What in the world is a beach read anyway? Because what I would bring to the beach, and what others are calling a beach read seem pretty different to me. After researching about beach reads, I came across a very basic and vague definition. It basically boiled down to this: A beach read is a book that is widely popular, easy to read, acceptable to read in public and most of all – a publisher’s tool to sell more books in the summer months.
A Brief History Of Beach Reads
According to The Guardian this term originated in the 1990’s. If we keep digging backward in time, we notice that once paperback books became more widely used, people started to take them on vacation, and most people’s idea of a summer vacation includes going to the beach. If we jump back in time we can see that at one point literature was not meant for the average person.
Owning books was something that was only meant for the rich, but as the printing press made printing more accessible and books became mass produced they became easier to get ahold of. Now looking to in the last century, paperback books have become hugely popular, and the average person has started grabbing them and packing them for vacations.
Since the definition of a beach read is hugely vague — from being gendered (apparently reading in the summer is only for females? …) to being themed about a beach, I have decided that its not about the content per se. Rather I find a beach read has to pass the vibe check. It has to be focused on anything but the problems plaguing society. It should not be heavy or complicated to read (hello Dune). It has to have a captivating story, but this story can’t captivate you so completely that you refuse to actually do anything but read on your vacation.
There is an article on Medium that goes into the history of a beach read. In the 1900’s travel started to become faster and easier to do. We saw the invention of railroads and steamships. The middle class had enough money to afford to take these methods of travel and go on vacation. So, the publishers started to scheme. They pushed to make novels a thing that was proper for all of society to read (apparently it used to be trashy to read a novel… ), and made books something that people wanted to take with them for this new method of travel.
Books for Idle Hours is especially interesting on the emergence of a new type of textual diversion: the American summer novel . . . it takes these books — and the culture that shaped them, and the culture they shaped — seriously, even while acknowledging how transitory they were. —The New Yorker
While these publishers worked hard to get everyday people to buy books for their travel, the actual term beach read did not come into life till the 1990’s (as mentioned earlier). That’s when publishers started to really use the term beach read, created summer’s best beach book lists, and so on to push books into the hands of the middle class once again.
What Is Considered A Beach Read?
Usually published towards the end of spring, these lists start to flood your everyday internet browsing. From online articles, to emails from Goodreads flooding your inbox, to being in tons of magazines, everyone is making a list of beach reads; and everyone loves to read them! I’ve found that for myself, seeing these lists really provides books for me that I normally would not have sought out on my own. I also find I am more willing to step out of my comfort zone to read new books during this season. Why you ask? Maybe because these lists vet books to be light, easy to read and captivating. The perfect mix you want when trying a new genre for the first time.
So what is a beach read? It is a book that passes the vibe test of being chill, fun and not dragging you down this summer when all you want to do is relax and have fun.