As with most things related to books, the question of what makes a book a “beach read”, or the perfect “summer read”, is entirely subjective.
It also has to be acknowledged that the term “beach read” was only coined by publishers in the nineties. But, seeing as the label has stuck like a slathering of factor 50, and given that we always curate a list of summer reading recommendations, we thought it was worth diving into the deep end of the topic.
In view of the fact that we all have our preferred genres, authors and writing styles, it goes without saying that one person’s poolside reading perfection is likely to differ vastly from that of our sun-lounger neighbours. While many of us might choose to raid the hotel’s library of abandoned books, our choices won’t be the same. Indeed, we might not find anything that takes our fancy. That said, there does seem to be some consensus about what makes a great holiday read.
First things first. The kind of books many of us choose to read during our well-earned breaks tend to be linked to the reasons we take holidays in the first place - to experience new things, to give our minds and bodies a break, to escape from the norm.
With that in mind, here’s our run-down of the most cited criteria in answer to that burning question - what makes a book a beach read?
Summer settings - literal beach-based books
Whether we usually tend towards reading crime thrillers, romance, relationship stories, or literary fiction, often the setting of a book, above all else, will draw us to purchase it in a flurry of pre-holiday excitement.
Think finding love on an idyllic island, murder mystery in a luxury villa, novels that see characters losing - and finding - themselves in far-flung destinations. Whatever the genre or story subject, publishers know what they’re doing when they stick a stunning location on the cover.
Character-driven feel-good joy
There’s a reason stories that have us rooting for relatable protagonists through their ups, down, set-backs and break-throughs figure high on our summer reading choices. Reading about characters’ uplifting journeys to joy while blissing on out on a beach often enhances our personal sense of blissful contentment.
In addition, while in holiday mode, away from the stresses of work and everyday life, we’re likely to have more time for empathy, more space for other people’s lives, longings, tribulations and delights.
Plot-driven all-out action
Somewhat contradicting the previous point (but who’s to say we can’t switch from feel-good fun to all-out action as the mood takes us?), many of us turn to thrilling page-turners to quicken the pulse while we’re flat on our backs by the pool.
The contrast of being in chill-mode while reading chilling fiction combines as gratifyingly as coconut and pineapple in a tropical cocktail.
In the way many of us might hit the all-inclusive bar way earlier than we’d even think of having a drink back home, being in holiday mode often unleashes a desire to lose ourselves in guilt-free books that demand little intellectual input while delivering big on escapism.
Think books about glamorous characters with dubious morals, or page-turners driven by outrageous, outlandish drama. In short, stories that enhance that sense of escapism.
Now here’s the plot twist. Contrary to the image of “beach reads” being easy-to-read page-turners, some of us choose to use our holiday reading time to give our undivided attention to heavyweight works we don’t usually have the attention span for. We’re talking doorstopper biographies, in-depth history, classics we never got around to reading.
Which makes sense if you consider that holidays mean fewer distractions, and a whole lot more time and headspace to tackle heartier reads head on.
Indeed, one of the wonders of summer holidays is having the freedom to opt in and out of activities according to our mood, like dipping in and out of the pool ad infinitum. And the same goes for books. Just be sure to pack a range of reading material to suit a range of moods - take a look at our summer reading recommendations for inspiration.