It’s summer, which means that every newspaper or magazine feels obligated to publish a list of “beach reads.” Typically a beach book is seen as lighter fare than what serious readers ordinarily might read; it has a romantic plot or subplot, sometimes a tropical location, it’s not all that intellectually challenging, and it’s not exactly that hefty. In short, it’s something to keep you occupied in between dips in the ocean.
I’m not sure why beach reads need to have a specific plot. Length, especially, seems unimportant in this day of e-readers. Your e-reader weighs the same whether it’s full of gigantic historical biographies or a collection of Jennifer Weiner novels. More broadly, though – hey, you’re at the beach. You’re probably on vacation. You’re lying out in the sun, with sand in between your feet, the coconutty smell of suntan location saturating the air. You’re not going anywhere. Does it really matter exactly what type of book you’re reading? No.
On the other hand, there are certain locations and situations in life where a book is a necessary, vital distraction, and the type of book it is does make a difference. These locations would not include pools or beaches, which are yummy wonderful places whose inhabitants are already in a bliss coma. But they would include:
The gym. I spent a lot of time at the gym and I pretty much hate every second of it. Three times a week, I’m on the treadmill for an hour. Keying in “55” when the machine asks for the number of minutes (it adds five on itself as a “cool down”) is really one of the most depressing parts of my day. Thank goodness for my Kindle, which would equally appreciated on a stationary bike but probably no good on the elliptical, which requires both hands. The treadmill requires a gripping, juicy mystery with plenty of plot twists. Any book that has me dying to know what’s going to happen next will make me forget I’m stuck on a machine at a five percent incline going 3.5 miles an hour. And believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to forget. Hugh Howey’s Wool series is good treadmill company.
The doctor’s office. Your appointment was for three o’clock, but it’s almost four and the doctor is nowhere in sight. Your mind is racing about every disease those symptoms could possibly mean. You might have been tempted to bring with you the latest biography of someone who succumbed to a horrible deadly disease, but this is the worst type of book in this situation. Yes, you are going to die. This is a hundred percent true. I don’t need to be a doctor to tell you that. But don’t dwell on the inevitable now. This is the perfect time for something rip-roaring funny. Maybe a book of hysterical essays by a former New Yorker writer or some hysterical chick lit. Put down that copy of Tuesdays with Morrie right now.
The airport/airplane. You probably know that this is not the place you want to bring your non-fiction tome on how terrorists are everywhere and they are thinking of new ways to kill you right now. And you also probably know that you don’t want to be reading about any plane crashes or similar disasters. (I really loved Tracey Garvis Graves’ On the Island, but do not read it while on a plane!) I’m a huge Kindle fan but this is one place where I always want a real paperback book. Real books do not come with on/off switches. Apparently my lightweight innocent little Kindle turns into a weapon of mass destruction if I happen to be reading it while the captain has the seatbelt sign on. It takes forever to taxi, take off, and reach cruising altitude, and so does entire landing process. Forever is a very long time to go without reading, but you’ll be forced to if your novel of choice is in your Kindle, which is now taunting you from the seat pocket in front of you. Take a paperback. Preferably not Arthur Hailey’s Airport.
Your child’s school. You’ve been duly summoned from work to meet with your child’s teacher/principal/guidance counselor because your child is lazy/disobedient/a bully. You’re probably way too keyed up to actually read something, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have book in hand. The point of this hardcover is to send a subtle message that whatever problem Michael or Melissa is having is quite minor and probably the fault of the school system, anyway. Anything with a name like Teaching Your Gifted Child or What’s Wrong with America’s Schools Today will let the bureaucrats realize who they are dealing with. Anything by Malcolm Gladwell is also a good choice.
At home. It’s been a long day and all your spouse wants to do is curl up with the TV. The game is on and it’s boring. Get your point across without saying a word by pulling out 50 Shades of Grey or any romance novel with a slightly pornographic cover. If he’s still so engrossed that he doesn’t even notice what you’re reading, open your laptop and the book at the same time. If he still doesn’t notice, there’s not a book in the world that can fix your problem, except maybe Divorce for Dummies.