Sunday, June 3, 2018

Beach Reading (Or, What To Read While on Vacation)

June has arrived, and with it the hot and humid weather that characterizes summer on the East Coast. Some of you are planning vacations (lucky you), and others will be carefully carving out weekend beach time. For this, you will all need reading material.

Many associate beach reading with light and fluffy fare (literally as well; it's a lot more convenient to put a paperback in your holdall than a hardback), but it's not necessary to let this limit your reading. Summertime is a great time to relax, true, but it's also a good time to move a bit out of your comfort zone and explore new genres (steampunk! nonfiction!), or just attempt to read the book that's always daunted you just a bit -- think War and Peace, which I have attempted four times and have not yet managed to get past the battles. No, I won't be revisiting it again. Those are hours I will never get back.

If you don't want to intimidate or impress your fellow vacationers, a good choice are the books of Kevin Kwan. Beginning with Crazy Rich Asians (and I implore you, read the book before you see the movie, as there is no way it's as good as the book), it continues with China Rich Girlfriend, and then on to Rich People Problems. The two main characters, Nick Young and Rachel Chu, provide the sweet and somewhat naive lens through which the readers meet  the cultural phenomenon of the, well, crazy rich Asian. The other characters range from colorful to must-have-recently-been-in-the-loony-bin, and the local color and language make these books funny and blissfully entertaining.

Another wonderful choice is Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is really a Pride and Prejudice remake, but this time it's done well -- this is the book Jane Austen might have written if she was born in 1975 instead of 1775. It doesn't quite parallel the original, but it's very true to the characters, who are so well crafted that they become people you think you might have met. It's also absolutely hilarious, and very, very contemporary.

If you're the War and Peace type, or the kind of person who wants to snob out one's fellow vacationers (I'm not such low-brow as you seem to be, my dear friend in the yellow deckchair reading Sophie Kinsella), first I'll ask you to exercise some restraint. Didn't you learn about being kind to others? Along with everything else you learned in kindergarten? Which reminds me of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a splendid book for someone like you. However, if you really must read something a bit more substantive, try for something less obnoxiously obvious than Tolstoy. I hear some of the Man Booker Prize books are readable (I refuse to read any of them; a book that's even been nominated for a Man Booker is automatically off my list). Or go for a Penguin classic -- it's light and will fit in your beach bag, and has the benefit of being discreet.

Happy reading!

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