Summertime

07.01.11

Sloane Crosley’s Depressing Beach Reads

Essayist Sloane Crosley fills a book bag for readers who wouldn't dream of going near a beach ('On the Beach'), who don't like sand but don't mind reading about it ('Waiting for the Barbarians') or who want to beat the heat by reading about snow ('Into Thin Air').

On the Beach
By Nevil Shute

A post-apocalyptic Australian story revolving around nuclear fallout, euthanasia, and a fuel crisis in which the one bright beam of civilized hope is Seattle? Yes please.  Who needs a description of Maui this summer? Not I, not when there’s an end-of-the-world Pearl Harbor portrayal inspired by then-recent events.  Also, no one laughs in this book ever. For other emotionally overcast beach scenes, see also: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or any novel in which the north of France places a key role. Juicy!

The Beach
By Alex Garland

In the book version of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is British, not American, which makes the novel less of a statement about American travel hubris but much more saddled with pathos. Despite ending unhappily—you know what they say about not eating the yellow snow? Don’t lie in the red sand, ya hear?—it is quick and good and after about 30 pages, you can see why it was ripe for movie adaptation.

One Day
By David Nicholls

I don’t think it counts as a conflict of interest to plug this book, seeing as I am no longer employed by the company that publishes it. But I used to be. Now that that’s out in the open: who needs a hankie? You do. This is a truly funny book with lightning-quick dialogue and these two wonderful characters. Halfway through the book it will be hard for you to imagine how it could ever make you cry. Well….it has its tricks. In addition to the solid chunk of real estate summer takes up in the narrative (the book’s chapters span two decades but each focuses on the same day in July), it’s coming to a screen near you in August, starring Anne Hathaway. People who saw it at the Book Expo America cried hysterically. As if there weren’t enough reasons to cry hysterically at BEA.

Waiting for the Barbarians
By J.M. Coetzee

First of all, it opens with sunglasses and squinting. Second of all, it’s a very short book. Third of all: sand dunes! Is it also genius and a classic work about the struggle between civilization and barbarism, between good and evil? Sure. There’s a lot of sleeping and death and heartbreak in this fable about oppressive governments and weak-minded but powerful men. But whatever!

Into Thin Air
By Jon Krakauer

You will not be able to relate to this book at all if you read it on a beach. You will read graphic descriptions of a wonderful and tiny Japanese mountain climber freezing to death, of people with frostbite of the eye, of the relentless winds of Everest and the guilt of survival and you’ll think: I wish a breeze would come along—my bikini strings are soaked with sweat! Then you’ll feel really fucking guilty.