying many of them. Many of these reviews have been about books I enjoyed tremendously. I readily admit that I enjoy genre fiction year-round, so the relegation of my favorite fiction to a narrow category such as "beach read" offends me just a bit. I can only conclude that:

1. I can and always will enjoy a "beach read" even when I am not anywhere near a body of water.

2. Since I do #1, I obviously lack some sort of switch that turns on in late spring and firmly off at Labor Day.

3. Having no qualms about being seen reading such books in public with nary a camouflaging floral cover, I am obviously not getting an invitation to the Literati Club anytime soon!

Am I taking this "beach read" term too seriously? It could be that I am. By the time this posts, I will be firmly on vacation with my family. I will not be at the beach, unless the teenagers talk us into a day trip to Virginia Beach - that could happen! I will, however, be indulging in some "beach reads", including the first of Nora Roberts' series about the four friends who run a wedding business. Genre fiction is the stuff great vacations are made of - even in Colonial Williamsburg!

What "beach reads" are you indulging in right now? Have you actually been to the beach this year or do you plan to go? If you do, are you taking your e-reader? If, like me, there is no beach looming on the horizon, where will you feed your genre-fiction palate?

Have fun without me, be good, and bring on the "beach reads"!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Have FUN, Caren!

The GR and I are heading out to the beach!


Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Aunty Cindy.

Hi Caren,
Have fun on your family vacation. I just reread a few historicals by Madeline Hunter. My next beach read will probably be Susan's "Money, Honey." I have not been to the beach this year and probably won't be going at all. We don't have the nicest or cleanest beaches here.

Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha, Caren! Everything's a beach read for me!

And I really waste my energy on negative and comments about the romance genre. I enjoy raeding romance and obviously millions of other readers do to. Maybe the critics have spent too much time in the sun with their literary reading.

barb said...

have fun on the beach Aunty Cindy with GR

It is bit cold to go on the beach down under but in a sheltered spot out of the wind in the middle of the day it is OK some days. Other wise it is inside with the heater on..... I have just got an e book reader but mostly it is paper copies I am reading but I do know next time I go away I will not run out of books with my e book reader LOL

I do have a cover for my books that I have made with a bit of embroidery on the front but it is not to hide them it is to keep them from getting damaged

Helen said...

Well done Aunty Cindy and have fun at the beach I am sure the GR will LOL


Enjoy your holiday and enjoy your reading it does not matter what people like to read it is one of the best forms of relaxtion there is.
As Barbara has already said it is still a bit cool for the beach down here although we have been having the most wonderful sunny days and in a nice spot it would be nice on the beach. I have just finished reading Susan's Money Honey and boy was it fantastic and I have read Marie Force's Fatal Affair on my new e reader another fantastic story and I am reading Tessa Dare's Goddess Of The Hunt at the moment and loving it. I read any genre of romance these days and am not ashamed to show the covers off although I do have a nice cover that Barbara made me but as she already said they are more to protect the book than cover the pictures.

Have Fun

Anna Sugden said...

Have fun all of you at the beach - my fave place to go!

I'm with you on being an all-round beach read kinda gal. I guess depressing books are more suitable for the winter ... as a sun-baby I don't bother with depressing at any time of year *g*. And, I really object to the term 'trashy novel for a beach read' that is often used over here!

On the other hand, having just checked the next three books on my pile, they're all far from light and fluffy - Karen Rose, Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Gardner! Oh and Maggie Shayne's Kill Me Softly. Perhaps I'll intersperse with the latest Kristan Higgins, Susan Mallery, Kate Carlisle's yummy millionaire and Susan's Money Honey.

Margay said...

Caren, I hate it when they pigeonhole things like that. Who says you have to be at a beach to read and who says it has to be "literary" in order to mean something? I have read some fantastic books that fall under the "sneer" category by some wonderful authors who could give the "lits" a run for their money. But those literary books do serve a purpose for me - they're my own personal brand of Ambien. Nighty-night!

Currently reading Friday Mornings at Nine by Marilyn Brant.


Margay said...

Caren, I hate it when they pigeonhole things like that. Who says you have to be at a beach to read and who says it has to be "literary" in order to mean something? I have read some fantastic books that fall under the "sneer" category by some wonderful authors who could give the "lits" a run for their money. But those literary books do serve a purpose for me - they're my own personal brand of Ambien. Nighty-night!

Currently reading Friday Mornings at Nine by Marilyn Brant.


Gillian Layne said...

I've finished a couple Harlequin Historical Inspirations and am moving on to their newest in the
American Romance line while recovering from bronchitis (this is what happens when I leave home). I adore "beach" reads! As long as it's happy at the end, I'm there! :)

Pissenlit said...

I've always disliked the term "beach read". Who's to say what anyone should read at the beach? It's just so silly. Anyhow, my "beach reads" are whatever I feel like reading at the time. My last two beach books were Brad Parks' Faces of the Gone and Kathy Reichs' Devil Bones. I haven't got an ereader so those were regular books but I did also bring along my mp3 player with some audiobooks(Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, Rick Riordan's The Sea of Monsters, and part of Jim Butcher's Dead Beat) on it in case I wanted a change of books. :)

Joan said...

The closest I got to a beach was the Disney one at the Swan/Dolphin!

Helen, I too just finished Money, Honey by my roommate extraordinaire, Susan.FANTASTIC!!!

Currently I'm reading Jessica Anderson's Demonkeeper, then a whole slew of favs after that. Reading time is at a premium with achieving my own renewed energy for completing my latest writing project plus it's AMAZING how kitty cats will come to know you are sitting down to read and LEAP into your lap for attention!

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I don't do the beach but "beach reads" are with me always. I will doing them the same place and ways I always do, where I can...LOL

Nancy said...

AC, have fun with the GR, and don't forget the sunscreen!

Caren, I'm not going to the beach this year. The closest I got was I-95 heading toward Disney World, when I passed the exit for New Smyrna Beach.

Pretty much all the fiction I read would receive this sort of sneering review--which amounts to "okay if you have nothing to do but veg." However, I much prefer the uplifting endings and clear morality of genre fiction to the grayer and often dreary literary world.

What have I read recently--not much. I'm deep in research for revisions. I started The Clockwork Heart, steampunk SF, but haven't made much progress. I read the first book in Nora Roberts' Key trilogy and am going out in search of the second.

I read Nora's Sign of 7 trilogy, which was mind-blowingly excellent, both in character interaction, jeopardy, and worldbuilding. I have various bandita books waiting, and, oh, yes, I must dive back into Dune in preparation for teaching it.

Have a great vacation!

Nancy said...

Jane, I'm eager to jump into Money, Honey, too. Having read the excerpt, I know I'm going to enjoy it.

Nancy said...

Kim, I enjoyed meeting you in Orlando. I'm sorry we didn't have more time to chat.

Nancy said...

Hi, Barb--It's still all paper for me, all the time. As long as we're paying tuition, I won't be spending the money on an e-reader.

By the time we're done with that, I'm hoping there'll be "one device to rule them all," to borrow from Tolkien (another author savaged by critics but loved by readers.)

I hope it isn't too cold there.

Nancy said...

Helen, I don't use book covers, either. I read what I read. Other people can like it or lump it.

Nancy said...

Anna, that's an intense queue you have set up there. When you're done with those, you'll need something lighter. Good thing you have those other options lined up!

Nancy said...

Margay, I pretty much ignore those reviewers because I know they're not going to like anything I like. There seems to be a feeling that anything popular must be inferior, which I think is just bogus.

Nancy said...

Gillian, I'm sorry you're under the weather. I was glad to get a chance to meet you at the TGN retreat, even if it was just for a minute.

Nancy said...

Pissenlit, the boy loves those Naomi Novik books. I enjoyed Brad Parks tremendously when he was here and am looking forward to his book, along with many of the others stacked here and waiting.

Nancy said...

Joan, did you see the cover for the next Nightkeepers book, Blood Spells? Very cool. Jessica will be here in November to talk about it.

Nancy said...

Hi, Dianna. For me, any place is a reading place. :-)

Scorpio M. said...

I've been to the beach twice this season & planning to go tomorrow!

Fun, sexy, humorous contemps are my favorite beach reads for me. Can't go wrong with Rachel Gibson (Nothing But Trouble) or Victoria Dahl (Lead Me On.) I recommend them highly.

Louisa Cornell said...

Oooh! Aunty and the GR at the beach! Could we see this on News at 11??

It is amazing how many derogatory terms they come up with for the best-selling genre no matter what the economy.

I haven't visited the beach in quite some time. When I lived in Hattiesburg I made the drive to Gulfport/Biloxi quite often. I haven't been since Katrina. When I did I always had a stack of historical romance and paranormal romance in my beach bag. And I read them with pride.

Then again, I have never had a problem reading romance in public. Or philosophy in public. Or music history in public. Or anything else.

In fact on August 22nd I will be reading in public as part of LibraryThing's Readathon.

The Reading In Public ReadaThing is one of a series of readathons hosted on LibraryThing’s forum system, Talk. A readathon is a chosen period of time (24 hours, usually) where members take turns reading, as to have non-stop reading during the event. Thanks to night-owls and international participation, there can be non-stop reading.

I love events like this because they encourage people to read,especially young people!

Janga said...

I don't think anything could persuade me to leave the air conditioned comfort of home for the beach in this heat, but my "beach reads" have always been whatever I wanted to read at the time, be it Geoffrey Chaucer or Loretta Chase.

I just finished Chase's Last Night's Scandal, a romance as close to perfect as one gets IMO. I'm currently reading the anthology Bespelling Jane, something of a departure for me since I rarely read paranormal fiction, and Jane Smiley's Private Lives, a compelling literary novel. I've always read genre fiction and literary fiction and found excellence in both. I apologize if that sounds unbearably smug, but the prejudice and sneering sometimes come from both sides of the dividing line between literary and genre fiction. I like good fiction, whatever label may be attached to it.

Margay said...

Nancy, I couldn't agree more. Some of the best books I've read have been panned by reviewers as inconsequential because they fell into the categories of Romance or - heaven forbid - Chick Lit. And some of the worst were Oprah picks (sorry, Oprah) that were just too rambling or too boring to get into that the critics loved. Go figure. I'll take my romance over the lits any day.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hey Caren!

Hope you get a chance to have a beach read, preferably at the beach. I haven't been to a beach since moving to Texas a number of years ago, but I do love summer reading! Rocky-the-wonder-dog and I often spend a little time in the evenings out by the pool and read a while as long as the weather is good!

I have a stack in my TBR pile I'd love to get to, starting with our Susan Sey's Money, Honey. But I have to finish reading for some blog interviews first AND this blasted synopsis for my second erotica.

After Susan's book, I plan to read LIsa Kleypas' Love In The Afternoon, then Monica McCarty's The Chief.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Gillian: while recovering from bronchitis (this is what happens when I leave home) ACK, not you too!!! Aren't summer colds the worst?

Love my Musinex and my Tussionex cough syrup!

Anna Campbell said...

Ha ha, Miss Caren, I laughed at the idea of a beach read right now in Oz. It's BRRRRR Freezing here at the moment! Quite a shock after the steamy weather on the east coast of the U.S., especially Florida which should be renamed Boilida!

I think you're right about the sneer inherent in the term 'beach read'. But it comforts me slightly to know that I'm having a lot of fun that the sneerers are missing out on!

Happy holidays, Caren!

Actually speaking of beachy things, I'm off to Coogee Beach in Sydney on Wednesday for our annual Romance Writers of Australia conference. Can't wait! The hotel is right on the sea front and I've got a room with a view!

Nancy said...

Scorpio, I wish I were headed for the beach. I love it, but it isn't in the cards for this summer. Thanks for the suggestions.

Nancy said...

Louisa, the readathon sounds really cool. Good luck with it!

Nancy said...

Janga, I also prefer the beach whyen it's not insufferably hot--though that usually means the water is on the coolish side, too.

I rarely read literary fiction because it doesn't satisfy me (or seldom does), and I have so many more choices I know will. However, I do sometimes read mainstream fiction. I cling to my copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. Friday night, I discovered that someone in the local RWA chapter actually is from Monroeville, AL, hometown of Harper Lee. How cool is that?

Nancy said...

Margay, I read a lot of SFF, and it gets dissed _almost_ as much as romance. Only mystery seems to get much respect, alas.

Nancy said...

Suz, I hope you feel better!

Nancy said...

Anna C., your hotel room sounds great. I love looking out at the ocean pretty much any time of year.

catslady said...

I totally agree with you. My reading habits do not change. Somehow it sounds like your brain is totally turned off when on vacation so the books you read better be fluff. poppycock lol.
I did go to the beach this year and although I brought at least 5 books with me, I only completed one which was The Memory Keepers Daughter and started Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz.

Nancy said...

Catslady, I always travel with a selection of books, too, a variety. I never know what I might be in the mood to read at a given moment.

Helen said...

Like Anna

I am soo looking forward to this weekend at Coogee not sure whether my room has a view or not but it is sure going to be fun catching up with friends and of course we have the Book Signing Event on the Friday afternoon and then the Awards Dinner on the Saturday night Whoo Hoo.
And I just know that I will becoming home with lots more books to add to my must have list LOL always a good thing.

Have Fun

Susan Sey said...

Oh, Caren, I envy you Williamsburg. It's one of my favorite places, as you know. Tell Patrick Henry I said hello. :-)

As for beach reads, I love 'em year round, too. I live in MN. Anything that channels blue waters, bikinis & drinks with fruity names is completely welcome around here come...oh, September. And the appeal lingers straight through June. At which point we flock to the beach guessed it, a bag full of beach reads. :-)

I'm currently tackling (at my husband's insistence because he wants to talk about it--have I mentioned how in love I am with this man?) The Passage by Justin Cronin. A vampire story the literary crowd deems worthy. I'm checking it out with skepticism but I think I might like it. I'll report back.

Susan Sey said...

Hey, Jane! Hope you enjoy Money, Honey! Get it all sandy & wet, too. That's why I love me a good paperback. I do covet an e-reader but you can abuse a paperback in ways an e-reader just couldn't hack. :-)

Enjoy the beach!

Susan Sey said...

Helen, I'm so glad you enjoyed Money, Honey! And I've been dying to get my hands on Marie Force's Fatal Affair---we'll have to compare notes!

Susan Sey said...

VA wrote: Perhaps I'll intersperse with the latest Kristan Higgins, Susan Mallery, Kate Carlisle's yummy millionaire and Susan's Money Honey.

I'm insanely flattered to be in such company. :-) I've been jonsing for KH's latest myself. And Kate's Millionaire is my treat for being a good girl & getting my pages done tonight.

Donna MacMeans said...

Caren - You're probably trooping about on the Williamsburg ghost tour about now. Hope you're having a great time!

Feel free to call my books a good beach read anytime. I think it means an enjoyable engrossing book - the perfect part of a perfect worry-free vacation.

I recently finished Joanna Bourne's My Lord and Spymaster. Loved it. Easy to see why it won last year's RITA. I'm currently reading Susan Sey's Money Honey and loving it as well. But the TBR pile is teetering. I'm going to need a long, long stretch of beach!

Kirsten said...

Hi Caren! Loved the bit about the 50 SPF. The beach isn't the same since we figured out about sunburns and skin cancer, is it? Sigh. I remember when the beach meant baby oil and obligatory sunburns so we could get going on that "deep dark tan". Ah. High school.

I've been working my through some of the books I picked up in Orlando. Just finished Jennifer Echols "Forget You" (YA, set on the beach in Florida!) and am now reading "Forgive my Fins" by Tera Lynn Childs (YA, about a mermaid, natch).

Both perfect "beach reads" for obvious reasons! :-)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Caren! I'm chiming in late to say that I'm reading the Meg Cabot book, Insatiable, that I got at National. Really, really GOOD!

AC, how was the beach with the GR?