Beach Reads

The year was 1975 and the place was far from our beloved Crystal Beach (though I consider “all the seas to be one sea”!). Jaws was all the rage. The movie came out that summer, encouraging even more people to pick up the best-selling book. I was no different.

Mack and I planned our wedding for late that summer, a couple of weeks before the new college semester would start, so that we could continue living with our respective parents most of the summer and save money before school started up again. We were treated to a Honeymoon in Hawaii by Mack’s aunt who was involved in the travel industry. We were 20 years old.

The whirlwind of the days leading up to the wedding had worn us both out and we were anxious to hit the powdery white sand on the Kauai beach. Of course, I had packed a couple of new bathing suits, sunglasses, and my suntan lotion (baby oil and iodine back then – remember, it was the 70s!). At the last minute, I had thrown in a paperback to read…Jaws. That may have been a mistake!

That first morning on Kauai, I spread my beach towel out on the powdery sand, slathered on my baby oil and iodine mixture and kicked back, ready to enjoy a few minutes of reading before hitting the water. Well, let’s just say…I never got in the water during that entire two weeks! I started reading Jaws, and never could bring myself to enter the surf (though as a Pisces, I am always drawn to the ocean). Countless folks stopped by to comment on my questionable reading material. Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water…

I am a reader. A shy and nerdy kid who changed schools frequently, I found companionship and escape in books. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s no friend as loyal as a book.” Still a little nerdy (but no longer shy) to this day, l love a good book and find the greatest pleasure in becoming lost in a wonderful story. There is no better place than the beach to indulge in this particular past-time.

Choosing just the right book is the first step to a great, relaxing afternoon of reading on the beach. (Unless you have a really quirky sense of humor, I don’t recommend Jaws!). I asked several friends, all of whom are voracious readers, for suggestions of favorite reads and how they choose a book for carefree beach reading. Most of them depend on recommendations from friends. My sister loves to spend Sunday afternoons in a bookstore, browsing the shelves for intriguing titles and inviting covers. Nowadays, I get some of my best reading suggestions from Facebook friends who post mini-reviews when they finish a great book. I immediately put those suggestions on my wish list, so I’m never without a good read. However you choose your beach reading material, the soundtrack of the waves is the perfect background for an afternoon of reading. The breeze from the Gulf and the squawking of the seagulls offer just enough noise to help focus on the story.

My pal Linda is one of the greatest readers I know. She reads widely from all genres and I have never had a bad recommendation from her. One reason I think that we are BFFs is that she, too lost herself in books throughout her childhood. A career educator, she loves history and is drawn to historical fiction. She tells the tale of coming to Bolivar as a young teenager and haunting Faggard’s Store, where a revolving wire rack held a variety of paperbacks. She spent hours perusing that wire rack, then roasting in the summer sun on Gilchrist Beach while reading her selections. Faggard’s is where she found The Gadfly by Ethel Voynich. A work of historical fiction, the book is set in 1840s Italy during a time of revolution. The Gadfly is reported to have been Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite book. (For the sake of historical accuracy, I must report that there may have been a boy involved in the Faggard’s Store situation).

The beach and romance novels go together… well, like a wink and a smile. When else can we feel perfectly entitled to a steamy love story? And, if the story is set on a beach, all the better! Several of my pals recommended books by Elin Hilderbrand. Her books are set on and around Nantucket Island. The sand and the surf and the laid-back lifestyle of a beach setting are familiar no matter which beach we are enjoying. The Blue Bistro by Hildebrand came highly recommended. It is a book set on Nantucket Island, with the additional intrigue of the main character working in a restaurant – tapping in to the interest that many of us have in cooking (or at least eating!).

Mysteries are always a good beach choice. Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency can’t be beat. In this series, lady detective, Mma Ramotswe and her redoubtable secretary Mma Makutsi (who scored 97% at the Botswana Secretarial College) solve mysteries large and small in Gaborone, Botswana. I love reading these books on the beach and have actually read them all aloud to Mack while we travel in the car.

Oh, I could go on and on. I need to wrap it up, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just a few books that I reread every summer. The first is Pat Conroy’s Beach Music; my all-time favorite. The Prince of Tides is set at the beach as well. I just can’t get enough of this fabulous southern writer, and am heartsick that he passed away before I could meet him. The Mermaid Chair is another that I read every summer. Sue Monk Kidd wrote this wonderful tale…you probably know her from her Secret Life of Bees, which I also liked (but I don’t read that one over and over again). In these past several years, I’ve come to love Nora Ephron. I adore her I Feel Bad About My Neck and wish that I had written it, because I do too (feel bad about my neck, that is). Finally, Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is truly a gift that keeps on giving. This book rests at my bedside and has since it was given to me by a dear friend when we first moved to Crystal Beach. I have continued her tradition of gifting a copy of this little jewel to each of our beach house visitors.

I will give one last piece of advice concerning beach reading. It is advice that I failed to take for 35 summers. Back in 1976, newly graduated from college and in my short-lived “intellectual” phase, I decided that I needed to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I bought a hard-backed volume – covered in turquoise cloth and containing 1,088 pages of a very tiny font. I reread the first three chapters every summer for 35 years. The thin pages of those first three chapters and the expensive cloth cover are stained with baby oil and iodine. The remaining 1,021 pages survive in pristine condition. I finally gave up. A word to the wise – don’t waste your precious beach time on books that you don’t love. There are plenty out there to keep you busy all the summers of your life without having to worry about “Who is John Galt.”

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