CARPE LIBRUM: Taking on the best beach reads this season, Including “Beaches II”

CARPE LIBRUM: Taking on the best beach reads this season
JUL 17

Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title and even old books—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.

This time of year evokes the idea of “beach reads”—good, escapist paperback fiction to get lost in while sitting in the sand and sun. I get asked for “beach reads” a lot. For every person, a beach read is different.

Next week we will get back to more serious and important topics, but this week, let’s all work on our tans and splash in the water a bit…

By Frank Herbert

Dune, Paperback

Though not located near a sea shore, if sand is what you crave, this book is filled with it. In every way, it is guaranteed to make readers feel hot, dry and grateful for water.

Written in the early 1960s, it is one of the books that set the standard for science fiction in the second half of the 20th century. Since it was written 60 years ago, there are some embarrassing and out-molded ideas of gender roles. I mean, readers will know how the book ends by page seven. It’s obvious: Paul is going to fight his battles, assume his destiny and save the planet. But readers will hang in there for the next 400 pages to see just how all of it will unfold.

Frankly, Paul wouldn’t get anywhere were it not for the women in the book, who actually make pretty much everything happen for him. He might be chosen, but without them he would be sunk in a sea of sand with no hope.

Overall, it’s a book filled with a lot of sun, sand and heat. Very summery.

“Jingo” and “Pyramids”
By Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has a couple of books that approach both sand and water. My two favorites are “Pyramids” and “Jingo.” “Jingo” chronicles the struggles on The Disc when an island emerges from the water between two warring nations. A lot of the book takes place on boats or submarines that try to lay claim to the island or stage, daring military maneuvers to seize the island. This book has lots and lots of boating and time on the water.

“Pyramids” gives sand and heat. Set in Djelibeybi (a parody of ancient Egypt), it explores the problems of unintentional time travel, when Pyramids get involved. It’s very funny, very smart, with lots of hot, dry sand. It may be possible to get a tan while just holding this book.

A Caribbean Mystery”
By Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s brilliant sleuth, Miss Marple (the person I hope to grow into), goes on vacation to a beautiful resort in the Caribbean. Of course, anywhere she goes, there is a mystery to solve. Set in a tropical paradise, with a private beach at the resort, this might be my favorite beach read for sheer escapism and joy. The writing is brilliant and the scenery is so evocative. The beach is relaxing, as is swimming in the crystal clear Caribbean. And there is Miss Marple showing everyone up and proving once again little old ladies might get ignored but they see everything, damn it.

The book is filled with romance, mistaken identity, secrets, sexual innuendo, and just enough violence to keep readers on the edge of their beach chairs. As beach reads go, it doesn’t get more beachy than this.

“Beaches II: I’ll Be There”
By Iris Rainer Dart

Beaches, Paperback

Obviously, “Beaches” by Iris Rainer-Dart takes the cake as the ultimate summertime read. Like many people, I came to the book from the movie that starred Bette Midler, Mayim Bialik and Barbara Hershey. Now, the book doesn’t have the soundtrack of Midler’s amazing voice; however, it opens on a beach.

Two young girls, Cece Bloom and Bertie White, from vastly different worlds, collide at the Boardwalk one summer and begin a friendship that will span their lives. When Bertie realizes she is dying, she entrusts her daughter to CeCe.
In many ways, “Beaches” encapsulates female friendship (fights, jealousy and reconciliation included) better than any book I’ve ever encountered. Honestly, though, the sequel, “Beaches II: I’ll Be There,” is the better and more memorable book.

Cece and her ward, Bertie’s daughter, are trying to make their way together in a new world without Bertie. Cece is completely unprepared for parenthood, especially to parent a child in the throes of grief. Then add all the problems of celebrity and money and how they impact family life. Disaster ensues, but, together, they find a way to climb out of it.

It is powerful, beautiful and incredibly evocative. The most beachy part is probably the locale around California.


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