Beach Readers by
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Prompted By Beach Reads

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Summer reading.  I know that “beach read” is a thing, as we say now, but the term has no currency for me.  For the life of me I can’t remember any time at which summer fare was any different from any other time of the year.  What’s more, “summer reading” for me means only one thing: the mandatory summer reading program of my prep school.  Students were required to read eight books each summer, to be chosen from a list that, while not stingy, contained nothing light.  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich?  Yep.  Due to its length it counted as three books.  For each book we had to write a brief report, and I do mean brief.  Our summer reading packets included eight lined 5×8 postcards, so we had limited space in which to convey convincing evidence that we had indeed read what we claimed to have read.  I don’t know what happened  at the school upon receipt; I suspect that there was a direct route from the mail box to the circular file.

. . . it looked to be some form of ritual, the Shunning of the Water

And “beach” read?  I’ve not been a beach person since a memorable, and infamous, spring break in Ft. Lauderdale during my senior year in prep school.  No reading whatsoever.  And no beach subsequently could hold a candle to it.  I wonder just how many people now do in fact read on the beach.  When I first moved to the Hudson Valley I lived in a condo that had a pool.  Whenever I went there was at least one person, usually more, who stood in the water at about waist depth at one side of the pool or another, book in place on the edge of the pool, happily combining reading and cooling.  Occasionally there were as many as ten at a time, and it looked to be some form of ritual, the Shunning of the Water.

But upon further thought, when I hear “beach reads” I immediately think of beach readers.  My parents.  Right after I graduated from college they moved from upstate New York to south Florida, Naples, on account of my mom’s health.  My dad, a physician, shifted from general surgery to emergency room physician.  Summers in south Florida are brutal, and my parents would repair to Cape Cod.  My dad worked out additional shifts during the rest of the year so that they could be away for three months.  They rented a cottage, the same one year after year, at West Dennis on Nantucket Sound not far from Hyannis.  There’s was a simple routine: primary activities reading and walking.  They were the literary version of the Sprats: Dad read only fiction, Mom non-fiction. Endlessly.  They walked twice a day.  The beach was walking distance away, and the beach extended a great distance. They stayed off the sand but instead walked on the access road that ran the full length of the beach.  And talked about what they were reading.  While their choices of genre differed, their enjoyment of hearing about one another’s reading never waned.   Perhaps they had the best of both worlds.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    I love how your parents modeled reading, Tom. That postcard is amazing, but The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich? Talk about heavy …

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are probably smart to stay out of the sun, Tom. We haven’t made it to the beach yet this summer, for various reasons. I am about to go sit by my pool, though. Does that count. Very pleasant.

    I love that your parents strolled along the beach on Cape Cod and they were the beach readers. That sounds delightful, back in the day.

    • My sun shunning is dermatologist’s orders, but frankly I don’t miss it, really. We have a pool and I still swim, so, yes, it absolutely counts. My partner Barbara, a novelist now, edits by the pool and that counts, too.

  3. Suzy says:

    Tom, I love your first full sentence, “I know that ‘beach read’ is a thing, as we say now, but the term has no currency for me.” That is just so elegantly put! And I agree. Summer reading does sound like those assigned lists in high school that must be read before the new school year starts – generally just a day or two before the new school year starts. I’m curious about your 8 postcards – did you have one full side of the card to write on, or just the half next to the address, as your image suggests? I would assume you would have a whole side, unless they were picture postcards. Do you remember?

    Anyway, I know I’m getting bogged down in minutiae, I love your story, and especially the image of your parents walking together twice a day, talking about what they had read. That is a wonderful memory to have!

    • Thanks Suzy. We had one full side to compose our reports. Over the course of the four summers that I had to do this I learned how to use the twelve lines or so to put together something resembling cogent thought. Yeah, right. I just got it done. The big deal was wrestling the postcard through my Olivetti portable (reports had to be typed). It’s a wonder that these permanently rolled cards ever got through mechanized mail handling.

      Anyway, ironically the cover of today’s NYT Book Review is – wait for it – “Beach Reads”. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/10/books/review/eight-beach-books.html

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Tom, I love your parents’ version of beach reading and sharing their insights about books on long walks. Sounds perfect to me. Much better than being forced to read 8 books from a list every summer and summarize them on postcards. Hope they have changed that policy.

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