Rethinking the Beach Read

Why not tackle something heavy when your workload is light?









In the summer, I often overhear people asking for recommendations for “beach reads” or “vacation books.” Most of the time, I think this means they’re looking for lighter fare, the side salad of novels to go with their time at the pool or the beach, or to read while lounging in their hammock in the mountains.

I suppose the thinking is that if a person is off work, why would they want to engage their mind with complex plots or dark themes?

But I respectfully suggest that vacation is exactly the right time to dive into a book you might consider dense or dark or just too heavy for a sunny summertime escape. My belief is that there’s no better time to embark on a heady philosophical journey than when there are few other demands on one’s brainpower.

I’d rather not read something dark and twisty when I’m busy navigating the sometimes dark and twisty streets of my own day-to-day life, with its work responsibilities and family demands. When “real” life is feeling heavy, that’s when I’m most interested in reading something light or, at the very least, fantastical.

On vacation, though? When my regular world is off to one side, paused and waiting for my “days off” to revert back to “days on”? That’s when my mind is better positioned to delve into deeper material, darker things.

If you agree, and if you’re ready for something meaty to make the most of your time off, here are my suggestions for some non-beach-read beach reads:

  1. Off-the-beaten-path romance: Looking for a romance that will get you thinking? Sierra Simone writes what I call “literary erotica.” The woman is one of the most talented authors I’ve ever read — but her subject matter isn’t for everyone. Her New Camelot books (start with American Queen) delve into the Arthurian legend, American politics, polyamorous relationships, a little bit of magic, and a lot of betrayal.

  2. Dystopian science fiction: Nora Roberts is an undisputed queen of romance, but she is also a master of science fiction, something she gets less credit for. If you’re ready to consider what would happen if an unidentified, incurable plague were to wipe out a third of the planet, giving rise to magic and mystery that has half the remaining population terrified and the other half intrigued, start with Year One. Dystopian books consider complex topics like bigotry, evil, compassion, and love; they’re definitely not romances!

  3. Magical realism: I read this book a while ago and have been recommending it ever since, maybe because of my own strange fascination with Tarot. The Book of Speculation is a family saga of sorts, and it dances through time using the ebb and flow of the sea and a healthy dose of mystery to pull readers into the magic of the plot. Author Erika Swyler draws a poignant portrait of what it is to lose those you love in a sweeping story about old houses, old friends, and letting go of what’s not working anymore.

Do you have a favorite non-beach-read beach read? Share it in the comments section below!

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