I was lucky enough to spend three days this weekend on the beach, doing pretty much nothing but reading, swimming, and downing the occasional tropical drink. My dad recently bought me a copy of Return of the Native, one of my all-time favorite books but one I haven’t read in a very long time. I wondered (1) would it be as good as I remembered, and (2) would it be a good beach read?
What makes something a good beach read? Normally I would say something light and fluffy – something like a mystery or a romance – fun for the moment but easy to throw away when you’re done.
I don’t usually read anything literary on the beach, so I packed a couple of “lighter” books too. One of those was Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson. I figured I was due for some tough-girl urban fantasy, and although very cheesily written I enjoyed it for a little while: sex, violence, super-heroes, etc. Until about a third of the way through, when the admittedly silly storyline took a turn for the seriously ridiculous (spoiler alert: plastic surgeons turned her into her dead sister so she could fight the underworld undetected and infiltrate her father’s evil empire at the same time – come on, really?) This book made it through my flight and into some of day one, and then I put it down.
Too fluffy? Or just not that good? I don’t plan to give up on fantasy OR fluff, but this one didn’t do it for me. So back I went to Return of the Native, which was every bit the book I remembered. I had a hard time putting it down, which led to some real sunburn. Eustacia Vye is still one of my favorite heroines in literature, maybe because she’s about as far from perfect as you get. She’s stubborn, self-centered, and lazy, but she’s also smart, creative, independent, and she tries terribly hard to do the right thing. She has this fantastic idea of what her life should be like and isn’t willing to settle for less. Native might be literature, but it’s got all the romance, passion, and heartbreak of any romance novel you’ll find on the beach.
So was it a good beach read? Absolutely, except for one thing. I forgot how terribly sad this story can be. Nobody writes sad like Thomas Hardy. So by day 3 I’m finishing up the book and pretending to look dry eyed behind my sunglasses, because maybe a book that makes you cry is NOT a good beach read.
What do you think? What’s a good beach read for you?