Inevitably, when the beachy June seascapes appear on my desk calendar, the temperatures begin to rise, and the air becomes perfumed with honeysuckle chased by a tinny whiff of sunscreen, I reach for my e-reader or the nearest paperback as surely as I trade in my wool cap and boots for my beloved Dansko sandals and straw hat. (As much as I love the sun my pasty white alabaster complexion requires moderation.)
Here is my dirty secret: From June to August, I seldom reach for the books I “should” be reading.
None of the great classics staring judgmentally down on me from my bookcase.
No non-fiction books on crafting elegant prose from the masters of the trade.
No dictionary-length literary masterpieces from the current frontrunners for Great American Novelist.
Bring on the romances, cozy mysteries, YA thrillers. Bestsellers and blockbusters? You betcha.
That’s not to say I’m not a discerning reader when the mercury rises. In fact, in the summer months when I am most in tune with my need to relax and reboot, I’m more apt to toss aside a sub-par book and seek out something better than I would be in December by the flicker of gas-powered flames. My summer reads have to be top-notch. The term “beach read has become synonymous with “fluffy and unimportant, but highly entertaining books”, but I have to disagree. Some of the best books I read all year are those I deem worthy to haul to the pool.
I have discovered the books that capture my interest in summer have to meet some key criteria:
- Story is everything. You have to intrigue me from the cover copy. It has to be a new idea or at least a fresh take on a beloved trope. I don’t want to feel like I’m re-reading my old favorites (autumn is the season for nostalgia in my book).
- If the book deals with deep, deep social issues or is in some way profoundly cerebral, it has to be packaged into something inherently readable. I still care about the important issues in life, but I’ll tackle saving the world when I’m back to packing school lunches.
- The book should be transportative in some way (part of the reason I love historicals). I can’t afford exotic vacations, so chances are I’m reading by the community pool or in the chaise lounge in my backyard. If a book can take me someplace more captivating than the realm of 5-year-olds waging water pistol battles, I’m in.
- It needs to know when to keep the pace going and when to stop and smell the roses. Of course different genres have their needs, but summertime is a great time to indulge in some lush narrative, so long as it doesn’t make the story drag. (Think Outlander—one of my favorites from last year).
- It doesn’t have to be completely carefree or end with a tidy happy ever after, but I want the book to at least end on an optimistic note. In glorious weather, the last thing I want is a book that brings me down without some shred of hope or redemption.
So tell me, faithful reader, what titles should I add to the list this summer?
Aimie K. Runyan is an author of Historical fiction whose purpose is to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. Her debut novel, PROMISED TO THE CROWN (April 2016), the story of three women sent by Louis XIV to help colonize his Quebec colony, was a ten-years-in-the-making labor of love. She loves baking, travel, hiking, and all things sacred unto nerd culture. She lives outside Denver with her loving husband and two adorable children.
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Simon Cocks.