Monday, June 18, 2012

What Makes a Good Beach Read?

My family and I are prepping for a week at the beach.  Of course, we are making the usual packing lists--clothing, beach toys, golf clubs, lots and lots of sunscreen--you know, all the essentials.  But the most important list for me is the list of beach reads I've been so excited to finally crack open.

Life is busy most days.  The day job gives me a little extra time off in the summer, but inevitably we fill it up with activities.  Of course, I've also dubbed this the "Summer I Publish My YA," so I've been working on that non-stop.  Yet, this vacation will not be a working one.  Instead, I'm ready to load up on some of the books in my mountainous TBR pile. That means narrowing the list down to about five books, at the most.  Impossible, right?

The good news is I have e-readers.  I own both a Nook and a Kindle (it's probably a sin, but there ya go.)  So, gone are the days of juggling three books down to the beach, only to cart them back up.  Now, I'm a little more careful about water and sand than I used to be, but believe me, the accessibility to a number of books at once makes a difference. Yet, that doesn't solve my original problem of what to read.

Well, I've worked out FIVE characteristics to help me choose the best possible books for vacation.  Here they are:

1.  It Must Be Entertaining

Of course, this is subjective, but for me, I like a book with a little action, a little romance, and a fast pace.  I like to be pulled so into a book that when I finally look up from the pages (or screen), I'm a little disoriented by my surroundings.  It should be as much of an escape from reality as the vacation is.  And even when I'm off doing other fun beach stuff, I'm still thinking about getting back to my book.  Usually, I can tell by the blurb, the first few pages, and my experience with the author's previous books whether I'll enjoy this one or not.  That's always a good place to begin.

2.  It Must Be Light

I enjoy deep thoughts as much as the next gal.  Sure, there are times when a real tear-jerker is cathartic and meaningful, but when I'm on the beach, I don't want to be attempting to solve the world's problems or blubbering like a leaky faucet.  I want something that will bring me just to the edge of emotional, but won't drop me over the cliff of despair, if you know what I mean.  I want to laugh, cheer, maybe feel a slight edge of anxiety for the characters, but I want to know that in the end, all will be well.

3.  It Must Be Proven

As previously mentioned, I usually stick with authors I've already read and enjoyed for beach reads.  I have occasionally been disappointed by a beloved author who misses the mark (for me), but I'm usually easy to please, and will always come back for more from an author I like.  The only other way a book can be proven for me is if it comes highly recommended from a friend I'm confident has a similar love of books as me.  If he or she has bookshelves spilling over, four e-readers (okay, I was holding out on you.  It really is sinful, I know), and a book in his or her hand every time I see 'em, then I will take their word for it I should read the recommendation.

4.  It Must Be Something I Can Put Down If I Have To

As much as I love books (okay, it borders on obsession, people), I'm realistic enough to realize I will be expected to participate in the "FAMILY" vacation.  There will be games of catch, sandcastles to build, waves to jump, and other various fun times to be had.  Though I want a read that will be entertaining enough to draw me back again, I also want it to be something I can set aside but still jump back into without rehashing all the story information before I go on to the next chapter.  This is not the time to prove to the world that I really can "make it all the way through War and Peace" in one sitting.  Revisit number 2 for clarification, if needed.

5.  It Must Be a Quick Read

I'm all for educating oneself through books.  The importance of constant learning should never be underestimated.  However, on the beach, I don't want a dictionary at my side, and I don't want to have to do an internet search to decipher all the symbolic references and allusions to history, art, and other literature.  I do that enough in the day job.  In other words, a beach read should be one I can flip through without brain pain caused by the effort of comprehending the story.  It should have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, and pacing  that is quick throughout the rest of the book.  Speed is good for some things (racetrack, boring lectures, the DMV line) and not so much for others (awesome music concerts, engrossing television, the bedroom), but on the beach, I need a quick read because, let's face it, I got at least four more waiting their turn--and not too patiently I might add.

These are my five characteristics for choosing a list of books for the beach.  Did I miss any?  What books would you recommend as great beach reads?

I got to get back to packing now.  Thank goodness for the e-reader.  Gone are the days of packing an extra bag just for books (okay, you got me, two bags).  Now I just sneak a few more paperbacks in the toiletry bag and the kids' entertainment bag.  Did I mention my obsession with books?

Happy Reading and Writing,

Cherie Marks

My flash fiction piece, "Mercy" can be downloaded for free at SmashwordsKobo, or Barnes and Noble.

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  1. Love this, and those are some great requirements! One thing, before I get to actual beach read discussion: the lovely, talented Gabi Stevens (author of The Wish List; recommended using a ziploc when I'm reading my Kindle in the bathtub. I imagine it would work for the beach, too, and keep the sand and water out of your precious reading materials. And it doesn't inhibit touch screens, either(I have a regular Kindle AND a Kindle Fire, so you're not alone in the two eReader thing).

    Anyway, one thing I've been loving in the digital age is the return of the short stories and novellas. As you said, family time requires our participation (sometimes), and it's a running joke that when I'm reading, I hear NOTHING else. I'm that immersed in the story. A novella, versus the 7th Harry Potter book, is a much better deal for everyone. :D

  2. I love the ziploc bag idea. Maybe I can be a little less anal that way. Cool. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, after I wrote the post, I thought about my numbers. If I stick to novellas and short stories in my TBR pile, I can probably double my reading output. Sweet!

  3. I love books that are hotter than the climate I'm vacationing in. The hotter, the better ;-). Yeah, I know how to put them down, but do I want to? If it's my vacation then I deserve to get lost in a fictional fantasy..or three. The ziplock idea is marvelous and I'd certainly do it if I had a Kindle or Nook.

  4. It gets pretty darn hot at the beach. I might need to keep that in mind as I'm choosing. I'm sure when I fan myself in my comfy beach chair, most will assume it's the weather. Yeah, the weather.

  5. I have to say that I loved my ereader when I took it on vacay! I had some great books I wanted to read, and I got to read them all, and not lug around all five of them. Plus, you can read some shorts, a novel or two - it's great! Happy reading and have fun on the family vacay!

    1. I love the feel of a book in my hand, but can't beat the convenience of an e-reader. Thanks, Kellie

  6. I agree that it must be a light read--and from an author I'm familiar with. Hard to concentrate with hot sun beating down on the head. As for an ereader--good luck and I admire you all for venturing anywhere around water and sand (and bright sun) with one LOL. Even though I'm the proud (and frustrated) owner of a Kindle now, I still would rather go for the paperback I don't have to worry about damaging.

    Although I do have to say, the ereader is great for shorter fiction.

    Great post!

  7. Great post, Cherie, and hope you're enjoying the beach. Love the ziploc Kindle idea, Noelle. needs to be a light read and I'm with you, Cherie. No sad endings...that's my beef with Mr. Nicholas Sparks. It's just as easy to leave people with a smile on their face rather than a tissue in hand, bawling their eyes out. I find myself reaching for my ereader for all my reading lately, simply because my eyesight is so bad and I don't want to wear my reading glasses. Love that text adjustment feature.