What is it about summer that turns everyone’s expectations of art to slush? Think of it: “summer movie” implies something gargantuan in scope and pea-sized in intellect. Adam Sandler saves Earth from aliens by making stupid faces, say. The end of the school year comes with breathless anticipation of the first summer movie ruining the sub-woofers at your multiplex.
It’s the same thing with books. The lists of great summer or “beach” reads is an annual tradition for most of those publications that still bother covering books at all. It’s the usual fluff. A mystery about a woman who goes missing. A woman finds love in Tuscany. Another serial killer from James Patterson.
Speaking of summer reading, the Times asked a number of known novelists to opine on their planned books for the beach. Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin) wins hands-down for honesty:
Whenever summer rolls around I begin to realize that I’m a complete and utter book snob. In relation to reading, I have absolutely no guilty pleasures at all. No graphic novels. No murder mysteries. No “milky-white thigh” stories. No fifty shades of anything.
While you might take issue with him throwing all graphic novels in with “guilty pleasures,” how many of us would admit to the same thing? The society as a whole is so anti-literate these days that those readers who just don’t see the point in reading junk are seen as being somehow out of touch. McCann again:
So, my guilty pleasures are my original pleasures. I read “Ulysses,” or at least a part of it, every summer for Bloomsday. It’s hardly a beach read, and I understand that Molly Bloom might not be very content with me, as a reader, carting sand into her bed, but that’s life. The great thing is that she has no say about it. Sorry, Molly, but you are in with the suntan lotion.
This summer I’m reading “Lolita” again. The book seems constantly split open with sunlight. I find it one of the funniest and most poignant books I have ever read. I suppose there’s a certain amount of guilty pleasure in the novel, especially if, like me, you’re even older than Humbert Humbert. Unveiling the book at your neighbor’s barbecue might raise a few eyebrows, but again that’s life, or rather literature.
There’s no reason to avoid trash entirely; every now and again you need a book that you can zip right through in two or three hours and toss aside; like a movie. But the implication that you must read something inane just because you’re at the beach or the weather is hot, feels like a strange and onerous cultural imposition.
None of that.