Floridians devour more than their share of beach reads. Probably because many of our residents are retired and actually have time to read, but also because we can go to the beach and indulge in beach reads all year long.
What exactly is a beach read? Back in the day, a beach read was something that one wouldn’t normally read in one’s home. Maybe it was something a little trashy, or embarrassing. Something a little un-intellectual.
Physically, a beach read had to be a paper back. If the book got splashed by a rogue wave or wet from a damp bathing suit, it didn’t matter. If sand got packed into the spine and the pages themselves became discolored by suntan-oily fingers of a beach read, who cared?
So what makes a great beach read today?
- A beach read must read fast.
- A beach read must interest, invigorate, stimulate, amuse and inform.
- A beach read must not depress.
- A great beach read is a book that is so intriguing that the dynamics of your beach going experience change; the sand, water and waves fade and the book becomes your reason for being there.
- A great beach read will not stay in your beach bag, to be continued next time you go to the beach. You will finish that book as soon as you get home.
- A beach read does not have to be about the beach.
- A beach read does not require note taking. .
- A beach read does not require highlighting.
Here’s my top 10 Best Beach Reads:
Beach Music by Pat Conroy. Fiction. 1996. Both men and women will enjoy this book
This is my all time favorite beach read. Pat Conroy, one of America’s favorite Southern sons reminds us why we are willingly wait years for each of his books. Beach Music introduces us to Jack McCall, a South Carolina boy. Jack, a widow with a young daughter is hiding in Rome as he tries to reconcile himself with his wife’s suicide as well as the damage that even the most loving of families inflict upon each other. But his family and friends refuse to make it easy for him. They keep pulling him and his daughter back to the Low Country. Only through his willingness to examine and face his past, forgive and be forgiven, can he ever be free to live and love again.
And if you love Beach Music, you’ll love another great beach read: Prince of Tides.
Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White. Fiction. 1991. Both men and women will enjoy this book.
Meet Doc Ford, a seemingly mild mannered, slightly myopic marine biologist who lives in an old fish house off Sanibel Island, Florida. But there’s a lot more to Doc Ford that what meets the eye. He’s got a dark past that he’s trying hard to leave behind — dark as in Special Forces and Covert Ops. But Doc has washed his hands of his old way of life and is moving on. He’s settled in a place full of quirky characters. But when an old buddy shows up, can Doc help him without getting sucked back in? Ladies, we finally have an action hero that we can love.
Just about all of Randy Wayne White’s books qualify as great beach reads. And for the men out there looking for more beach reads, White’s first series was written under the nom de plume of Randy Striker.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Fiction. 2001. Both men and women will enjoy this book.
I was reluctant to jump on the “Pi Bandwagon” when it first came out. I’m not a fan of books classified as “fantasy.” Actually I listened to the unabridged version as I drove from Fort Myers, Florida to Dallas, Texas. There’s more than one way to enjoy a great beach read.
Pi Patel, the protagonist, is an endearing young man. You’d like to have him as a son. You wouldn’t object if he dated your daughter. He’s interested and curious about the world around him. He also openly loves and respects his family which is a rare commodity in a teenage boy..
His family owns a zoo in Pondicherry, India, and have decided to move to Canada to escape the political unrest in India. They sell off many of the animals to zoos around the world. A few were going to Canada and they are loaded onto a cargo ship with the family. There is a fire and the ship goes down. In a last ditch effort, Pi manages to get into a life boat. But he is not alone.
Even eight years after publication, this book has remained one of the favorite beach reads of all time.
Vurt by Jeff Noon. Science Fiction. 1993. Men will enjoy this book.
Just when I thought I knew everything about my personal taste in literature, I learned that I was a pompous, narrow-minded idiot. I gave up reading science fiction in the 70’s, because a college professor force fed it to us and proclaimed it the only type of fiction worth reading. I inadvertently got Vurt in a box of books I bought on Ebay. I learned that sci-fi was no longer just Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.
Vurt is set in an alternative version of modern Manchester. Vurt is a designer type drug that is delivered into the system by a yellow feather, either sucked on or tickled around the back of the throat. When on Vurt, one’s dreams, knowledge, imaginings and intelligence become reality.
The main character is Scribble and he could only be described as a “ne’er do well,” but likable nonetheless. His little pack of nefarious thugs is known as The Stash Riders. Scribble is on a mission to find his lover who is also his sister, Desdemona, and he chases after her from reality to unreality, from one mind to the next.
I recommend that you read this book stone cold sober and hold on to your soul.
This is not a typical beach read.
Celebrity by Thompson Thomas. Fiction. 1984. Both men and women will enjoy this book.
I’ve read this book at least a dozen times and have turned several copies dog eared. It’s one of the greatest beach reads ever. It’s got glitz and trash and old time religion, all in the same book.
This story is about three buddies, Kleber Cantrell, MacKenzie Crawford and TJ Luther, who are self proclaimed Princes in their home town. They cruise their lives with nary a care until the night of their high school graduation. They then become involved in a crime so terrible, that it ruins them and their friendship forever.
Unable to face each other, the friendship is ripped and scattered and the boys plot their individual courses, but always looking over their shoulder for the other two to show up and bring successes and illusions crashing to the ground.
Warning: this beach read could cause temporary amnesia, when you look up and can’t remember where you are. .
The Magus by John Fowles. 1966. Fiction. Both men and women will enjoy this book.
The Magus was the first “adult” book I read. In 1968 it creeped me out and it still creeps me out forty years later.
A young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, in order to avoid becoming more entangled with a girl he is sleeping with, takes a job teaching at a private school on Phraxos, a Greek island. Depressed, suicidal and overwhelmed, Nicholas takes to wandering the island, from one end to the other. Eventually, he stumbles onto the private estate of the eccentric Maurice Conchis, who is suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator.
Lonely for companionship, Nicholas allows himself to be lured into Conchis’ skewed reality and becomes a participant in Conchis’ games where the boundaries of reality and fantasy become blurred.
As your own mind convolutes, and as Fowles’ skillful prose pulls you in and tightens the ropes, you’ll feel the creepiness dance up your spine.
If The Magus is dark and murky to suit your beach read needs, John Fowles also wrote The Collector as well as The French Lieu tent’s Woman. Some of Fowles’ fans feel that these two books are better selections for a beach read.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. 1982. Fiction. Women will enjoy this book.
The legend and lore of King Arthur become real. Ms. Bradley is so skillful at telling the story from the distaff side, you’ll be a convert.
This Arthurian tale is told from Moraine’s point of view. In other books about King Arthur, Moraine is also known as Morgan Le Fey. Morgaine is a warrior priestess, constantly in battle to save her way of life. The story revolves around the women of Camelot, including Gwenhwyfar, Morgause and Viviane. The men we so often hear about with the Arthurian Legend, take a backseat.
The whole King Arthur saga will make a lot more sense after reading this book.
Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw. Fiction. 1969. Both men and women will enjoy this book.
I admit it. I saw the TV Movie of the Week BEFORE I read the book. Do any of you remember it starred a very young and very beautiful Nick Nolte. We talked about him for weeks.
This was the original beach read. I saw it on practically every towel and blanket at the local beach. It’s a family saga about the Jordache family: the suffering mama and violent papa, sister Gwen who uses her sexuality as a weapon, Rudy the boot licker, and Tom, the scourged.
This book grabs everything you think you know about the human condition, twists it, pinches it and shows you that you and your assumptions were wrong. As Shaw peels the skin back on his characters, you’re ashamed at your own biases.
If you’re like me and want to know what happened to the Jordache family, there is a sequel to this book: Beggarman, Thief. I don’t think it’s as good a book, it’s still a good beach read.
9 . Shike 1 (The Time of the Dragon)
10 . Shike 2 (The Last Zinja) by Robert Shea. Fiction. 1981. Both men and women will enjoy this book.
While Mr. Shea takes some liberties compressing the rich history of Japan, this is really a love story between Jebu, a half breed monk. and Taniko, the aristocratic woman he has been hired to protect as he delivers her to her betrothed. Jebu is Zinja, a warrior monk. It is said that “one samurai is worth ten soldiers and one Zinja is worth ten samurai.” The book is a fascinating look into an old and sacred culture. It’s about love, honor and war.
My husband owns over 10,000 books. The Time of the Dragon was the only fiction book he has ever read!
All of our lives, we’re admonished to “not judge a book by its cover.” But people will judge you by your beach read. If they’ve read that book, they’ll want to talk to you about it. Like it or not, there are certain books out there that could reveal way too much about ourselves and maybe we shouldn’t read them in public places. The above books say you love a good book.