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How to Pick a Book for the Beach

“Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be.” – Italo Calvino

 

At risk of being presumptuous, you seem like you could use a vacation.

A real one, involving a change of scenery. The type where you leave your work behind and go decompress, while enjoying the sun. In short: maybe you should consider going to the beach. Sure, it’s important to periodically go outside and touch grass, but you look like you need more than that, you need to dig your toes beneath the sand. Granted, having concluded that a trip to the beach would do you well, it is easy to immediately start feeling overwhelmed by all of the minutiae of planning your trip. The point is to get away from stress, not to create more of it.

What follows is an attempt to lessen the stress of planning your trip to the beach by offering some useful guidance regarding what book you should take to the beach with you. Of course, you should probably bring more than just a book with you (you’ll really want to bring sunscreen), but nevertheless selecting which book(s) can still be a source of much inner turmoil, which (hopefully) this guide will lessen.

Thus, without any further ado, may  this guide be of use to you…

 

1.

You should not bring a book to the beach.

This is because “a book” refers to a single book, instead you should bring “books” to the beach.

Yes, books. This is not to say that you need to bring a stack of books or an entire library’s worth of books to the beach with you, but it’s not a bad idea to bring more than just one book. After all, you might finish a single book rather quickly, or a seagull might steal it, or you might simply decide that you don’t really want to read this particular book—none of these are actually problems, provided that is that you have some other books with you. By bringing multiple books you will ensure that you have plenty to read, that you have options of what to read, and that you can bring a variety of sorts of books should you need them for non-reading related purposes. Here it should be emphasized that you really do want to be thinking in terms of variety, thus bringing the three volumes of a trilogy is inadvisable (what if after the first volume you decide you don’t really care what happens next?). And while it is certainly true that many a store near the beach will in fact sell books should you find yourself in need of another text, you don’t want to have your book selection be at the mercy of such shops, so you really do want to bring multiple books with you.

Based on a careful study, it is widely believed that the ideal number of books you want to take to the beach with you is at least three (increase this number by one for each additional day you plan on spending at the beach). Or, seeing as book can simultaneously refer to very short and very long books—you want at least 750 pages of text (and add 250 pages of text for each additional day you plan on spending at the beach). That being said, the rule of “at least three” still applies even if one of those books is itself very long.

Plan, and pack, accordingly.

 

2.

One of the simplest ways to select a book (or books) for the beach is to go to your bookshelf (or bookshelves) and look at the selection you already have available to you. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to get to for quite some time, but that you haven’t read yet? Is there a book that you’ve really been meaning to re-read, but that you keep putting off re-reading? Well, an easy way to select a book for the beach is to just go ahead and make your pick based on what you already have in front of you. This makes easy economic sense (you already have the book), and helps to nicely limit your selection from a consideration of all the books available out in the world that you could potentially obtain before your trip to a much more manageable consideration of the books available to you in your personal library (granted, your personal library may still be very large). Chances are good that you can find something on your shelf/shelves you’ve been meaning to get to for whatever reason.

Of course, there’s always a good chance that there is nothing on your shelf/shelves that is appropriate. Perhaps all of the books that you haven’t read yet are simply too depressing to bring with you on a trip to the beach, or all of the books you’ve been meaning to re-read are too closely associated with a research project in which you are embroiled and bringing them along would quickly turn your trip into work. Well, in such cases, by all means you should consult the rest of this guide and use it to help you select an appropriate book. Now, it is worth being honest with yourself here, are you just saying that there is nothing you would want to read because that way you have an excuse to buy new books and you are always looking for an excuse to buy new books? Are you using the category of “beach books” as a way to open up a new sub-category in your already voluminous personal library? Do you actually have space in your abode to accommodate any additional book? Is your entire trip to the beach solely about giving you an excuse to buy new books and doesn’t actually have anything to do with going to the beach? Only you (and perhaps the people with whom you cohabitate) can truly answer those questions, but the point stands that before you go out to purchase this season’s hot new beach read you should consider evaluating the books you already have available.

 

3.

Consider for a moment the features that you commonly associate with beaches. The water, the sand, the sun, the seagulls, the feeling of sunscreen on your hands. Now think for a moment about what the implications of some of these common features are for books. To be clear, most books are fairly hearty material objects that can survive being exposed to the elements for an afternoon without being destroyed, but you should still consider the matter of such exposure when picking a book.

To be more specific:

  • Is the book waterproof?
  • Is the book being read on an e-reader that will get screwed up if sand gets into its charging port?
  • Will your sunscreen slathered hands make it so the book is too slippery to hold?
  • Does the book contain large pictures of food that might lead to confused seagulls attacking the book?
  • Is the text already so faded from exposure to the sun that you cannot read it in bright light?
  • Are you listening to the book in audio book format necessitating you have headphones on that might result in you not hearing the life guard shouting some manner of serious warning at you?
  • Is the book an oversized codex that is far too unwieldly to read on anything but a large table with proper book pillows acting as support?
  • Does the book have such a glossy (or otherwise shiny) cover that it will reflect the sun directly into the eyes of other people at the beach?

In all likelihood you have decided to go to the beach because of the things that differentiate the beach from your normal surroundings. However, those differences also necessitate that you consider how these features alter your relation to the materiality of the book you have selected. You might have figured out exactly which novel(s) you want to bring to the beach with you, but you should still make sure to give some thought to the particular version of the novel(s) you are actually bringing.

 

4.

If you are bringing a book to the beach, you need to prepare yourself for annoying questions. Some of these will potentially come from the people who are going to the beach with you. They may take your choice of bringing a book as some sort of personal affront (signaling that you do not want to just talk to them the whole time), or they may accuse you of bringing “work” to the beach (this will likely depend on what you do and what you’re bringing to read), or they may simply wind up needling you with questions because they are bored as they forgot to bring a book of their own (which is why you should bring multiple books with you, so you can share). You will need to be ready to respond to these questions as they arise, and you should not be surprised when the questions are asked. Remember to be polite but firm. You want your answers to be sufficiently informative that the questioner feels heard and satisfied and lets you get back to reading, but not so curt as to anger them and result in your trip to the beach becoming a replaying of that argument from two years ago that neither one of you has really gotten over yet (you know the one).

Unfortunately, there is also a chance that your decision to read at the beach will attract the attention of other beach goers who will for some reason interpret your decision to read as an invitation to come converse with you. There may be rare occasions in which the person has also read the book you are reading and genuinely wants to discuss, in even rarer occasions it may be that the author of the book has spotted you reading the book they wrote and they want to come say hello, but in most cases if some stranger approaches you while you are reading they are coming to annoy you.

Of course, the question you are likely to be asked the most often is “what are you reading” to which the best answer is an honest one. The next question you are most likely to be asked is “what is that book about” to which you can always get away with answering either “the continuity of life” or “the inevitability of death.” For what it’s worth, responding that the book you are reading is about “the inevitability of death” tends to be the most reliable way to convince someone to stop asking you questions about what you are reading.

 

5.

When picking a book for the beach you should not be afraid to ask yourself what roles this book may need to fulfill beyond providing you with something to read while basking in the sun. Will this book need to be used to help keep the beach blanket from blowing away? If so, you’ll want to ensure that the book has some actual weight to it. Will this book need to be used to help you identify that this is your beach blanket and not the beach blanket of someone else? If so, you’ll want to ensure that you aren’t reading the exact same book that 95% of the other people on the beach are reading (you know the book). Will this book need to double as a weapon in the case that a swarm of famished crabs decide that they want to eat you for lunch? If so, you’ll probably want a decently sized hardcover book that can be used for bludgeoning purposes. Will you forget to pack (or rent) a beach umbrella, forcing you to use the book you’ve brought as a way of generating at least some shade? If so, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve brought a very large book that is still light enough for you to hold above your head for a prolonged period of time. Will you possibly get washed out to sea as a result of an unexpected wave? If so you’ll want a book that doubles as a flotation device, or which can be turned into a raft.

Of course, this is by no means an all-inclusive list of every scenario that might require you to use the book(s) you have brought for purposes that are not strictly related to reading. And, alas, it is nearly impossible to anticipate every possible situation that might arise (another case for bringing multiple books), but you should still push yourself to think of these possibilities. After all, you wouldn’t be the first person to have their beach blanket blow away because the book they brought wasn’t heavy enough to keep the aforementioned blanket weighed down. Nor would you be the first person washed out to sea with nothing for support but a cheap paperback.

 

Artistic Interlude Begins

In Claude Monet’s famous painting “The Beach at Trouville” we  see two beach goers.

One has wisely brought something to read, while the other looks on consumed by frustration at having forgotten to bring something to read.

Artistic Interlude Ends

 

6.

One of the reasons to go to the beach is to restore the sense of balance that has been so thoroughly disrupted by your regular life. Too much work and not enough relaxation has thrown you off kilter, necessitating that you get away for a while. And yet, you don’t want to become so relaxed that you throw your balance off in the other direction! After all, it’s bad to be a workaholic, but that doesn’t mean you want to wind up as a seashore dwelling hermit living in an abandoned lighthouse and spending all of your days gazing lovingly at the sea (okay, maybe that doesn’t sound too bad). You need to keep things balanced, so here are some particular tips on how you can select a book to help achieve that:

  • Feeling too hot? Read a book about arctic exploration.
  • Feeling too relaxed? Read a book about the current state of the world.
  • Still thinking about work? Read a work of genre fiction with the most ridiculous cover you can find.
  • Wondering “what does it all mean?” Read some history.
  • Can’t relax? Put a bookmark in your book and stare at the waves.
  • Feeling too hungry? Leave the beach and go read a menu at a restaurant and then order something off of that menu.
  • So singularly focused on the state of the world that you feel guilty reading fiction? You should really read some fiction.
  • Feeling like this beach is perfect and will endure forever? Read a book about climate change.
  • Not thinking about work at all? Good, to hell with that place.

 

7.

Just because a book has the word “beach” in its title does not mean that you should assume that it would be a good book to read while at the beach. Many a person who thought they were being clever has brought a copy of On the Beach to read while they were on the beach only to have their time sitting on the beach ruined by having chosen to read On the Beach while on the beach. That a book features the word “beach” in its title should not be taken as a cue that the book qualifies as “beach reading,” and furthermore just because the characters in a book visit a beach at one point does not mean that you will want to read it during your own visit to a beach. All of which is to say, you already know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you should also know that you shouldn’t judge a book to be beach reading merely because the word beach appears in its title.

 

8.

Remember: the beach is not your home, you are just visiting. Thus, you should endeavor to be a good guest. Certainly, this means that you must remember not to litter, and to leave the beach as you found it, but it also means that you should try not to antagonize the beach’s true residents with your reading selections. No, by “the beach’s true residents” the point is not to draw attention to the local humans, rather the point is to draw attention to the various non-human creatures that dwell on/near the beach. Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be the first person to consider reading a certain famous book about whaling at the beach, but those who bring that famous book about whaling to the beach have been known to attract the unwelcome attention of whales who don’t find that book selection quite so clever. Similar incidents have been reported regarding individuals reading books about dangerous sharks, alien dolphins, annoying seagulls, and giant crustaceans. There is a whole subgenre of horror fiction that features imagery suggesting that there is something terrible about tentacled creatures, but reading such a work at the beach is likely to earn you a visit from an offended octopus. Of course, this menagerie of oceanic and beach-dwelling creatures are unlikely to be disturbed by you reading a book about the jungle or the veldt or mountainous regions—so plan accordingly.

Also, though this is obvious it still needs to be stated clearly: if you are reading a cookbook (especially one about cooking seafood) or the biography/autobiography of a chef…you’re really just asking for a crab to come and pinch your toes.

 

9.

Many a couple, many a group of friends, and many a family, has enjoyed the activity of reading a book aloud. Picking a book and passing it around between members of the group with each person reading a couple of pages, or a chapter, or several paragraphs. While reading is often seen as a fairly solitary activity these days, by reading the book aloud this activity quickly becomes a communal activity in which multiple people can partake.

As beaches are often a place of communal gathering and communal activities, selecting a book to read as a group can be great fun. That being said, if you choose to pursue this you should consider the book brought for this activity as an additional book, not the only book. After all, a book that is being read by and to a group requires that the whole group be there and willing to engage in this activity. Sure, there will be some moments when the whole group is game for this activity, but there will also be moments when one person wants to boogie board, another wants to go look for shells, another wants to walk along the boardwalk, and another just wants to gaze out at the sea while contemplating what they should have said in that conversation five years ago which could have changed their entire life for the better if only they could have thought of something clever to say.

Furthermore, let’s be frank about this, communal reading can seem like a good idea at first; however, if Frank reads in a flat monotone while Francine does all of the voices for the characters, it can result in a situation where the communal reading quickly turns into just wanting one person to read the book aloud to the group. And this isn’t even to begin contemplating how it is that you can get the entire group to agree on which book to read. Just contemplating this is likely making you question the wisdom of doing this, and though it really can be fun, you should still make sure to bring a book just for yourself.

 

10.

Select a book that is an actual physical book, the kind made of paper.

Don’t worry, this isn’t meant as a screed against screens, an attack on e-readers, or some kind of anti-technology rant (books are also technology). Nor is this meant as some excuse to engage in problematic romanticizing of the printed page. But let’s be honest, beaches are windy, beaches are sandy, beaches are frequently wet—and physical books are pretty sturdy objects that endure quite well. Just in terms of physical attributes, a physical book has much to recommend itself to the beach reader. Nevertheless, a physical book also boasts some other nice features that make it ideal for the beach. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with reading books on your phone or on your tablet or on your e-reader…but when reading on such devices it is so easy to switch from reading to responding to work emails. Or to switch from distracting yourself with a good book to finding that somehow you have resumed doom-scrolling. You don’t need to watch TikTok’s of people going to the beach, you are already at the beach! You don’t need to scroll through endless Instagram images of people’s idyllic beach vacations, that will only get in the way of your own idyllic beach vacation! Stop trying to check your work e-mail for goodness sake! Of course, you obviously have excellent self-control, and there is no possible way that you would be tempted to let the world you needed a vacation from intrude on your vacation…but a physical book might make it easier to maintain this boundary.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea to have your phone with you (just in case), but it’s still wise to pack a physical book. Besides, you don’t need to worry about the battery life of a physical book.

 

11.

Remember, ultimately the best book to read at the beach is the one that you won’t get you attacked by an angry mob of crabs.

 

More Book Related Advice of Questionable Utility:

How to move a large quantity of books

How to keep from getting distracted when you are trying to read

How to organize your library

How many books does a person really need?

How not to get sick at the library

How to avoid ruining a book

How to sleep in a library

How to read a large book on a crowded train

How to not ruin a book

How to stay cool in a library

How to keep what you’re reading secret

How to gut a book

How to avoid being bothered while working in a library

How to defend yourself with a book

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer librarianshipwreck.wordpress.com @libshipwreck

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