We asked members of the K-State English community two really important summer questions:
1. What’s a beach read really?
2. What should people read on the beach this summer — or you know, it’s Kansas, so while locked inside with air conditioning?
1. I think we’re meant to think of beach reads like airport fiction: trashy, disposable novels with shiny, garish covers and preferably written by Jeffrey Archer or Jackie Collins. We call them trashy because they don’t require much concentration, and we’re happy to leave them behind for the next hapless occupant of our sun lounger. But for me a beach read is a bit different. It holds the rare promise of uninterrupted stretches of reading and the chance to read (or re-read) one of those nineteenth-century novels that needs longer periods of concentration than I have available during the semester: George Eliot’s Middlemarch or Daniel Deronda or that recent translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. And if I’m not feeling quite so worthy (my sister claims I have a tendency to treat all vacations like a school trip) then the beach read is an opportunity to revisit one of my favourite comfort novels: anything by Dorothy L. Sayers or Daphne Du Maurier or Robert Louis Stevenson. I won’t leave these behind on my sun lounger.
2. Obviously the answer is Middlemarch (which is the answer to most of life’s questions). But if you’re not up for a long Victorian novel this summer and you’d like something a little more contemporary, you might try Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, which recounts a young woman’s affair with an elderly novelist (who bears an eerie resemblance to Philip Roth) and the experience of a Iraqi-American man forcibly detained by immigration officials in Heathrow Airport. I’d also recommend Salvage the Bones by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. A lyrical novel, it movingly charts the experiences of an impoverished African American family during Hurricane Katrina. And if you want to see what a talented novelist can do with the family saga, I’d encourage you to check out Anne Tyler’s fantastically well-observed A Spool of Blue Thread. You’ll never look at a porch swing the same way again.
— Anne Longmuir, Associate Professor
— Maddie Pospisil (M.A. ’19)
1. A beach read is some light, enjoyable book that you might read when you have a little extra time. But I have the worst time reading at the beach. It’s not just the hot sun, sweat, and itchy sand that make for less then ideal conditions for reading. It’s also the breathtaking ocean, gorgeous sun, waves, warm sand. Who can read with the sublime sea lapping at your toes? Anyone with the right book.
Light books don’t usually hold my attention at the beach. I get too distracted. I need an engrossing powerhouse:
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment
Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey
Eliot’s Adam Bede
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
One of my all-time favorite beach reads is Melville’s Moby-Dick. If this sounds far-fetched, take a look at Surf’s Up by the award-winning children’s author Kwame Alexander, whose surfer characters Dude and Bro understand well what makes for a great beach read.
— Greg Eiselein, Professor
1. I’ve never read a book on a beach, but I guess it’s something just scintillating enough to keep a person from going into the water. It should also make you ignore the application of sunscreen for fear of greasing up the pages.
2. So people should read Hanif Abdurraqib’s book of essays They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. It’s 39 fascinating short essays on pop music, race, and heartbreak in Ohio among other things. It’s well worth the sunburn.
— Peter Williams (M.A. ’18)
1. For me, beach reading is always travel literature, what you read while traveling to an actual beach or wishing you could. But when I asked my English 310 students what a beach read is, one student joked that it could be reading literally about the beach. I would have to recommend, then, the book I fell in love with pool-side last year: the non-fiction Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951), by John Steinbeck, in collaboration with his friend Ed Ricketts, who was a biologist. The book describes in journal form a sailing expedition taken in order to collect marine plants and animals along the Pacific coast of Mexico and the Gulf of California. I was surprised to find a book about tide pool discoveries of sea sponges, crabs, and mollusks could be so meditative and transporting—I never wanted the trip to end!
2. Recently, I finished American Heart (2018), a compelling and very funny “buddies-on-the-road” adventure written by Kansas author Laura Moriarty, and I am eager to start Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words (2016), chronicling the author’s efforts to learn Italian and her time in Rome.
— Kara Northway, Associate Professor
Editors’ note: We’re not going on a complete summer hiatus, but you’ll find fewer posts on this blog during the summer — more like one every other week or so, instead of two each week during the fall and spring semesters. After all, we have books to read.