Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Joy of the Summer Read

The summer sun warms your skin. The smell of salt is in the air. The ocean, that perfect natural white noise, crashes in on itself ad infinitum. You're sipping a margarita as you cool the tops of your hot feet by burying them in the sand. Everything is perfect... and you're reading a book about a serial killer who puts pieces of glass in his victims' eyes. Or maybe you're reading about a child wizard who has to kill the freak who killed his parents. Or a book about a guy uncovering major vatican secrets. Whatever the case may be you're hooked on a summer read. But why? Why are we drawn to a particular type of book while vacationing or relaxing by the pool? Summer's here, readers, we may as well dive in!

The books I mentioned above all still have sand in their spines thanks to me. I'm a sucker for the summer read. What really brought me to this train of thought was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. While I didn't read it at the beach, I did just plow through it. It was an easy read (technically it's a book for teens) but dealt with difficult issues (mob mentality, post-apocalyptic despair, starvation). As I finished the book a mere 27 hours after I'd picked it up one thought came to mind: this would have been perfect to read on the beach. It seems that, in the summer months, we're drawn to genre books. Looking at last year's NY Times bestsellers list gives further proof: In mid-July, of the top ten books two were high flying action novels, two were about vampires, one was about Frankenstein and one was sci-fi(?) by Glenn Beck.

So what is it that makes these books an "easy read?" I couldn't put Hunger Games down, it devoured my attention. The same was true, I admit, for The Da Vinci Code and all of the Harry Potter books (I decided last May that I'd like to finally read them, and was done Deathly Hallows before the end of August). Perhaps the idea of vacation lends itself better to getting lost in a book. If you come home from work in the winter and sit down by the fire for five hours with a book, your family and friends might check your pulse. But sitting in a lounge chair at the beach or by the lake from ten a.m. to 3 p.m. with the newest adventures of Sookie Stackhouse? Totally normal!

There's also the pace of these summer books. The adventure is usually high octane. This makes sense for a summer book. With all the distractions around in the normal world it's hard to truly get lost in even the most exciting book. But when you're at the shore with nothing but the occasional nerf ball and the fudgy wudgy man to interrupt you, there's really no stopping the action.

I've sunk more summer hours into books like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Misery than I care to admit. Horror, especially, seems to do well in the summer. This also makes sense with the beach aesthetic. Why read about serial killers or giant domes that enclose podunk towns in the cold dark winter when you can read about them in brilliant light?

And it's not like genre fiction isn't popular all year, either! I'd like to finally crack into the Game of Thrones series or (god forbid) The Wheel of Time series, and I still have to finish God Emperor of Dune, but those are dense. They require patience and careful reading. I'm sorry Leto, but you're golden path with just have to wait! I want a book about a no-nonsense werewolf who has to save his girlfriend from the Lizard King. Or a book about a man who discovers that his ex-wife is the head of a terrorist ring and only his fantastic skills with a sniper rifle will save him! I want a book that, let's face it, will end up being pretty dumb! This is the summer, after all. It's our right to read schlock!