Last week we asked (a little snippily, I might add) for you to nominate some beach reads for August. Real beach reads. And you came through. Which always makes our job harder here at the 1book140 HQ. There were nearly 200 books nominated for our August read-along, and nearly all of them qualified as beach reads (except, perhaps, for one of my all-time faves, The Terror, which besides being dark and disturbing, takes place in the endless night of the Arctic winter).
Culling five books out of such a long, worthy list is never easy. And let's be frank: It's always arbitrary. Almost. We did apply some qualifications, and you deserve to know them, because it's instructive of how our little social media experiment is evolving. I'll start with a controversial one:
Books Must Punch the Same Weight: Or, don't mix little books with big books. Some truly crap books have huge followings. Some truly great books disappear without a trace. And of course, many great books find the audiences they deserve. I would love to ignore these considerations, but I can't. Putting a "small," deserving book up against a best-seller is an act of futility. Instead we have to judge whether a book can hold its own against the competition, and hope for the best. (This brings us the issue of voting, and astro-turfing, which I've tackled in a separate post.)
The rest of the beach read criteria are straightforward: Nothing too dense; Nothing too dark; Nothing too long; and Nothing too frivolous.
Where does that leave us? With five really fun, well-written, compelling books to choose from:
1.) Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips
The whole pantheon of Gods and Goddesses we all read about in high school are still with us, living in a ramshackle house in London. Hijinks ensue. "Reviewers almost unanimously praise Phillips's daring, high-concept premise and the wit and cleverness with which she recycles mythic tales and gives them a postmodern twist," says Bookmarks magazine. Don't let the "high-concept" remark fool you, beach readers. This is, by all accounts, a three-ring romp.
2.) Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
Tales of Jeeves and Wooster from the inimitable comic genius himself. What's that? You say he was up last month? You say he had his chance? Well, he's getting another one. Seriously: There was a lot of support for Wodehouse, and Norton just reissued five Wodehouse classics (including this one), so they're easy to procure. The New Yorker says this about Wodehouse: "Wodehouse is the funniest writer--that is, the most resourceful and unflagging deliverer of fun--that the human race, a glum crowd, has yet produced." And what could be beachier than that?
3.) A Prayer for Owen Meaney, by John Irving
One of beloved author John Irving's most beloved books. Nauseated yet? I always was. Like a lot of geeky, oversensitive teenagers, I overindulged on the pleasures of The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules. Then this guy, a friend who knows from great books, told me it was Irving's unappreciated best work, and one of the best novels of the 20th Century. We couldn't do much better than that.
4.) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré
I was beyond delighted to see that someone else nominated le Carré (and one of his best works, at that.) The former M15 operative and Godfather of the modern-day thriller, he's an incredible a pleasure to read. Tinker, Tailor features all the stock elements of the cold war drama: Spy vs. Spy, East vs. West, double- and triple-crosses. But it's rendered in amazing detail. Man, now that I'm getting worked up, maybe we should just cancel the voting!
5.) The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
This 1955 thriller has it all: a dreamy European setting, a tortured protagonist, a love triangle, and several crimes of passion. Plus, it was made into a film with an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow) that features shots of Italy so gorgeous they'll remind you what a real beach vacation looks like.
The polls will be open until Thursday, July 28th at 3 pm Eastern, and we'll begin reading the book we choose on Monday, August 1st.
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