Why do “beach reads” get such a bad rap?
My favorite time of the year is vacation. Not for obvious reasons. No, I like vacation because I have one suitcase of clothes and another suitcase filled with books and just in case I run out, my Paperwhite is also filled. The only reason I consider them beach reads is because I actually take them to the beach with me. They are the books I read all year long.
Many women often talk about these books apologetically, like they should hide them behind copies of War and Peace or Anna Karenina. I haven’t joined many book clubs because I want to read books that I can relate to. Not necessarily books that share my same life experiences, but books that deal with issues that make sense to me where I am.
Most of the books I read in school and college were written by white men. I was lucky to have several female teachers who made sure to include Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston, and I loved those books. Melville, Hawthorne and the like, might be the American experience, but an experience held by white men.
Jane Green, Emily Griffiths, Jill Shalvis, Jennifer Weiner and so many many other brilliant writers helped me on dark days. Days when I struggled through cancer treatment, or early motherhood when the days were too damn long. My favorite book ever is Goodnight, Nobody by Jennifer Weiner. She got what it was like to be an overeducated stay at home mom. I had never felt so understood before.
Disclaimer: I am an Amazon Affiliate, when you click on an image or hyperlink to a book or product it will take you to Amazon, where if you make a purchase I receive a portion of the sale.
Recently, I was reading a kid’s book and the character poked fun at romance novels throwing in every stereotype you think of when you hear the phrase. Heaving bosoms, weird analogies that make you wonder if the hero and heroine are really experiencing symptoms of an STD and not lust.
Are there books out there like that? OF course there are and people read them in droves. Is it going to win awards? No, but neither is that James Patterson sitting on your nightstand. But, those are only a subset of the larger genre of romance. Not every romance is 50 Shades of Gray or bodice ripping romances. It is as diverse of a genre as Sci Fi, Fantasy, Literature and more.
There is this idea out there that books have to enlighten us, teach us, make us smarter. That isn’t a bad idea, but it ruins reading for so many people.
There is this idea out there that books have to enlighten us, teach us, make us smarter. That isn’t a bad idea, but it ruins reading for so many people. There are alarming trends that show boys stop reading for pleasure around age 13. I believe wholeheartedly this happens because boys (yes, girls too) are forced to read books that do not interest them. Are schools building readers, or test-takers?
As a children’s librarian, my job is to help people find good, reliable information, connect them to resources, AND help people find books they want to read. There are so many benefits to reading, outside the goal of gaining knowledge. Increased empathy, problem solving and more are great reasons to wrap yourself into a good book.
Too often teachers force kids to read books that are good for them with the goal to learn. What can a kid learn from a book written 40, 50 or 60 years ago? Our values are completely different and books like Johnny Tremain do not make sense to the average modern day middle schooler. Yet, authors like Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander and more are left out because they aren’t considered teachable books. Then we bemoan that, boys in particular, stop reading for fun. How do we keep kids reading?
Give kids books they enjoy
I thought about all of this after reading a superb essay by Jennifer Weiner on the Goodreads blog. She has fought for the relevance of “chick” lit for years. Arguing that the covers, and the marketing make this genre of books seem lesser then. Jonathon Tropper writes essentially women’s fiction, romance or “guy” lit but his books are just called books. Nick Hornby made a splash at first when he came out with lad lit, but that label went away quick.
The argument that men just don’t read romance isn’t true at all. I know many men who would curl up with a Christmas romance book like me. They are made to feel worse about it than I am, so why would they advertise it?
The unfortunate truth is that romance, women’s fiction and beach reads will never be taken seriously because they are written by women.
My job as a librarian and book blogger is to help people find books. I am not going to be leading you to books that your high school english teacher would recommend, I hope to lead you to books that make you feel whatever it is you want to feel. Happy, sad, angry, thoughtful, questioning.
As a parent or teacher or influencer push books that kids want to read. This was the first year the Newbery Award winner fit where many of our kids are today. Formatted as a graphic novel and dealing with a kid who feels like he doesn’t fit in anywhere, it doesn’t matter if the child identifies as a person of color, the themes are universal.
What makes a good book is a book that anyone can sink into and feel understood or understand the world the characters inhabit. That is exactly what New Kid does and why I recommend it so often to kids and the parents who insist on a “Good book.”
If you have a chance, you can read Jennifer Weiner’s Goodread’s essay here. She articulates well what many of us have been saying and fighting for, for years.
Lastly, go pick up a beach read. Whatever genre you like and don’t hide behind a disqualifying statement. Read it loud, read it proud and help change how people see the books we read.