So You're Going to Be Reading By the Water, Eh?

I really wish that when people say they want a good "beach read" they'd tell the truth: they want something easy (and by "beach" they may mean pool, the patio, or the air conditioned living room). I suppose the whole concept of slacking can be traced back to the days of being out of school and rebelling against the concept of partaking in anything mentally taxing from June to August (not me, you lazy good-for-nothings). So, I figured I'd indulge this silly little concept and give you a slightly pumped up list- just because you're wearing less fabric does not mean you need to think any less. And remember, sunscreen, boys and girls. Reapply every two hours, a shot glass amount per person (not the same one you're using for tequila, though).

If you're feeling a little nostalgic for summer required reading days, revisit The Handmaid's Tale by Margret Atwood. It's a great story about near future where there's a clear class system, as well as frightening fertility issues (also related Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro). While you're at it, give Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road a try. When published in 1932 it was extremely controversial given its dabbling in race, sex, and the economy- it can be quite offensive and blatantly sexual at times, so buyer be warned (I read this for college, not high school, by the way. And finally, for those that like a good play, read Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, an amusing play about nineteenth century marriage and women's rights.

For those looking for some contemporary literature (in regards to publishing date, not subject matter), I'd check out Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars, a novel about a home for unwed, young pregnant mothers, or maybe Saturday by Ian McEwan, the story of a man who's life changes after a car accident. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby is a humorous novel about a washed up musician, or maybe The Ruins of California by Martha Sherrill, for a female coming-of-age novel centering on a girl torn between two very different parts of her family.

For something a little more challenging, but not necessarily terribly difficult, try Big Machine by Victor Luvalle, a science fiction story that combines superb writing, ethics, the imortance of knowledge, and the paranormal (I'm not a sci-fi fan, either). Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita is a novel I had to read two or three times in college (I met Yamashita once, too, and she's so smart, yet humble), and always enjoyed, given that it mixes Los Angeles issues with science and great characters. You could also delve into Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls by Richard Russo, a book that focuses on small time living through the construction of great characters.

"But Christine, I generally read crap. You know, books with shoes, silhouettes, and handbags on the cover. What about meeeeee?"

All right you chic-lit whiners, I've got you covered too. Just a little jump, that's all I ask. To lessen the pain start with one of the original chic-lit novels, Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding (but stop there, don't read any more of her books). It's funny, is easy, but has some heart to it. Then, take a deep breath and try Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, and maybe The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank (relax, it's not an introduction to wildlife skills). Then, when you've started introducing some quality into your diet of books about single, desperate women, try to go one step further and read something different, but not hard or painful. Perhaps The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Marc Haddon or even Room by Emma Donoghue.

This summer I'll be reading A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan, Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas, Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, finally finishing Underworld by Don Delillo, and hopefully much more.

Now if only Southern California would lose the clouds and heat up a few more degrees...


  1. I'm not sure which category I want to delve into this summer. I WILL be at the beach.... I will make it a point to go. Let's go one of these days... we can run (or not) then chill out for the rest of an afternoon...reading if you'd like. I like people watching myself....or eating.

  2. I love the movie for Bridget Jones' Diary, but for whatever reason I just never thought to read the book. This may be just the summer to give BJD's print version a try.

  3. What an excellent list of great books to read! I'm looking forward to reading Room by Emma Donoghue because I've heard so much about it! I work at Just the Right Book and we actually created a quick, fun and easy 10 question summer reading quiz to get personalized recommendations on what you may enjoy reading this summer! Feel free to check out the quiz here:
    Thanks again for sharing your summer reads with us!