August Nominations Begin: Beach Read Redux

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Let's face it, even as readers go, 1book140 is a literary bunch. Last month we asked you to nominate some beach reads for our big July read-along. Here are some of the suggested titles: The Aeneid by Virgil; The Stranger, by Albert Camus; and of course, Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. We wound up putting that last title on the short list, and if you haven't tuned in to our little (okay, really, really big) book club, Murakami voters swamped the polls late in the game, and we've spent the last two weeks happily navigating talking cats, latter-day Oedipus complexes, and the intricacies of personal responsibility.

Now, there's nothing wrong with Haruki Murakami. He is, most critics would agree, one of our most original, most accomplished, and most virtuosic living writers. But he's not in the business of producing beach reads. "But wait," you say. "You folks are the ones who put him on the shortlist!" I have a simple defense here: Oops. We were trying to round out the list, and Murakami gave us a nice balance. (Honestly, I thought The Help was a lock. Shows what I know.)

Here's another mistake we made: Assuming everyone knows what a beach read is. It's definitely not an epic poem in Latin, or a classic work of existentialism. If we could think of a single, defining characteristic of a beach read, it would be that you can't put it down until you find out what happens next. And then, when you do put it down, it doesn't keep you awake all night. Kafka on the Shore is a page-turner, but what one discovers on those pages tends to be dark, dense, and often as not, confounding.

This is not to say beach reads are, by definition, mass-market fiction. (Though we shouldn't rule such books out.) They needn't even necessarily be fiction. (I'd argue that the classic tell-all, Hollywood Babylon, sets the bar for what I want nestled in between my sunscreen and swim goggles.) Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, and Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger would all make my cut. In a word, then, a beach read is fun.

So let's try this again. I don't know about you, but I haven't even taken my vacation yet. Through 5 p.m. this Friday, July 22nd, we'll be taking nominations for the August edition of 1book140. This weekend we'll survey the nominations and post a shortlist on Monday, when voting will begin.

Note that we will only record BOOKS NOMINATED IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. Happy nominating, and as always, happy reading.

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Jeff Howe is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard. More

Jeff Howe is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He previously worked as a contributing editor at Wired Magazine, where he covered the media and entertainment industries. In June 2006 he published "The Rise of Crowdsourcing" in Wired. In September 2008 he published a book on the subject for Random House. The book has been translated into 11 languages. Before coming to Wired in 2001 he was a senior editor at Inside.com and a writer at the Village Voice. In his 20 years as a journalist he has traveled around the world working on stories ranging from the impending water crisis in Central Asia to the implications of gene patenting. He has written for Time, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, Mother Jones and numerous other publications. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and two children.

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