For readers, summer is the season for “beach reads.” Coined about 30 years ago, the term beach read is often used but rarely defined. So what does it mean for a book to be a beach read? Initially, it referred to those blockbuster books that were published in summer, regardless of who wrote the book or what it was about. Over the decades, it has transformed into something a little more difficult to describe.
Let’s start with what a beach read isn’t. A book that requires intense focus and lot of investment from the reader isn’t what makes a good beach read. Mary Kay Andrews, who has written a slew of best-selling beach reads, said, “Anything that smacks of ‘required reading’ is disqualified.” “War and Peace” and Shakespeare, as good as they are, probably wouldn’t qualify as good beach reads; nor would anything that demands a lot from the reader.
Beach reads can include books from any genre, from thrillers to romance, but they tend to appeal to a wide audience and be easy to read. A few summers ago, it seemed that nearly everyone was reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. It was the “it book” of the summer that was tucked into many beach totes, suitcases and purses.
Beach reads tend to be lighthearted and breezy. While they may have conflict or drama, things typically resolve happily for the main character. Author Michele Campbell calls a beach read “a vacation in a book.” It provides the readers a real sense of escape, whether they’re reading it on the beach or in their own backyard.
Some of the classic beach reads are books that are set at the beach or have settings that take place during summer. Author Elin Hildebrand is known for her summer-themed novels, which are reader favorites year after year. There’s something about reading a book that is set in the same season as you are experiencing in real life that intensifies the reading experience and makes it come alive.
Another kind of beach read would be what publishers call “compulsively readable,” or a real page-turner. These are the thrillers or the dramas that are hard to put down. The longer days of summer, and maybe the extra time that a vacation allows, let the reader dive into these books and barely come up for air. Books like “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng are great examples of books that hook readers from the first page and don’t let go.
For me, the most important quality in a beach read is the feeling of reading joy. The book should be delightful to read. It should be engaging and clever and the kind of story that’s hard to put down. While I do sometimes love a book that challenges me and really makes me think, when I’m looking for a beach read, I want something that feels fun and even indulgent. Everything has its season and, for me, summer reading season is the best time for beach reads.