August Nominations Begin: Beach Read Redux

By Jeff Howe

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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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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/07/august-nominations-begin-beach-read-redux/242171/