Every summer, everyone and their uncle wants to tell you what to read at the beach. If they all had their way, you’d never have a chance to jump in the ocean, or to enjoy the sun, or to talk to your friends and family as you relax at the shore. No, you’d just be there with your nose in a book, and then another book, and then another book.
So as the summer hits mid-stride, at Jacket Copy, we’ve got another idea: the anti-beach reading list. Here are nine books that you need not read at the beach, nay, that you SHOULD not read at the beach. The reasons why are below.
1. “Jaws” by Peter Benchley. A terrifying story about a great white shark attacking casual, oblivious beachgoers, this is clearly the #1 book to avoid reading at the beach -- particularly if you happen to be on Cape Cod, where the story is set. Although it seems like pure fiction, this summer a great white shark was spotted cruising along a Cape Cod beach, trailing a kayaker. ‘Nuff said.
2. “Remembrance of Things Past” (aka “In Search of Lost time”) by Marcel Proust. In its complete version, Proust’s opus weighs in at more than 3,000 pages. Even if you were to bring an abridged edition, or Lydia Davis’ 2004 translation of just the first volume, “Swann’s Way,” the book is mammoth and, quite frankly, not much happens. There is a good chance even an enthusiastic reader may nod off during its meditations, risking a blistering sunburn.
3. “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. Where bummers are concerned, it isn’t all the Irish angst and rainy skies in this 1996 memoir that make this book seem awkward for the beach -- it’s the biography of the author, who died in 2009 after a diagnosis of melanoma.
4. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov. You’re probably better off not reading a novel about an inappropriate relationship with a young woman on a beach full of, among others, young women. Other beachgoers might get the wrong idea.
5. “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. Spoiler alert: This may be the saddest book you’ll ever read. If someone commissioned a study, they would probably find that 99.999% of all people who read “Charlotte’s Web” will finish it in tears. To avoid sobbing on the beach, leave this classic children’s book at home.
6. “Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick” by Joe Schreiber. When a hormone-addled teen is forced to take a Lithuanian exchange student to prom, she wears a traditional ceremonial costume complete with kerchief. That’s before she punches two classmates, shimmies into a little black dress and commandeers her date’s Jag to embark on her real mission as a hired assassin in this young-adult novel that’s embarrassing to read in public for all its laugh-out-loud guffaws.
7. “Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans” by Charles Moore. You might be a devoted eco-warrior, but sitting there reading a book about the gigantic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean while your family boogie-boards will earn you the title “Vacation Grinch.”
8."On the Beach” by Nevil Shute. This 1957 post-apocalyptic novel follows a handful of World War III survivors in Australia. There are no plucky archers, no driven fathers: the radiation from a global nuclear holocaust moves inexorably closer, and humanity’s final days come, as T.S. Eliot wrote, not with a bang but with a whimper.
9. “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” which appears in “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” by Lewis Carroll. The classic nonsense poem ends with the two title characters eating all the oysters they’ve befriended, a kind of seaside apocalypse. The guilt, the guilt. So much for your fresh seafood dinner.
Thanks to my colleagues Susan Carpenter, Nick Owchar, Joy Press and David L. Ulin for helping come up with the list.