For some, summer breaks are a time of ambition and self-improvement. We all know people who embark on cleanses and yoga regimens to fit into their bathing suits, while others strive for that perfect low-fat summer salad recipe, laden with revitalizing vegetables. And then there are those people who vow to read massive, life-changing, cerebrum-expanding tomes during their summer breaks---the people who grit their teeth and buckle down to Crime and Punishment, Ulysses, Infinite Jest or---for those with Herculean levels of focus, Gravity's Rainbow. To these people, we salute you. Good on you for bettering yourself.
For the rest of us, the change in seasons signals complete and total laziness and self-indulgence. A real summer means barbecued hamburgers, various cocktails, substance abuse, sunburns, sand wedged in your unmentionables and, most importantly, beach books.
The criteria is broad: A good beach book can be gripping, salacious, funny, absorbing, sexy or diverting. Most importantly, though, it must be impossible to put down.
For the purposes of this article, we have divided some of our favourite summer genres into the following categories:
For this category, trashier usually means better. Books that deal with drug-addled former celebrities, sex addicts, rock 'n' roll bands, groupies, troubled icons and geniuses who have fallen from grace are ideal for maximum beach absorption. Forget the new crop of Tiger Woods tell-alls and trust past favourites: Stephen Davis' disgusting Led Zeppelin expose, Hammer of the Gods, Priscilla Presley's beautifully angsty My Life With and Without Elvis Presley, Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson's biography of the brilliant, dysfunctional poker player Stuey Ungar One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey 'the Kid' Ungar and, of course, the final word on depraved rock autobiographies, Mötley Crüe's The Dirt.
Horror +Science Fiction
There is a deliciously smug sense of false security that comes with reading a good creeper while roasting on a lakefront, surrounded by friends and loved ones.
Essentials include HP Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Stephen King's IT, Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse, Ursula K. LeGuin's The Farthest Shore and perennial favourite Neuromancer, by William Gibson.
Romance +Sadness Porn
We're all aware of the escapist utility of Bridget Jones' Diary, Outlander and the entirety of the Nora Roberts canon. But what about books that become popular by virtue of the fact that they make you feel terrible? Welcome to "Sadness Porn"---the brand of beach books that are perhaps the most reviled of all, leaving you subject to sneering and taunts from sunbathers the next blanket over.
They feature women pretty much exclusively, their long-term literary value is negligible, and most of them are eventually made into movies. My favourites: Jane Hamilton's embattled protagonist in A Map of the World, Anna Quindlen's mother-daughter cancer novel One True Thing, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (look? It's sad, alright? He keeps leaving!), Judy Blume's terrifyingly sexual Summer Sisters and yes, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult will make you bawl. Seriously.
Where to Get Them
Not every bookstore in Halifax caters to lovers of beach trash, but used shops should be your first stop. Here are some of the best ways to get your fix:
The Last Word
2160 Windsor Street, 423-2932
Not only does this bookstore have one of the most comforting atmospheres in the city, but it's an ideal place to whittle away an afternoon shooting the shit with the delightful owner, Wayne Greene. This mustachioed sweetheart is an expert on everything from Steinbeck to Mickey Spillane and if you get him talking about Tom Waits, you will be in the store for hours.
I asked him for his favourite trashy science fiction recommendations one afternoon and two other customers who were eavesdropping leapt in on our conversation, joining us in front of the small but noble paperback shelves where Orson Scott Card and Isaac Asminov held court. In the end we decided on The Midwich Cuckoos, a John Wyndham freakout that was later made into two versions of Village of the Damned. I read it in an afternoon; the book is so, so much better.
Books R' Us
6050 Almon Street, 455-7832
This dark horse of the Halifax used-bookstore scene is a browser's dream; DVDs, records and piles of paperbacks all filed in a loose organizational system. Stephen King? Dean Koontz? Robert Ludlum? Terry McMillan? They've got it all. There is also a healthy selection of pornography. My fingers briefly skimmed over various copies of Emmanuelle and its sequels, but eventually I settled on a bunch of Lovecraft stories and a pile of VC Andrews novels. Who doesn't love gothic family sagas that deal with failed dreams and incest? Beach-perfect.
Trident Booksellers and Cafe
1256 Hollis Street , 423-7100
Back Pages Used Books
1526 Queen Street, 423-4750
John W. Doull
1684 Barrington Street, 429-1652
5378 Inglis Street, 423-8419
United Book Exchange
1669 Barrington Street, 423-6980
1505 Barrington Street, 492-0666
Quality Used Books
211 Pleasant Street, Dartmouth, 461-0927
Seaside Book and Stamp
23 Alderney Drive, Dartmouth, 423-8254
Where to Read Them
Here's your summer: a bicycle, a towel, a backpack full of strawberries and vodka tonics, Long Lake, Chocolate Lake or if your friend has a car, Crystal Crescent.
Now go forth, brave beach book readers. Ignore the sneers. Guilty pleasures await.