Depending on where you live, if you’ve stuck your head out a window in the last few weeks, you may have noticed that the weather has gotten considerably hotter since I last wrote to you (and stormy, if you live anywhere near me). And, unless you live in a windowless room with no doors or escape hatches (hopefully you don’t), you know what that means…
That means summer is now upon us (again, depending on where you live—to my southern hemisphere readers, enjoy the cooler temperatures), and with that summer activity season is in full swing. Yes, that would include swings if you’re into that kind of thing.
For the next two months, we can enjoy picnics in the park, boat rides on the lake, and trashy books on the beach, all while having no worries about falling leaves on our head, or snow on our feet, or pants on our…well, no, we still need to wear pants. But they can be short.
And this wide range of fun activities during a season when we should all really be sitting in air-conditioning somewhere and avoiding heat stroke brings me to the topic of beach reading.
Have you ever taken a book to the beach?
On a few occasions, I’ve tried to join the beach reading crowd, hauling my paperback of the week to a comfortable spot in the sand, overlooking a semi-turbulent sea in the later part of an afternoon as the temperatures begin to cool…
And each time, I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on the text. In fact, every time I’ve taken a book to the beach, I’ve left wondering how in the world anyone could make any reading progress, assuming they actually read the book and weren’t just staring at the words for an hour before finally deciding they would just reread what they’d just read once they got home.
For one, the sun’s out, and depending on how close to noon you go, the pages will gleam back at you a hot white glow that washes out the print, leaving you with a 300-page reflecting beam that tans the underside of your chin. Not ideal, unless your goal is to go home with uniform California skin.
But there are also the bugs that crawl on the sand wherever you sit. Sure, they’re not as distracting as the creepy-crawly creatures that move around in the grass whenever you sit in a field or under a tree, but they can still pull you out of the moment if one catches your eye. Just because you’re at the beach doesn’t mean you won’t have to contend with the occasional ants. At least the crabs will typically leave you alone.
And then you’ve got the human element and their errant volleyballs, footballs, and Frisbees. Sit in place too long, and you’ll likely have to duck at some point. And let’s not forget the joggers, the surfers, and the sandcastle builders—all of those who create motion in the corner of your eye. Is your book going to captivate you so much that you don’t notice movement happening, movement that could really be interesting and unrepeatable?
Oh, and of course, let’s not ignore the fact that most people aren’t wearing pants at the beach (at least none that go below the knees). Hard not to notice that.
Now, one of the most difficult things I have to deal with as a writer is my short attention span. Movement of any kind tends to pull me out of whatever attention I’m giving to a screen or a page. This isn’t to say that what I’m writing or reading isn’t interesting, mind you; I just like to know what’s going on around me, too. And if I’m not looking around, it’s because I’m fighting the temptation to look. But that’s as mentally distracting as just giving in, as just looking at what’s causing the motion, since I’m spending more time telling myself to concentrate on what I’m doing than actually concentrating.
So, reading a book on the beach hasn’t been the summer joyful thing I’d always assumed it would be—not the first time I’d done it, and not the latest time.
Of course, I suppose I could partially blame my inability to concentrate on the book itself. On the eve of my 27th birthday, I sat on the hard sands of Ormond Beach, Florida, part of the Daytona Beach system of sand, in the shadow of a tall hotel, enjoying the cooling evening with a paperback copy of The Two Towers, having absolutely no idea what I was looking at or what was going on. Tolkien is hard enough to read in the comfort of a leather chair beside a fireplace in a lamp-lit study; reading his books on the hard sands of Daytona North (Ormond Beach) is just stupid.
(Incidentally, I also tried reading C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra on the beach, and, well, that one’s even harder to comprehend in a distracting environment.)
But I don’t think I can fault the higher levels of brain power necessary to comprehend Tolkien’s (or Lewis’s) work as the reason I had such a difficult time reading that warm summer evening by the ocean. Years later, I took Jack Reacher #2, Die Trying, to the beach and had the same problem. I read a chapter, realized I’d taken twice as long as I’d normally take to reach the end of it, and I figured out I wasn’t any happier for having read it while digging my feet in the sand than if I’d just read it in bed while digging my feet into a blanket.
Is it possible I just don’t like to read while sitting in awkward positions on the sand, especially when I have no towel and can’t exactly lean back? Possibly. Or, is it possible that there are too many half-naked people walking around or enjoying a life I don’t know within my line of sight, making me wonder how it is I’ve become such a recluse and somehow convinced myself that reading on the beach would cure my need for more friends or some kind of active social life, that living in a state of absorbed fantasy inside every printed page could wash out the creeping loneliness of watching others enjoy the life I don’t have but also don’t need thanks to the power of reading tricking me into thinking my life is more exciting than it actually is, even as reality convinces me otherwise? Also possibly.
But, let’s be honest: I really hate slumping down and slipping out of beach chairs. Hurts my posture, and I still end up in the sand by the end of the chapter.
Anyway, beach reading, hasn’t really been my thing, even if I understand the appeal. Weirdly enough, reading in coffee houses has the same effect on me. When I’m at a café, I’m more interested in the coffee and the people than I am in the book I’ve brought with me. Maybe it all comes back to my short attention span.
So, what about you? Do you enjoy reading on the beach or some regional equivalent?
That all said, many readers love catching up on their preferred books at the beach, so whether you enjoy the experience or not, the practice of beach reading is not a lost art. Perhaps the avid beach readers just know how to make it work.
If you’ve never read at the beach and want to give it a try (and have a more successful time at it than I tend to have), then I recommend these helpful tips:
- Bring a chair
-I recommend a chair that sits off the sand high enough that you don’t find yourself tilting out of it every time you turn the page.
- Bring an umbrella
-While I don’t advise reading a paperback in the rain, I can understand why you might want to read one in the sun. An umbrella not only keeps you dry, it casts a shade on the pages so you won’t go blind trying to reach the end of the chapter.
- Bring a cold beverage
-It’s hot out there. Concentrate on your book, not your thirst. Also, most public beaches forbid alcohol, so make sure your cold beverage is legal. Also, make sure your book is good enough that you don’t need alcohol to enjoy it.
- Bring sunglasses
-Sometimes the pages get really bright in the sun.
- Bring a friend
-The beach is over-stimulating. Having someone sitting beside you, constantly remarking about everyone else on the beach, doing all that they can to remind you that you’re missing out on so much activity in life when you stick your nose in that book, neglecting real life friends or the opportunity to find yourself a hot date on a Friday night, might encourage you to relocate to a place that’s less distracting and has more air-conditioning and/or drinks for all occasions, ultimately allowing you to finish reading that book.
So, with these tips in mind, I hope reading on the beach works out for you.
Cross-posting Note: This article was written for my June 2023 newsletter, which I normally make exclusive to subscribers. If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more from me, please consider subscribing to my newsletter by filling out the form in the side panel (or below, if you’re viewing on mobile), or visiting my official newsletter signup page. As a bonus, you’ll get access to Read My Shorts, Volume 1, a mini-collection of short stories about corporate blunders and occasional revenge that you can’t read anywhere else.
If you want to know more about me and what I do here, please take some time to explore my site. You may find some hidden gems in your journey.
Certain images generated by SUPERMACHINE, using the Stable Diffusion engine.