Summer in the City by
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(142 Stories)

Prompted By Beach Reads

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I rarely go to the beach, and when I do, I am generally either working on my suntan (I know, very dangerous, but I still do it) or cooling off in the water. I can’t remember ever bringing a book to the beach either as a child or as an adult. But I do like the idea of a category of books called “beach reads,” suggesting that they are not too long and not too dense, so that you don’t have to be giving the book your full attention.

One of my favorite authors at any time of year is Jane Austen, but she only wrote six novels and I have read them all many times. It turns out though, that there is a whole industry of writing books that are either “what happens afterwards….” or a modern version of one of the novels. Over the years I have read way too many stories about what happens to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy after Pride and Prejudice ends. Of course their marriage always survives, despite whatever problems the author decides to place in their path. I discovered these books just by browsing the shelves in the fiction section of the library. Some have been well-written and some not, but the fun is in seeing what they do with the characters I know so well. When these “afterwards” books became tiresome, I turned to the modernization category. Everyone probably knows the movie Clueless, which is an updated version of Emma that was very well done. There are many updated Austen books in the same vein. The book I just finished, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, is an improbably named modern version of Sense and Sensibility, which I stumbled on while looking for something else. It was good but not great, which may be the definition of a beach read. I might have ditched it halfway through, but I was curious to find out how the sisters in this book ended up and how closely it paralleled the fates of Austen’s characters.

For the past few years I have been in a book group, something I never thought I would do, until suddenly, in my sixties and retired from practicing law, it seemed like a good idea. We meet monthly year-round, and I’m not sure if the summer books are any lighter than the others, but they might be. The book I have just started, for next month’s meeting, is Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts, which, while classified as fiction, tells the story behind the making of the movie The Wizard of Oz, highlighting the role played by L. Frank Baum’s widow in trying to keep the movie true to the spirit of the book. It looks like a fun read.

The book we just finished, and discussed at our July meeting, was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which I highly recommend. I see that Laurie has another book by this author as part of her featured image, so maybe I will look for that one when I’m finished with Dorothy. Everyone liked Americanah, so they may be receptive to reading more of this author when it is my turn to pick again. I love having this group of women to discuss books with. We don’t always agree, but we do have spirited discussions. Although the year that several of us had kids applying to college, we often ended up spending more time talking about the application process than the book of the month. And speaking of that, the last book that I chose was The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore, about a northern California family with lots of secrets, as well as a daughter applying to Harvard. So “admissions” refers to the things they have to admit to each other in the course of the book, as well as the college admissions process. It’s actually perfect summer reading, especially for anyone who went to Harvard, or applied there, or even thought of applying there.

Getting back to Jane Austen, in the process of writing this story, I have discovered a whole new trove of modern versions as well as continuations of her novels. I googled “modern takes on Jane Austen” and got over 17 million results! These are websites where people talk about their favorites, so I’m sure there is lots of duplication and there are certainly not 17 million books in this category. Nevertheless, I could clearly fill up the summer, or several summers, reading the ones that sound appealing to me.

This brings up another interesting discovery. My kids will shake their heads and say “oh, Mom…” if they ever read this, but it never occurred to me before that I could look for books on a certain topic online. Not to buy them online, but just to find out what is out there. I have long since given up buying books, because our bookshelves are full to overflowing and if I bought new books, I would have to give away some of my old treasures to make room. So for many years I have exclusively read books from the library, and have decided what to read based on what caught my eye on the shelves. Now I can start requesting some of these modern Jane Austen books and not have to depend on what I happen to see. Thank you Retrospect, for leading me to this revelation!

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Characterizations: been there, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Suzy. I really love finding out that there is someone, like me, who enjoys reading books that are continuation/modernization of earlier classics. Jane Austen, for sure, but I’ve also done so for Sherlock Holmes (like Austen, there are surprisingly few original stories/books) and with Agatha Christie (a nearly infinite number of originals, but who could read them all?).

    That said, I have never thought of being as systematic in hunting these books down as you now are; I just happen to hear about them or not. And, of course, Amazon is insidiously helpful in pushing out emails with titles like “We thought you might be interested in….”

    You’ve also nicely touched upon what I suspect is another common theme among us boomers: too many books and not enough shelves. Your solution has been libraries; mine has been Kindle. Yours is a lot more frugal.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. I have read some of those Sherlock Holmes continuations too. Have you read the ones by Laurie R. King where Sherlock solves crimes with Mary Russell (and I think eventually marries her)? Those are a lot of fun.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I love your definition of beach reads: not too long, not too dense, and good but not necessarily great. Also, will try your idea of googling topics to find books to read. Recommendations from friends is pretty useful for me, but we don’t all have the same interests when it comes to reading.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, Laurie. As you say, recommendations from friends can be iffy, depending on what type of books they like. I am getting good ideas from the stories on this prompt! Maybe we should start a Retrospect book club.

  3. I find our approaches to identifying books of interest and our means of acquisition, whether purchase, library borrowing, friend borrowing, stealing (? Remember Abbie Hoffman?). I’m not the book club type; maybe carryover of the feeling Groucho enunciated years ago about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. Oops. But I guess I am a member of Retrospect. I, like you, am a retired attorney, and one of my joys is that there is no “summer reading” anymore, it’s all just “reading”. And may it long be just so.

    • Suzy says:

      I sure do remember Abbie Hoffman. I wrote a story two years ago, the first sentence of which is “In 1971, Abbie Hoffman, the antiwar activist and Chicago 7 defendant, published a book entitled Steal This Book.” My story is about the time I stole a book from the Harvard Coop. I figured the statute of limitations must have run by now, so it was safe to talk about it.

      • Umm. Regarding the statute of limitations, remember “tolling”? Unless you’re in state the clock isn’t running. Leastways that’s the way I learned it way back when. I have a similar issue regarding a prep school antic that also occurred in MA. I take no chances.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Good story, Suzy. As I mentioned, I don’t take good books to the beach, as I don’t want them to get ruined, and somehow these days, despite gorgeous weather, we haven’t made it to the beach, so I took this prompt just to mean what are we reading. I like your idea of searching for extensions of authors we love. Let us know what you enjoy.

    • Suzy says:

      Of course you can always interpret any prompt however you want, it’s just to get you started thinking about a topic. Somebody said that the NY Times Magazine cover story today is Beach Reads, but I only see the Times online and haven’t been able to verify it.

  5. Marian says:

    Nice story, Suzy, and appreciate the reminder of all the Austen and Sherlock Holmes follow-up books. I read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James and it was OK. I just became aware of the Laurie R. King books and read one I really liked called Dreaming Spies. Definitely more Mary Russell than Holmes, but still very enjoyable.

  6. Loved this in-spite-of-yourself overview of two centuries of literature. I never knew that Clueless took its clues from Emma! Who knew?

    I also related to your opening comments about beach reads. I’m not able to read at the beach. I marvel at people who seem [really?] to check out of the here and now and plunge into linear, literary focus when so much humanity, surf, wind, weather buzzes around us when we sit where one element meets another.

    Brava!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, Charlie. I’m surprised that you didn’t know about Clueless and Emma. That is, if you’ve seen Clueless. You might not have, it’s pretty much a chick flick and/or a teen flick, so not aimed at your demographic.

      I don’t think there has been any actual reading at the beach in any of the stories here. As the NYT Book Review article on Beach Reads said, “A beach read does not have to be consumed on the sand. It is equally at home by a lake or a pool, on a porch or in bed.” Great article with lots more quotable lines. Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/10/books/review/eight-beach-books.html

  7. I have certainly heard of Clueless. It’s apparently a model structure in the world of screenwriting. I’d have to read Emma again, tho, to make any sense out of your smart comparison.

    Interesting that we had no beach reads! And thanks for the NYTimes book article!

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