By Mary Kelly
One of the more tired phrases in publishing and library world is the use of the phrase “beach reads”. Evidently summer reading is about the light and easy book choices. Usually, this pops up when we talk about romances, women’s fiction (or domestic fiction) and books that are somehow not “serious”. Summer reading or a beach reads often implies a lesser type of read.
Also, I just dislike saying that only certain types of books are somehow more appropriate to haul to the beach and other titles should be read elsewhere. Tolstoy can go to the beach just as well as a Sophie Kinsella title. Instead of genre wars, light vs. heavy reads or classics vs popular fiction, how about if we all try something new?
After putting together adult and youth summer reading programs for a long time, I really want people to enjoy reading for whatever reason. When talking to adults and young people instead of suggesting “read-a-likes” how about suggesting a read outside the comfort zone? Live dangerously and try a new author, genre or subject. Try nonfiction rather than fiction. Just be different. Quality in books is often in the eye of the reader and not some English literature reading list from bunch old, white guys at Harvard from the turn of the last century. (I have a whole tirade on the “classic” titles which I will refrain from pontificating here.)
The point is that perhaps the summer does inspire a slower, relaxed pace and would lend itself to “lighter” reading. Maybe for some readers that is true. As librarians, I want people to experiment with their reading. Think of this as “dating” a book without a commitment. Try a few chapters and don’t feel guilty if you have to toss it back the “no” pile of reading. As a librarian, I often find that many folks think it is somehow shameful to “give up” in the middle of a book. I particularly worry that young people might be turned off by pleasure reading since too often suggestions from parents or teachers might smack of homework or a chore. Summer reading should be fun and not about reading the right things. Encourage your patrons to be okay with not liking a choice and saying, without shame, this book isn’t working for me.
My point is that we are all at different points in our developing life as readers and no one’s journey or taste is the same. My reading list over the years has ranged from romance to cozy mysteries to popular nonfiction. This changes according to mood, relative stress level and if I am going to do an audiobook or a paperback. Not everyone has the same experience with a book and even your own reading will change over time. What you loved and remembered as a reader in your early twenties, will not be what you love in your fifties. Each of us as readers brings a unique set of mental baggage to the table every time we pick up a book.
To help our patrons experiment offer up book displays that cross genres and talk about different ideas. (Practice your book-talking!) Try a “mystery” or blind date with a book. Wrap the book up so you can’t see the title and then use a grab bag approach. I have used this with many adult patrons over the years and it is fun and just a bit dangerous to select a book blindly.
The library should be the least judgmental when it comes to reading choices. Any reading is good reading as long as you enjoy it. Why not suggest you and your patrons try something different this summer?
Here are some of my choices for my own “read something different” list for the summer from Thorndike Press:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Steve D. Levitt | Stephen J. Dubner