Vamos a la playa – what to look for in a good beach read

best beach readsPaperback vs ebook

A good beach read has to be a paperback. Seriously, who wants to read a book at the beach on a Kindle or a phone? You go to the beach to relax and unwind and perve at strangers in various stages of undress. You don’t want to worry about getting sand in your phone’s bum crack. A good old-fashioned paperback can be chucked into a beach bag. It will survive sand, water, sunscreen, ice-cream. It’s a million times easier to read words on a page than on a screen when you’re out in the sun. And as a bonus, you can use it to shade your face from the sun or hide behind if you see someone you don’t want to talk to. Audiobooks are on the rise and can be good at the beach as long as you don’t drift off to sleep like I do when I listen to an audiobook, then find yourself snoring and drooling on the sand.

A gripping story

A good beach read must be a gripping story that grabs you by the bikini or board shorts and sweeps you away into another world. I don’t mean a book that sweeps you away into another world the way Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species does. Yeah yeah, so it’s the book that changed our entire world view and the way we understand life itself, but a good beach read it ain’t. When you’re splayed out in the sun you want something entertaining. Just because a book is entertaining, doesn’t mean it’s low-brow or unintelligent. It can be commercial fiction, literature, chick-lit, life-lit, memoir, whatever genre takes your fancy. If you can find something to really lose yourself in while you listen to the waves lapping the shore, it will calm your nervous system, spark your imagination and inspire you in some way. Look for a page turner with well-developed characters and a plot with enough surprises so as not to be boring and predictable.

In this video, the other esteemed Charles (Bukowski) says: “Each line must be full of a delicious little juice flavour, it must be full of power. It must make you like to turn a page…writing must never be boring. It must not bore the reader, the writer. It must not bore anybody.” He also says if you drink too much you should go to sleep with your head hanging over the mattress so you don’t choke on your own vomit. Thank you Charles, I think there’s something in that for all of us. Oh yeah, you too Charles Darwin, with your cute little ‘survival of the fittest’ idea.

Language you understand

It helps if your beach read contains simple but beautiful language. That doesn’t mean big, obscure words. Big words have their place and, but they’re not essential to good writing. Hemingway proved that point. When William Faulkner criticised Hemingway, saying he never used words that might send a reader to the dictionary, Hemingway famously retorted: Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

And I famously said: “No one wants to be Googling shit they don’t understand when they’re at the beach.”

An exotic or natural setting

A beach read with an exotic or nature-based setting is perfect. If you’re at the beach, you’re out in nature and exposed to the elements. A book that contains sweeping landscapes, beaches, jungles, deserts, mountains will go with your beach day like Corona and corn chips, Corona and Pizza Shapes, Corona and cheese crackers. I do believe Corona goes with everything, especially the beach and a good book that’s set in an interesting location that transports you to another world, time, place. This is a not-so-subtle plug for my book, You Had Me at Hola, which is set in South America and Mexico and contains many an exotic location. Full disclosure.

Not too big and not too small

No, I’m not going to make one of those lame ‘size matters’ jokes that compares everything to a penis. Suffice it to say, a good beach read needs to be big enough to give you quite a few hours of reading pleasure without being the size of a brick. So that counts Charles Darwin’s book out again. It also counts out Shantaram, which everyone tells me I should read but it’s 936 pages long FFS. Shantaram is just going to take up way too much space in your beach bag, space that could be used for Corona. It will be hard to wield while you’re lying on the sand, and you’ll never get through it on one holiday. Plus, it might turn you into one of those people who tells everyone they need to read Shantaram. I will make an exception for my no-fat-books-at-the-beach rule for Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent release City of Girls, which while it’s a weighty 470 pages, is an entertaining story set in 1940s Manhattan, a fascinating time in a fascinating place with lots of fun and naughtiness.

What do you think makes a good beach read? If you have any recommendations for good beach reads for this summer, please share them below.

You can buy my memoir You Had Me at Hola: In search of love & truth in South America here on my website or at Amazon, Booktopia, Barnes & Noble, Foyles, Waterstones and Book Depository. Read the reviews here at Goodreads.

Photo by Gian Cescon on Unsplash

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