In Defense of Beach Reads

            With
daylight savings upon us, the unofficial start of spring has arrived.  As average temperatures reach somewhere
in the balmy mid-forties, true New Englanders toss aside their mittens and
prance around like lunatics in shorts or flip flops.  Our eyes glaze over as we stare at the sandy mountains of
remaining snow and fantasize about when we will be able to lay out on those
newly created beaches of road sand in the lawn chairs we’ve used all winter to
claim our shoveled-out parking spaces. 
Yes, as early as mid-March we begin to remember the reason we actually
like to live in this region: summer. 
And what would summer be without a stack of beach reads on the deck or
by the nightstand, smelling of fresh ink and the suntan lotion that leaked in
the beach bag?

            Beach read
is just another name for crowd-pleasing, easily accessible, enjoyable
literature.  Excuse me, I meant
novels, or contemporary fiction, or stories, because clearly your average
best-selling mystery or fantasy, or–god forbid–romance isn’t literature,
right?  Literature is a crown worn
 only by classics that have stood the test of time or by contemporary works that
are so rich with symbolism, allegory, and allusions that English professors
nearly short out their Kindles with the stream of drool that falls from the
corners of their mouths.  Literature
is words elevated to an art form. 
The rest of what we read is just, you know, actually entertaining.

            One
of the most frustrating questions I field during teacher-parent conferences is
“How can I get my child to read
good
books?” I always start by asking what the kid is reading now.  Has the naughty middle-schooler
stumbled upon his neighbor’s Playboy collection?  What exactly constitutes a “bad” book?  The parents I want to shake are the
ones who list two-dozen recently read titles, almost invariably ending with,
“and he’s read those Harry Potter books half a dozen times.”  Depending on my mood I occasionally
quip, “Well, half a dozen more and he’ll have me beat.”  But usually I’m politer and try to
explain that there’s nothing wrong with reading books that are popular; some of
them have a lot of educational and moral value, and those that don’t, well,
they’re still getting people to read.

            Don’t
get me wrong, in addition to my growing collection of beach reads that I’m
stock-piling for summer, my own Kindle currently has Stoker’s
Dracula, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, and Dicken’s Christmas Carol, all of which I enjoyed reading (or rereading) even though two were
for graduate class and one was for teaching.  Most classics truly are works of art from the minds of
literary masters and deserve a prominent place on our bookshelves.  But there are too many critics quick to
shun and scorn anything that becomes too popular, as if acceptance by the
general reading public must mean a work is too lowbrow to be of any worth.  Isn’t it mastery when an author can
capture the imaginations of millions of readers with or without the use (or
abuse) of every literary device in those English professors’ arsenals of exam
questions?  Isn’t it artful when a
writer can make us care so deeply about characters we know never existed that
we weep at their grief and laugh out loud when they stick it to their
adversaries? 

            I
sure think so, and therefore I will continue to fill my bookshelves indiscriminately
with anything that can hold me captive for a few hours of enjoyment.  And I’m pretty sure Shakespeare would
actually get a good chuckle at his works being placed between 
the latest chic-lit by Judy Blume and a series of vampire romance novels (and romance is putting it politely, but I don’t want to make anyone blush). 
And someday if I’m fortunate enough to publish a book or two, I will
hold it against no one who categorizes it as a good beach-read.  In fact, I’d be flattered to be in a
category filled with my favorite type of reading: the “good” kind.

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