NPR listeners fudge about best beach books
The friendly folks at NPR have posted the 100 Best Beach Books Ever, the results of an audience poll. Some 16,000 people cast 136,000 votes to come up with a list that can only be termed…dubious. Far be it from me to accuse NPR listeners of naming books they think they should read at the beach, rather than the books they actually read, but suspicion raises it’s ugly head right in the top 10:
Sure, the Harry Potter series at No. 1? No question. Bridget Jones’s Diary No. 4? Of course. Fried Green Tomatoes No. 9? Yes.
But To Kill a Mockingbird at no. 2? Maybe… The Great Gatsby at no. 7? Unlikely. Pride and Prejudice no. 5? Impossible.
Some paragons may be capable of taking in Austen’s intricate comedy and Regency language in the presence of suntan lotion, but not many. And the list gets only more fanciful as it goes on: The Lord of the Rings at no. 18? East of Eden at 32? One Hundred Years of Solitude at 35?! Anna Karenina at 42?!?
I defy anyone this side of Louise Brown, the 91-year-old Scottish lady who’s read 25,000 library books since 1946 (12 a week lately), to actually absorb Wuthering Heights (76), The Fountainhead (67), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (90) or All the Pretty Horses (83) while baking on a towel with gulls calling and children laughing, the surf shushing in and out, teenagers tossing frisbees and kicking sand into your picnic basket, and nearly naked people of both sexes sauntering by.
Of course, some of NPR’s respondents were honest, nominating such fare as Twilight (30), The Red Tent (33), The Thorn Birds (39), Pillars of the Earth (41), or Jaws (62)
A beach book is a close relation to the “airport book,” something fun, usually romantic or suspenseful, that can be absorbed without too much concentration. When I was young and callow, I scoffed at this notion, thinking I should be able to read the same book in the sand as on my couch. One day I put this to the test with Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. Not a lot of reading got done.
Today, my beach list would start with, say, Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast, or maybe Michael Crichton’s Congo, Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrios. Perhaps a short story collection from Patricia Highsmith, or some Golden Age sci-fi by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov or (bliss!) Ray Bradbury.
You’ll notice a lot of pulp in that mixture. I might toss in some ’60s and ’70s pop best sellers by the likes of James Michener, Leon Uris, Allen Drury, Irving Wallace, or Robert Crichton, whose The Secret of Santa Vittoria is great, skillful and undemanding fun.
But that’s just me. What’s your list of all-time best beach books?