Summer Reading Lists and the Beach Read

Whether actually writing down a list or just thinking that I should be reading, the summer reading list has been a staple ever since my mother started signing my sisters and I up for our local library’s summer reading challenge.  The library would compile a list of age appropriate books (plus a couple of ‘free’ spaces to choose our own) and they would have to be completed by a certain date. Everyone who completed the challenge was given a certificate and surprisingly this was enough to make me feel accomplished. I needed no other bribery than to know I had successfully completed a task. I loved browsing the shelves with every visit; dropping off a stack of books and hauling a new one up to the librarian’s desk with anticipatory glee.

I wish I could pin-point when this glee ended and why. Maybe I became a teenager and therefore ‘too cool’ for such time wasters that would take me away from hanging out with my friends or all the television I thought was so damn important. Or maybe it was all the reading I had to do for my university classes and I figured summers should be about getting a break from anything literary. Whenever or why it happened I am glad to have rediscovered it. Admittedly, I do think having a year away from academia has helped me rediscover the enjoyment of novels and this summer has been my most book filled in a long time.

Of course summer vacation seems to be the perfect time to catch up on some reading and this is when newspapers and magazines start to compile their own list of suggested summer reading, much of which revolves around the Beach Read. We all know that chick lit generally falls under the alternative title of Beach Read due to it’s perceived fluffiness. And we all know that the beach is suppose to be about turning your brain off. Not only is the content light but the book itself is usually paperback and easily thrown into a handbag next to your iPod and sunscreen. I suppose that some chick lit is more on the humorous side making it “light” in subject matter as a posed to Literature with a capital L.  But I think I have made myself pretty clear that I don’t believe most chick lit to be vacuous. If anything most books have captivated me and left me with something to think about long after the final page has been turned.

Ever since my childhood library reading challenges dropped off I have been berating myself over how few books I read every summer or if my beach book was fluffy enough (side story: before my love of chick lit developed and therefore my reading of novels I used to only read non-fiction books about women’s and feminist issues. I enjoyed them a lot but then one day someone asked me if I ever stopped reading for school. And this is when I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t bring Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women to the beach).

Although I think that the term Beach Read can be dismissive I think it’s worth embracing much like the term Chick Lit. Meredith Blake sums up the beach read best in her article “Rethinking The Beach Read“:

 In an era when even thousand-page books like “Infinite Jest” can be read on lightweight cellphones, the beach read is truly whatever we want it to be, and that’s a wonderfully democratic thing.

What do you think about the term Beach Read? Are there specific books that you would or would not bring with you on vacation? Also, when did summer reading start for you and do you make book lists for summer or any other time of year? 


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