Airplane reading and beach reading have one thing in common: they’ve got to be distracting and that means fairly light. But not completely mindless. The kind of book that you can pick up for a while, then put down while you take a sip of a pina colada, take a dip in the ocean or take a walk in the sand. And pick back up again.
Or a book that will carry you through a nap under a beach umbrella and back. Not every book I read has to be literary or deeply meaningful. Sometimes, like eating dessert instead of dinner, I just want some mind candy.
Who doesn’t like a good beach read?
We’ll be spending a week in Hawaii this summer and I plan to be prepared for both the beach and the long flight over the Pacific Ocean. Because that flight means uninterrupted reading time, too.
Back in the days before e-readers, I once brought an entire suitcase of books for a month in Rome. Doesn’t that sound like an anachronism today? Who would do that? Today, I love my Kindle Paperwhite for travel reading because it’s lightweight and does only one thing: lets you read books. That means I’m not tempted to do Facebook or any other thing made possible by a full-fledged tablet. It’s actually a pretty good reading experience and I love being untethered from my phone, social media and email.
I’m not quite sure it’s compatible with sand, though. But then, neither is any book that you want to keep.
Where was I? Oh yes, beach reads. I found some good ones and here they are:
Axis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany by Richard Lucas. The tale isn’t so strange, but the woman is. She was an American actress who broadcast fear, uncertainty and doubt aimed from Germany to American troops during World War II. Her messages were meant to demoralize the troops and they hated her. The book is less a biography than it is a fascinating, objective look at a narcissistic personality who easily manipulated reality to support her position and lack of conscience. Mildred Gillars was certainly a bizarre woman and while given her background, some of her behavior and quirks (ok, more than quirks) might be understandable, many of them are not. That puzzle is what makes this such a good book. I found an old recording of one of her broadcasts on YouTube, HERE. Check the four minute mark for a sample of her broadcasts as Axis Sally, as the troops called her.
Searching for Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan. This frothy read isn’t as light as a Harlequin, nor is it a trashy novel, but I wouldn’t consider it literary, either. Still, it’s solid and diverting. It’s about young women in the 1950s who leave their small towns for Manhattan’s Barbizon Hotel for Women and what happens to them. I love the 1950s, I love the unique, anachronistic nature of the Barbizon and the characters were drawn just right for this genre. To my surprise, the book’s written by a man and one from a working class family in Philadelphia, to boot. I love that he had the guts to write what he calls a “sudsy novel” and that he was inspired by the first such novel he read, Peyton Place. Google “A conversation with Michael Callahan” to read an interview with this unpretentiously good writer who wrote a great beach read.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. Her first novel, Seating Arrangements, won her the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, so it’s no surprise that this is a well-written book despite some plot twists and turns that were, well, somewhat predictable. Nonetheless, the story moved along. Maybe a little…well…dramatic. But you know what? There’s a time and a place for deep, meaningful literary fiction and the beach would not be those things. The story begins as a young ballet dancer helps a Soviet dancer she’s slept with defect. I believe a character-driven book is the mark of a skillful writer, and that’s what this is. Plus, she really let us into the world of professional ballet, and that helped move the book along at a fast pace.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob. Maybe you want something a little different. A little quirky. Here’s a read about an idiosynchratic Indian-American immigrant family that takes the reader to India in the Seventies and on to 1990s Seattle. It’s got mystery, humor, pathos and it makes you think. But really, not that hard. After all, you’re on the beach! It’s a book about the family, connections and the generational divide. Books that involve India continue to attract me and the experience is richer since our trip there 18 months ago. I do recommend this book. It’s 500 pages, so start it at the beginning of your trip.
How about you? Got a good beach read or two you want to recommend? The Comments section awaits!