Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beach Reads

No, it's not Tuesday. I'm blogging for Danita.

Women's Magazines typically give very short shift to books, but every June & July things look up temporarily as they all wax poetic about the "Beach Read." When I lived in the sweltering Midwest, all this talk of "beach reading" just made me insanely jealous of those who lived near a body of water. Now though I actually live near a beach, so I can read these columns without turning red(der). (If you're not a big magazine reader, you might want to check these lists out to see what I'm talking about: Reader's Digest, Redbook, Border's, USA Today, ShowBuzz)

I'm still not sure I understand why vacation demands a certain sort of book. Frankly, I'm more likely to read heavy literary fiction and nonfiction when I don't have other demands on my brain. If I'm in the middle of a difficult time at work, light and fluffy is all I can handle. But, some women apparently crave the light and fluffy while they are on vacation. And with all the attention given to beach reads, some authors make a point of trying to craft the perfect beach read.

There was even a seminar at the Reno RWA on how to do this. Landing on a "beach reading" list seems to be as much the work of a good publicist as the result of careful plotting, and trends change. Two years ago, the lists were all about Chick Lit, and this year's list seems more skewed towards women's fiction. But, books that make the list do seem to share certain characteristics:
  • Memorable, quirky characters.
  • Gossipy tone--their lives might be way more screwed up than ours, but the angst factor is very low
  • Steamy--depends on the magazine, but hot books dominate most lists
  • Engaging, but not too taxing--there seems to be a delicate balance of page turner and something that you can look up from easily
  • Soft cover--hardcovers rule at Christmas time, but most beach lists are dominated by soft cover books that make for easy toting
  • Contemporary--historicals occasionally make the list, but modern single heroines rule them
  • Stand Alone books--Harry Potter and Stephanie Plum notwithstanding, these lists are often geared towards people who ONLY read on vacation (horrors, I know).
  • Happy ending
Thus, it's no wonder that romance writers often dominate these lists. But, even so, our own personal definition of the perfect vacation may differ wildly from a reviewer's (or editor's--often these lists are put together by publications without a reviewer on staff, and this difference is immediately obvious).

This leads to my questions for you:
  • What makes your perfect "beach" or vacation reading? Have you read books based on their presence on a list before? Were you disappointed with the recommendation?
  • Pretend you're standing in a bookstore with limited time to pick up a book or two for your vacation. What do you look for? Bestseller? Favorite author? On a list of best reads?
  • Now, pretend a friend is heading to the beach this weekend. She's not satisfied with the fashion magazine's list. She wants YOUR top five recommendations for sure-fire vacation reading winners this summer. What do you recommend? Finally, do you see your own books as "beach reading?" Why or why not?
  • Discuss! I'll give my responses in the comments as well. Then, late tonight, I'll compile all your recommendations into the 2007 MWVRWA Beach Reading list.

16 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Sheesh, Wavy, I've never read a book on the beach! And the only time I read during a vacation is on the plane there and back. Because I'm usually headed to my children's houses.

I read a book because:
1) I've read the author before
2) It's in a genre I like
3)It happens to be something I'm researching
4) It as a book I though looked interesting.
5) someone recommended it

I don't read anything different while on vacation that I wouldn't read while at home. And I don't read a book because it is on a list. I read because it intrigues me or I've read the author before and enjoyed her books.

I'm pretty simple. I don't over analyze anything! LOL

Paty Jager said...

Ooii! Way bad spelling.
4) It is a book I thought looked interesting.

Sorry!

Alice Sharpe said...

Neat post, Wavy. Hope there aren't too few of us to give you a list -- if there are, feel free to give us the Wavy list of fun summer reads. With Eli and Karen gone and if Danita is off having fun ... the numbers dwindle!

To answer your questions:
1. What makes your perfect "beach" or vacation reading?

The perfect vacation read for me is a book I have anticipated. The new Harry Potter book which I finished three days ago. A new Stephanie Plum book though those are wearing thin lately. Or a new book by an author I love.

2, Have you read books based on their presence on a list before? Were you disappointed with the recommendation?

No. I don't read lists. Wait, that's not true, I have occasionally seen a book on a list like in Time magazine that interested me. Elizabeth and Me was one, written by a homeless gay guy and his hitch hiking around the country with his dog, Elizabeth. I loved the book and was intrigued by the author's circumstances. And btw, if this poor guy could write a book during all that, what's my excuse?

3. Pretend you're standing in a bookstore with limited time to pick up a book or two for your vacation. What do you look for? Bestseller? Favorite author? On a list of best reads?

Yes, yes, yes. With discretion. But I also like to get to my vacation place and see if they have a book exchange because they often have mysteries which is what I read. I've discovered new authors this way. And I was flattered beyond words last summer when Paty took one of my book along to read on the plane ride up to visit one of her kids. Wow. I have arrived! THanks, Paty.

4. Now, pretend a friend is heading to the beach this weekend. She's not satisfied with the fashion magazine's list. She wants YOUR top five recommendations for sure-fire vacation reading winners this summer. What do you recommend?

This is hard. I rarely recommend books. I'd like to see some of you RS writers read older books once and awhile and sometimes I suggest a title, but generally speaking, I think I have only suggested Janet Evanovitch (sp), J.K. Rowling, Dick Francis (awhile back) Elisabeth Peters and the Davinci Code because i was so taken with the first of the book.

5. Finally, do you see your own books as "beach reading?" Why or why not?

No. I think beach reading needs to be "big" books and I don't write big books. On the other hand, I do write fast paced mysteries, so maybe. I don't know.

Alice

Paty Jager said...

Ahh, Alice I knew we had something in common! There was a time before I discovered LaVyrle Spence and historical romances that I read Dick Francis and loved him! I also read Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, a little Tony Hillerman, I tried Ruth Rendell but she was too psychological for me. All the Mrs. Pollifax books, Lillian Jackson Braun (event though I don't like cats). So you see, I am a closet mystery writer/reader! LOL

And I think it reflects in my books as I always have a small element of mystery in them. Can't write one without it!

And your welcome. Will you have another book out before I head to Alaska on October 18th???

And Wavy, I'm sorry I didn't answer your questions question for question. If you want me to, just tell me to follow directions! LOL

wavybrains said...

LOL. Paty, I would never tell someone else to follow directions :) I suck at them too.

I think Alice raises a very interesting point--and that's that summer reading is often "big books." High concept. This isn't just a matter of total pages, IMHO, but rather of big in "feel" too. My first two MS are not summer books--but the one I just finished might be. My mother just read my first draft so that we could brainstorm fixing the plot issues, and she kept saying last night how "ambitious" it was. And this made me frustrated at first, but then I realized that maybe I'm inching closer to the high concept, "big book." Robust isn't bad, as long as I find a way to tie it together. And I think I might have.

Major digression, but an interesting one. Back to the topic at hand. Evanovich is the quintessential summer reading. I'm reading her "Full" series right now (written with Charlotte Hughes) and I really appreciate how easy it is to read these books out of order. Rowling is harder to reccomend, b/c you really need to have read 1-6. I LOVED book 7 though I agree with a few reviewers who said that Rowling has gotten so big that editors quake in fear from her, and she could have really used a little bit more editing.

I often recommend Debbie Macomber to readers I don't know too well as being good summer reading. She crafts a good, robust tale, and the romance is pulled off without a lot of steamy sex. I save THOSE books for people that I know read romance on a regular basis and/or won't be shocked by it. I also recommend Jennifer Crusie a lot too. Everyone needs a good laugh.

wavybrains said...

Oh--off topic Question Paty. Do you fly out on your daughter's due date? My mother is trying to decide when she should purchase her ticket to come to help w/ the baby. You've been down this road several times. What do you usually do?

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty- You're reading list is so like mine it's spooky!!!

And yeah, I have a book out in October!

Alice

Karen Duvall said...

Bwahahaha! I may be gone, but far be it from me to overlook any opportunity to get online. Yes, I'm addicted. "My name is Karen and I'm an Internet-aholic."

Currently, I'm sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight. I got here real early. I have another hour yet.

What makes your perfect "beach" or vacation reading?

Like everyone else, I don't descriminate between vacation reading and everyday reading. I think the vacation readers are the ones who ONLY read on vacation, like you said, Alice. I know. Horrors.

Have you read books based on their presence on a list before? Were you disappointed with the recommendation?

Yes, I've read a few books from lists, but they weren't magazine lists, they were Amazon favorites lists people put together based on their own tastes. Some I really loved, some I barely made it past the first couple of chapters. I often buy books based on reviews in RT, and luckily I've never been disappointed in those. I own and moderate a yahoo group and we're constantly tossing book titles out to each other. I trust their judgment for the most part. But I almost always read a sample chapter of a book by an author I've never read, however even then I've occasionally been disappointed because the author didn't come through in the storytelling for me. I'm picky. I made the mistake of buying both the 1st and 2nd books in Karen Chance's series and I started #2 before #1 (because that's all B&N had). I'm two chapters from the end and I could care less what happens so I'm done with it. I skimmed the entire last quarter of the book because the events made no sense and I was bored. That happens to me a lot and I hate it.

Pretend you're standing in a bookstore with limited time to pick up a book or two for your vacation. What do you look for? Bestseller? Favorite author? On a list of best reads?

I'd probably grab a bestseller just to see if I could learn what all the buzz was about.

Now, pretend a friend is heading to the beach this weekend. She's not satisfied with the fashion magazine's list. She wants YOUR top five recommendations for sure-fire vacation reading winners this summer. What do you recommend?

Not Chance's books, that's for sure. What a snore (it was fast paced, but a jumble of this, that, the other, and then some more). Phillips and Crusie are almost always crowd pleasers and I could read them forever. For dark paranormal stuff, I'd say Kim Harrison, maybe Rachel Caine.

Finally, do you see your own books as "beach reading?" Why or why not?

I could see my book as a beach read, I guess. It's fast paced and most people tell me they read it in one sitting, so hopefully the reader won't get too sun-burned. 8^)

Karen Duvall said...

Wavy, my youngest daughter's first baby is due in February and of course she wants me with her. I've never had to do this before so I'm not sure how I'll purchase my ticket. Is it possible to have an open departure date? Hmmm... Renee is in Denver, and it's not easy getting there from here. It takes hours and hours, no kidding, because there are no direct flights out of Redmond. You have to connect in either Portland or San Franciso and the layovers are usually one to three hours. What a pain.

Paty Jager said...

Well Wavy, let me say when I first went to Georgia for my DIL who was having a baby, I went a week before I'd planned because she kept saying the doctor said it would come early and then I stayed a week longer than planned and the baby still hadn't arrived! Her second one, I arrived a day after he was born.

My daughter, I was there a week before her first one was due, stayed two weeks and went home two days before he showed up. The second one, we knew would be late, so I flew up on her due date and the doctor only let her go over one week and induced- She seems to like to keep baking them and they grow way to big! So for this next one, I will once again go up on the due date.

With this being your first, I'm not sure what to tell your mother. You could have the baby early or you could go over. Does she have a month she can stay??

wavybrains said...

LOL. No, my mom doesn't have a month she can stay. I *think* what I'm going to do is she's going to get a business fare for what the doctor says is the cut-off for induction (b/c of my blood sugar issues they won't be letting me bake a 42 week baby :)). Then, if the baby comes early, she can switch the ticket easily. All major airlines offer business fares, they are just typically more expensive. My mother refuses to fly southwest, but their refundable/changeable tickets are by far the best deal. I'm going to ask the doctor this question too :)

wavybrains said...

Karen--I've also had good luck with the amazon lists. Find a list with books that you HAVE read and liked, and typically you'll like most of the rest of the list. I discovered several authors this way, and few disappointments.

Barbara said...

I tend to save up fiction books during the year for my annual three-week family visit in May. I mostly read nonfiction the rest of the year. I choose several non-steamy romances to read and leave with my Mom to read. If I run out of books along the way I look at the bookstores for authors I know. I never buy small paperbacks as I find them too hard to read--I prefer trade paperbacks or hardcover. I, too, recommend Debbie Macomber books and sometimes Nora Roberts (lots of her books are available at Costco this summer plus Janet Evanovich's newest). I mostly read books others have recommended to me, especially ones MWVRWA members recommend and ones written by our panelists at the fall conference. Before joining MWVRWA, Jim and I read mysteries: Nevada Barr, Tony Hillerman, and Lillian Jackson Braun (and I love cats). Jim still likes to listen to Janet Evanovich's books on tape while commuting to and from work.

wavybrains said...

Barbara--The Cat Who books are GREAT summer reads--you don't have to read them in order, the characters are engaging and quirky and the cats are so much fun! My mom loves them as books on tape too :)

Alice Sharpe said...

The Cat Who books WERE great. The last few are disasters. If you want to read them, start at the beginning (sorry, Wavy to disagree, but there's a definite progression to the story line that's fun) and quit about five years ago!

Alice

And Karen, I know what you mean, this is the first blog site I look at when I'm stuck somewhere with wi-fi.

Lisa Pulliam said...

Fun post and I love reading everyone's responses!

1) I've never picked up a different type of book than normal for a vacation read or read something I usually wouldn't based on recommendation.
2) I look for book's by my favorite authors, either the next in their series I follow or something new of theirs to try. If none of those catch my eye, I'll try a recommended author.
3) Ooooh tough!
-Any Katie MacAlister book, well early Dark Ones books or her contemporaries
-Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
-He Loves Lucy by Susan Donovan
-Any book in the Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
-Any Michelle Rowen book

--Ok, I'll amend my previous comments now that I've thought about it more. I think I would be more likely to grab a lighter book with less page-turning thrills. On vacation I want to pick up and put down a book as much as I want. That doesn't mean the book will be any less engaging, I don't mean to make it sound like that. But most lighter, funny books I'm drawn to don't have the bam-bam-bam plot or action like a darker, more thrilling book. They tend to be more emotional than action-packed.

I love love love the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, but come to think of it I don't know that I'd take the next in the series on a vacation because I know that I wouldn't be able to put it down until I finished it. Then I'd have spent money to be on vacation to read a book for a day.