Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Wrong Beach Reading

Today I was perusing Amy of Fraught's post about her recent vacay weekend, and how she wound up reading a heavy memoir of addiction during what was supposed to be a boozy girls' getaway. Then Gretchen chimed in and said that she'd once packed The Bell Jar as her reading for a beach trip. Downer.

This made me think about the time I set off on a nineteen-hour Greyhound bus ride with only Henry James's The Ambassadors. I defy you to read that on a Greyhound bus. It cannot be done.

(Actually, I probably have a couple of friends who could manage it. You know who you are.)

The things we require of a beach read and a of Greyhound bus read are different, probably. Maybe. Mainly I require that I never again be on a Greyhound bus. But it got me thinking.

I asked Matt what his biggest beach reading mistake was. He knew right away. "It was the time I started reading that awful James Patterson book," he said. We must share a brain, because I remembered the exact time he was talking about. It happened in the late 90's. I said, "You mean the one that begins by narrating the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby?" He said, "Yes, ugh, I was like, 'What is this crap, murder porn?'"

If all of life were a high school yearbook, Matt would be Least Likely to Read An Entire James Patterson Thriller. But I reminded him that for most people, that's exactly the kind of book they read at the beach. I am sure that dog-eared James Patterson paperbacks are lining the pressed-wood bookcases of thousands of rented beach houses up and down the shores of this great land.

He dug deeper. "Okay, once I took Linear Algebra to the beach." I said, "Um, good night, why did you do that?" He said he'd been studying it, but admitted that he didn't actually get any linear algebra done that week. Nonetheless, I was all, NERD NERD LOOK AT THE NERD! HEY FOUR-EYES! Like I didn't already know that.

So I wanted to ask y'all, what unfortunate or improbable vacation-reading choices have you made? Or what was a perfect, memorable match of vacation with book experience?

I find the whole topic of beach reading so crammed full of memory and desire. Do you get me? Like, I remember that I started reading the Harry Potter series at the beach. I remember that I read John Fowles's The Magus at the beach. PERFECT BEACH BOOK. I remember that once, Matt's brother and mother were each reading The Da Vinci Code, and I offered ten dollars to the first person to finish a copy and give it to me. This makes me laugh now. But it was a good beach read, despite not being a very good book.

And speaking of beach readers, it does not get any more major league than Matt's family. They come to read and they do not eff around. Seriously. They each arrive with a stack of books, having discussed and outlined their week's reading plan on the way to our destination, and then they hit it hard. They read, with absolutely athletic focus and determination, all the day long, while eating, while rocking on the porch, while sunning. I had always thought I was a great reader, but damn. They are the bigs.

29 comments:

Mad Woman said...

I took War & Peace on a beach holiday with me once. I've actually read the book twice now but neither time was over that holiday. It was a silly choice.

Honestly my best beach reads are books like "Beaches" (duh) and "The Shell Seekers". Or mindless fluff like Janet Evanovich writes.

Michele R said...

Does Matt's family have a reading addiction? Or no children or at least no children on trips? :)
I can't think of any bad reading beach choices. I do research what books to bring and get them packed even before the bathing suit. I bring plenty as I am not sure how fast I will finish. Hubs said something negatively about all the books and magazines I brought but I have no hair products so I told him to lay off.
P.S. My beach read was The Help. Really liked it.

Amy said...

On our vacay a couple weeks ago I read "Shanghai Girls". It's a good book, but pretty much a downer. And intense. I guess I shoulda guessed that when the back of the book said it was about two Chinese sisters that survive the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. Good times! Not fluffy at all.

I can totally--totally!--believe that Matt would bring Linear Algebra to the beach. Hey, Poindexter!

Michele said...

I once took The Grapes of Wrath on a road trip once.

Amy said...

Oooh, thanks for the linky love!! And oh, you make me laugh. "The pressed-wood bookcases," etc. "All of life a high school yearbook." {Aftershock giggles}.

And like many of your followers, I totally have a little thing for Matt. And now you tell me he comes from a family of great readers ... {swoon}.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Hmmm. I don't have any beach-reading disasters, at least that I can remember. But I would definitely NOT read "Fifteen Minutes" at the beach. And the "Bell Jar"? Is still in my back seat, untouched, where it's lived for the last five years. Way too heavy. Way.

On a brighter note, for the beach I'll soon be packing the latest from Emily Giffin, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Shreve, and David Baldacci.

Jenni said...

I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics at the beach last year and it was perfect. This year, my brother-in-law gave us all Netherland, and an essay about the book to read BEFORE the beach so we can have a beach book club, which I'm kind of excited about that. I think I'm going to bring the Laresen books this year since I'm the only person on the planet that has not read them. I find that the Sookie Stackhouse books do not disappoint for a beach read - just the right amount of mystery and smut.

I alway bring a Jodi Picault book to the beach and am always disappointed. What do people see in her writing? I don't get it.

Jenni said...

That's Larsen books - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and those.

Jenni said...

Oh, I read Electric Michaelangelo one year on vacation and it was a major downer. Good book but very sad.

Maggie said...

What a delightful post. I think Matt is the coolest guy out there. He is so totally cool that he CAN bring Linear Algebra to the beach and be the one all of your blog followers swoon over!! How lucky am I that I am the aunt to two such intelligent, cool, funny, and exceptional people.

Ash said...

I'm so thoroughly jealous that Matt is a beach reading kind of guy. I should have included that on the questionnaire before I agreed to date my husband.

He's a gotta-constantly-be-doing-something beach kind of guy.

I'm fairly certain it's why God blessed us with two boys - so that I may now read in peace on the beach.

Last beach read - "Duma Key" by Stephen King - perfection.

Christine said...

I love a good mystery (like an Elizabeth George) on the beach or vacation but I always treat myself to a gossipy People-type magazine for the drive or flight there. Vacation is all about the guilty pleasures for me.

Megan said...

Once, I accepted my mother's suggestion on my way to the beach, and I bought "The Road." Have you read "The Road"? OMG, it honestly is the most depressing book ever written! The movie is about to be released, and all I keep thinking is, "Who in their right mind made this ridiculously depressing tome into a MOVIE???" Seriously. I love depressing. Give me "Schindler's List." Give me "My Sister's Keeper." But "The Road"??? Beach read, it is not. :)

Becky said...

Oh Megan, I thought of The Road as I was composing this post--OH DANG that may be the worst beach book possible. It's one of the few things I've read that can STILL bring me down in thinking about it. Also, the movie is already on DVD. I know, it kind of snuck out there.

I'm getting some good suggestions from this--Elizabeth George, I totally forgot about her, and Anita Shreve.

Jenni, I am halfway through the second Larsson book and it is awesome! Those are great vacay reads, the second even more than the first.

gretchen said...

Thank so much for the link! Unfortunately, all they're getting is a lousy rerun. But thanks for the love. I've remembered that the second worst vacation read I've ever brought along (behind The Bell Jar) was Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Yes, it's true. Almost as bad as anything Cormac McCarthy. We're leaving in about an hour to go camping, and I'm bringing David Sedaris, and I think it's just about perfect. Funny, smart. And if I get interupted about a gazillion times by little campers it won't matter.

Veronica said...

I can still remember the summer I read Leon Uris's Exodus at the beach. Not my best choice.

I took your advice and read Game Change as one of my nursing reads (I think nursing reading requirements are sorta similar to beach reading requirements)--fun! I read the first Dragon Tattoo book also, and am thinking of getting the next ones for the beach later this summer.

Julie at ModernDayMiddleAge said...

Sophie's Choice ... brought that one to the beach right after I'd given birth. Tense, depressing ...and children die! Good times! Oh, don't forget The Lovely Bones. I should have read the back cover blurb before I brought that out into the sun with me.

puncturedbicycle said...

I went through a teenage phase of reading Gone with the Wind every summer - an unorthodox choice with some unsavoury content, but such a satisfying read. I remember worrying about finishing it too quickly, and when I did finish it, turning straight back to the beginning.

Amy Whitley said...

Best beach reading evah was without doubt the entire Anne of Green Gables series when I was 12 years old and staying with my grandmother for two weeks in Southern California. Worst beach read was Great Expectations. Honestly...what was I thinking?

aimeewrites said...

Hm, I don't know. We don't do beach vacations, so I've always been a bit perplexed by the term beach books.

However, Matt's family sounds a bit like mine growing up. No matter the vacation, we each had a bag of books with us; 1-2 per day, minimum. It was especially nice once my sister and I got to be teens, so the four of us could pass books around - less to carry!

Beth said...
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Beth said...

I am loving this post and all the comments. I think I want to be one of those people who could read The Ambassadors on a bus, but I'm fairly certain that I'm not. Reading any Henry James that isn't Turn of the Screw kind of makes me want to go to sleep.

We don't really do beach, either, but I totally get beach reads. I can't think of a disastrous one right now, though. I think The Historian would be a good one, though, and I just got totally hooked on this book that I heard about on NPR called The Passage. I know, what is with me and the vampires? I am NOT a Twi-mom and have never read those books, but I was a huge Anne Rice fan. I remember The Witching Hour being a particularly good beach read type. Poor Anne Rice. She did the vampire thing first and much, much better than any of these goofs out there now.

Anyhoo, I don't really get into those Jennifer Weiner type books, so I'd much prefer some kind of thriller/sci-fi-ish deal.

Is the second Larsson book good? I finished Dragon Tattoo, but wasn't really compelled to go further. The first 200 pages of that book were such a slog.

Becky said...

Beth, the second Larsson book is more of a grabber than the first. Although I feel like I've been in the middle for a long while. . .

Lots more good recs here.

And I think interruptability might be a key feature of a good read, like you say Gretchen. Though my mother-in-law said that when she was reading _Alive_, she could have been attacked by seagulls and she still would have turned the page.

Keely said...

Anything on Oprah's reading list, really. Not that I get to go to the beach a lot. But you'd probably be appalled by my REGULAR reading pile.

David said...

I read _Brothers Karamazov_ at the beach when I was sixteen. I loved the book, but it's the only thing I remember about that vacation... So, fail.

And while I wish I could count myself among the friends you mention, I tried reading _The Golden Bowl_ on the metro yesterday, because I'm ramping up for my James chapter. Same handful of sentences, five or six times. I caught myself moving my lips at the end there, so I gave up and started playing Tetris on my phone.

David said...

PS/hee: you said "snuck" in your reply to Megan.

Scott said...

My worst, by far, was over Thanksgiving holidays at the beach one year when I read "Maus." It was for an assignment for a holocaust class I was taking at the time, but, man was it a downer.

Becky said...

Oh dear, I did say snuck! I am such a fraud.

Casey said...

I used to drive over to Daytona beach when I was in college just to get studying done. There is nothing like laying on the beach catching up on some nerdy economics.

Now, I'm jealous of people who can find the time to read, period. Seriously, these lovely kids won't stop tackling each other long enough for me to get a paragraph read and I'm too tired once they're asleep. How is it done?