One of life’s greatest pleasures is sitting at the beach reading a good book. The layers of stress burn slowly but steadily away. A good beach read though is not the same as good literature. Classics are terrific, but limited mental engagement is critical when it comes to beach reading. Tolstoy has no place on a beach towel. A good rule of thumb: If you can’t finish it in two days, it’s not beach reading. And if the cover announces, “Soon to be a major motion picture” or “Now a major motion picture,” it’s almost certainly beach reading.
According to a google ngram search, the term “beach reading” came into vogue during the 1990’s. Beach reading refers to light, fluffy page-turners. Thrillers and chick-lit are almost by definition beach reads. But any genre can qualify.
Below are some good choices, in no particular order.
Emma Straub, The Vacationers (2014). Family and friends vacation in Mallorca. Will a vacation resolve their problems? It’s a beach read, what do you think?
Alex Garland, The Beach (1997). Shallow, self-absorbed drifter Richard finds map to secluded, unspoiled Thai beach. Once he arrives with a couple he meets on his journey, mayhem ensues in paradise. Critically praised and absorbing, but is it a requirement of beach reading that you like the protagonist even a little bit? Made into a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000.
Noah Hawley. Before the Fall. Private plane crashes. Does the surviving passenger have something to do with it? Hawley is the creator of Fargo, one of the best shows on TV. Before the Fall’s been acquired by Sony.
Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale (2015). Holocaust and French Resistance. Historical fiction as beach read. Lots of convenient coincidences, heroics, and chances at redemption tossed into a tearjerker.Rumor has it that Tristar has optioned the novel.
Melanie Benjamin. The Swans of Fifth Avenue (2016). Based upon a true incident. Truman Capote meets the ladies who lunch. Capote doesn’t get that you’re not supposed to publish confidences, and the ladies ostracize him. Enthralling history, despite overly fraught writing. Soon to be a premium cable series.
Ben Winters. The Last Policeman (2012). Mash-up of detective story and pre-apocalytic sci-fi. Although the world’s coming to an end and lots of folks are either offing themselves or gone bucket listing, detective Henry Palace investigates a suspected murder. Great deadpan humor. No news about a movie though.
Paula Hawkins. The Girl On The Train (2015). Finally out in paperback after more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s Gone Girl light. If you can’t figure out whodunit after reading the first third of the book, you haven’t been reading carefully. Still, it’s gripping until the last page. And soon to be a major motion picture.