Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sunday Salon: 100 Best Beach Books Ever

The summer season is not all that different for me than the rest of the year. I go to work every day just as I always have. The weather is warmer, certainly. And the sun is out longer. I may take a vacation or I may not. My reading pretty much stays the same regardless of the season.

I suppose that is why I have never fully appreciated the term "beach read". When I first heard it, I took it at its literal definition. A book you would want to read on the beach, one you would not mind getting sand between the pages. And I suppose that is, in part, where it got its start. In a broader sense, I think quite a few people think of "beach reads" as light reading, those books that don't require your full attention or much in the way brain power. However, I've discovered that there are those who choose to think of "beach reads" as those more serious tomes they can finally pick up and give their full attention to. National Public Radio (NPR) conducted a survey recently to see what books their audience would select as the best beach reads. As you can see, the 100 Best Beach Books Ever list has books that span a wide spectrum.

What does a "beach read" mean to you? What kinds of books would you take along with you on a vacation? Any thoughts about NPR's list?

NPR's 100 Best Beach Books Ever
1. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling*
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee*
3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini*
4. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen*
6. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald*
8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams*
9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg*
10. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
11. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
12. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
13. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan*
14. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien*
15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger*
16. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
17. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
18. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien*
19. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides*
20. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain*
22. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
23. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith*
24. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
25. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller*
26. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
27. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
28. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman*
29. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
30. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer*
31. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
32. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
33. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant*
34. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
35. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
36. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier
37. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
38. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
39. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
40. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
41. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett*
42. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy*
43. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice*
44. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
45. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo*
46. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
47. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
48. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
49. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb*
50. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
51. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
52. The Stand, by Stephen King
53. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb*
54. Dune, by Frank Herbert
55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
56. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
57. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
58. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
59. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo*
60. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
61. Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
62. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
63. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner
64. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
65. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
66. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway*
67. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
68. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
69. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
70. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
71. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway*
72. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
73. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns
74. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding*
74. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe [tie]
76. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte*
77. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
78. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
79. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
80. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett
81. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
81. The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve [tie]
83. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
85. The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
86. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
87. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich*
88. Shogun, by James Clavell
89. Dracula, by Bram Stoker*
90. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera
91. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
92. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
93. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
94. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris*
95. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume*
96. The Shining, by Stephen King
97. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan*
98. Lamb, by Christopher Moore
99. Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen
100. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

(I put an asterisk next to the ones I've read--31 of the titles--just for the fun of it. Whether or not I read them in the summer, I cannot say.)

In Reading Mews:

Reviews Pending:
The Glass Devil
by Helene Tursten (written, just not posted)
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (polishing off review)
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (still in rough draft stage)

Currently Reading:

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

New Additions to my TBR collection:
Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo (from LibraryThing's Early Review Program)
Holly's In Box by Holly Denham (from the author)

Other Posts of Interest This Week:
Monday at the Movies: Road Trips & A Trip to the Theater: Fiddler on the Roof
Wordless Wednesday: Riding the Highway (Part 8)

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. My definition of beach read has changed over the years. I high school and college, it was the quick, trashy romance novel, then it was whatever the summer best seller was, then it became something I can read in short spurts while keeping an eye on the kids in the pool or on the beach, it has finally evolved into whatever I want to read because I don't have time during the school year.

    I have read 26 of the books on the list.

  2. This has been a hot topic in the UK this week, following David Cameron's declaration that he wanted time to read some trash. Diplomatically, he didn't say what authors he would put into that category! I always see the summer as time to read my way through a series so that I don't lose the thread from one book to the next. The trouble with that is that I then find that I have had enough of reading the same style of writing all the time and need a break, so it doesn't work out as I'd hoped.

  3. My summer reading has never really changed either, despite the fact that up until this year I always had a summer vacation. I still read all of the same books, just more. And I have never gone to the beach with book in hand to lie about and read, so I guess I'm not very good at answering this question! I've always defined it as the lighter reads, but I think personally when I have nothing weighing on my mind and I'm just relaxing that I'd like to read heavier books so I can focus on them properly.

  4. My daughter told me about this list last week, because she's an HP fan and was delighted to see the series at the top of the list. But we were both confused by "To Kill a Mockingbird" which of course is an amazing book but not a traditional "beach read." I always thought of beach reads as romance or mystery. Well however you define it there's definitely some great reading on that list!

  5. I guess I always look at a beach read as something lighter, easy to read, not too long, full of smut, explosions, romance, and other brainless shallow hooks to keep you reading. Nothing that requires deep thinking. I'm not sure I would agree with many on this list! Outlander, are you kidding? It would take an average person an entire month to read one of those books! To Kill a Mockingbird? Racial prejudice at the beach? I would agree with the Stephanie Plum books...that is my idea of beach! I've read a couple dozen of these.

  6. Jenny - I think there was a definite difference in my reading during the summers when I was in school too.

    Table Talk - I can see how reading series books when you have less interruptions in between books would be worthwhile. I can only read so many books in a series back to back before I have to stop. As you said, there comes a point when you need a break.

    Meghan - I am not really the kind of person to lie on the beach and read either. :-)

    Laura - It's interesting how people define a "beach read". I think most people do think of it as light reading, but obviously from the list, not everyone does.

    Sandy - LOL The impression I've always gotten is that "beach reads" are just as you define them--but then, of course, that means that much of my reading would fall into that category year round. :-) I do have friends though who do prefer reading the classics during the summer months--more time to give them their full attention. So, I guess it really does depend on the individual.

  7. I agree with most of the 100. One that I will always associate with reading at the pool is Portrait (Picture?) of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

  8. I've read 60 some on the list, but there are authors there I won't read (King -- I don't do horror -- for example) and there are some authors I don't like, so I have no intention of reading the book no matter what list it appears on.

    I don't change my reading habits by season or by vacation -- I just read.

  9. I don't really go to the beach, so I can't say that I associate any sort of reading with reading on the beach. That said, I don't think I'd look at that list without its title on it and think "Oh there's a list of 100 books that would be great beach reading." Then I thought about it some more, and a decent amount of the 25 of them that I've read, I have at least read in the summer. But then, that could be because several of them were required summer reading for me. However, I did elect to read Lonesome Dove one summer while I was still in college and it did make for a great summer read despite (because of?) its length - really something great to get lost in for a summer when I had the time. :)

  10. Wow, great list of books! I've read many of them.

    I live near the beach all summer so a "beach book" is whatever I'm reading that day.

    Great post, as always!

  11. I've read 33 of those books, started one that I couldn't finish and have a couple more in my TBR pile.

  12. I never quite understood the term either - for me, a good holiday read would actually be one that fully engaged my attention. My summer reading isn't all that different from my normal reading either. I may save longer books to read during the summer if I have free time, but that's it.

  13. I think a lot of the titles on the NPR list are a bit too "heavy" to fit my definition of beach reading. For me, authors like Nora Roberts, Luanne Rice, Diane Chamberlain, Emilie Richards write what I consider perfect beach reading (although I also enjoy their books at any other time of the year). For me, a perfect beach read is a good story, likeable characters, some drama but nothing too depressing, and if the story is actually set at or near a beach, that's an additional bonus.

  14. It is interesting to read everyone's comments about this topic.
    I have never bought into the term beach read. When I used to go away with my parents, I know that cottages always had a shelf or two of books that I gather the owners considered beach reads. I guess to many people a beach read is either one that you can enjoy and not really concentrate on, perhaps light reading. If I peruse the list from NPR, these books do not qualify as light reading in my opinion.

    I don't read any differently in the summer, and if I go to the beach with a book, I just take along whatever I am reading. Aside from my challenges, I rarely make lists of what I'm going to read next. My reading is so contingent on state of mind not time of year. So to designate a book solely for the beach would be contradictory.

    I have no idea what I would quantify as a beach read if I were to make a list. How about you?

  15. What a wide range of books! I guess there is really no consensus on 'beach read'. I've always used the term for light and fluffy reads, but as I look at that list I'm not seeing a lot of those.

  16. I'd consider a beach read to be anything that draws me in and holds me tight. I usually find that beach reads have more straightforward language, too; there aren't so many complicated turns of phrase, so they generally read up right quick.

  17. Bybee - I think I read Picture of Dorian Gray in the summer too--at the tail end in September, mind you, but it still counts for summer. :-)

    Beth - There were a few titles on the list I probably won't ever care to read either, Beth. I find that true with lists.

    You sound like me when it comes to seasonal reading. There's really no change in what we read--we just read. :-)

    Megan - That's always been my initial reaction too since I don't go to the beach all that often, much less to read. I don't like to lie out in the sun. I'd rather be up and about visiting the shops and walking along the pier.

    It's clear that many people have different ideas about what a beach read is from the list, isn't it? I never would have guessed what the list was without the title either.

    Linda - Thank you, Linda. I wish the beach was a tad bit closer to where I live than it is. It's actually not too far in the scheme of things, but fighting traffic is not my idea of fun. :-S

    Kathy - There were several on my list that are in my TBR collection too. One in fact I hope to read later this month. :-)

  18. Nymeth - I noticed there were some longer books on the list, like Anna Karenina. I can see sitting down with a bigger book in the summer, especially if you have more free time.

    Ingrid - I read one definition for a beach read as being a book you wouldn't mind getting sand in. I thought that was funny--and for me, it would probably be true. :-)

    Wisteria - The books on the list certainly fit into a wide range of categories, don't they? It's obvious that the term "beach read" means something different to a lot of people.

    I'm the same way in that my reading is dependent on my state of mind and not so much the season.

    Stacy - It doesn't seem like there is a consensus, does there? Light comes to my mind first too when I think of "beach reads"--and maybe those books that seem heavier on the list to me are light to the people who chose them. Or else they define it like my friends who prefer heavier fare during the summer months.

    Gautami - It's quite a diverse list, that's for sure.

    Memory - If only all the books I read did that! I love to be swept up into a book and not want to let go. I'm with you, I tend to think of beach reads as being quick reads.

  19. I look at beach reads as something light and fluffy or a book that takes place at a beach I will consider a 'beach read'. lol. On a holiday, depending on where I am, I want something light. If I'm just at the lake then I'll take anything because it's so peaceful there that it's easy to concentrate.

  20. My reading hasn't changed as much this summer as it has in previous years, mostly because I'm trying to catch up on ARC and review commitments. I will say, though, that a light mystery - like the Sue Grafton or Janet Evanovich series - are perfect to take to the lake to read while the kids play in the water.

  21. I think NPR and I define "beach reads" differently :-); I tend to go with the "light reading" definition myself, but I could see a lot of what's on this list as "summer-vacation reading." I just don't see lugging the Harry Potter books to the beach!

    I'll have to go through the list and see exactly how many of those books I've read, but based on a skim, I think it may be a pretty decent number. Thanks for sharing it, Wendy!

  22. I had always thought that a beach read was a light, airy read that you could lazily read while enjoying the warm sun on your back... but I think I've changed the way I view beach reads... now I think of beach reads as books that I can fully steal away with without interuption! The NPR list is a nice list of diverse titles. I'm not sure I would read "The Road" while relaxing on the beach though! :D

    Great Post! And where are you?! Did you get my email- you won a book giveaway! email me! My internet has been funky so maybe it didn't reach you?


  23. Dar - I used to only pick light books to read for vacations, but I've noticed more and more over the years I prefer taking a variety. It really depends on my mood. And the amount of time I can give a book.

    Carrie (B&M) - I know that feeling! Mysteries are often my go to books when I'm looking for something fast and fun too.

    Florinda - LOL Yes, it's quite a list. Something for everyone just about. Yeah, the Harry Potter books might be a bit much to drag to the beach with you. :-)

    Suzanne - I think I like that definition of a beach read best. I wish I had more uninterrupted reading time. Even when on vacation, that doesn't seem wholly possible.

    I got your e-mail this morning and e-mailed you back. I sent it again for good measure just now. If need be, I'll send it via a direct message in Twitter. I don't think it'll go over the number limit. Just let me know.

  24. So many things can be considered "good beach reads" for me! To put it in a more general way, it would be any book that I enjoy, have a hard time to put down and makes it easy to relax while reading it (no depressing book, or very serious ones). That doesn't mean it can't be classic literature, it depends a lot on the theme and how it is presented.

    I'll admit that I like a good happy, chicklit novel when on the beach, but if I'm there for more than a couple of days, I would need other kinds of books too. Harry Potter, Urban Fantasy novels or Historical Novels can also make great beach reads!

  25. ooh. I love book lists! I've read 52 of these 'beach reads' - a lot of them wouldn't necessarily match up with what I'd call a beach read, but it definately seems to be a contested term. It's been interesting to read the comments on this one.

  26. For me this year my beach reads have been books that literally have a beach in them (going for the literal here). I came up with a nice list of them and have been picking and choosing. Since there is no beach anywhere near, that's the closest I'll get to having any sand between my toes! However I tend to think of beach reads as something lighter and easier going. I do like the idea of more difficult beach reads--as often during summer you might have some extra time to spend on them. Nice list--thanks for sharing it!

  27. I could never really read at the beach! Spend all my time in the water or exploring the shore. I guess I never really understood lying around in the hot sun and getting baked.

    I've read 55 of these, and there are about 7 or 8 more that I would want to read. Have a wonderful week.

  28. I've read 36 of them but I wouldn't think these to be much of beach reads...only a few came close!! :)

  29. Kay - You raise a very good point. There are classics that definitely fall into the relaxing and hard to put down category.

    Michelle - It sounds like most of us think of "beach reads" as lighter fare, that's for sure.

    Danielle - That's a good way to do it! I know that when I travel, I often like to read books set in the locale I am visiting. Or at least I end up wanting to read books like that even if I don't actually. It depends on what I have handy. :-)

    Gavin - I'm definitely an explorer when it comes to visiting the beach. Like you, I am not much for sunbathing on the beach, frying to a crisp.

    I hope you have a great week too!

    Staci - It's an interesting list, isn't it? Not quite what many people would expect, I imagine. Just goes to show how differently we define "beach reads," I guess.

  30. No other thing will affect my choice of reading...except my reading mood, that is. LOL. But I'll most likely to read something light on a vacation, but then again that has to depend on my mood. :P

    I hope you've a great week ahead, Wendy!

  31. Hi Wendy, I love the list and will take some time later to do this. I've read some and some are on my TBR.

  32. That list is so not my idea of 'beach reading' it isn't even funny.

    For me, a beach read is something light that you can put down at any given moment and pick up again without any difficulty.

    Stephanie Plum is my idea of the perfect beach book... which reminds me. I still haven't gotten the latest version of Ms Plum.


  33. Beach read means light read to me. Kite Runner certainly doesn not fall under this category.

    But having said that how can one ever read at the beach unless you go to the beach very frequently.

  34. wow, that's quite a list. i may have to copy & do it on my blog too. :-)

  35. Melody - Reading mood definitely plays a significant part in what I decide to read when, that's for sure. I hope you have a great week too!

    Alice - Quite a few of those titles are on my TBR pile as well. :-)

    CJ - There definitely were a few titles on there that surprised me.

    I still need to read number 14 in the Plum series. I wonder if I even own it? I'll have to check and see.

    Violet - I think I read The Kite Runner one summer afternoon a few years ago--all in one sitting. Not on a beach though. :-)

    Marie - I was drawing a blank at what to post about and thought the list would be an easy way to go. Besides, I do love lists!

  36. How can "Life of Pi" be a beach read? I actually read it at the beach and then was so afraid of sharks that I had trouble going into the water!! I'd rather be on a boat with a tiger!

    Fun to read lists, anyway! Thanks!

  37. I saw this, too. I'm not sure that I would count several of these as anywhere close to beach reads. I thought beach reads were supposed to be "light reading"? I mean, To Kill a Mockingbird? At the beach? Not for me, anyways. And I agree with Clea Simon above that Life of Pi is definitely not a book I want to think about at the beach, much less read!

  38. Looks like I've read 31 titles from the list too. I tend to think of beach reads as light reads that aren't too difficult. I'm not a beach person but the weather is so miserably hot here in the summer that I do find myself leaning more towards mysteries or lighter books sometimes. Reading books set in wintry, snowy, cold places is also a nice distraction. :)

  39. Clea - Haha! I guess I know which book not to read at the beach. :-)

    Rebecca - Goes to show how different readers can be, doesn't it?

    Nat - I know what you mean. The heat does tend to lower our ability to concentrate sometimes and so lighter is good. Of course, those wintry books can cool us off too. :-)


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