Every year during summer holidays, the jackets on the beach are all the same. It was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then last summer it was The Help, and all this summer’s books are already bedecked in 50 Shades of Gray. The monolithic nature of the summer read certainly comes with its benefits—all these book sales keep booksellers and publishers afloat, and books in common create connections between readers. But as for fostering a vibrant literary culture, the one-book-per-summer approach is having us come up seriously short.
What does a vibrant literary culture look like, is a question you may ask, which is a question best answered by taking a peek at the 49thShelf main-page anytime. This is what a vibrant literary culture looks like, books and books, side by side, mingling forms and genres, illuminating connections, contrasts, big presses and small presses. In literature as in biology, diversity is the way to sustaining life, books of all sorts, some familiar and some obscure, off the wall and, yes, some according to formula because it’s true that a little bit of formulaic fiction is nice to encounter in the summer. We work hard enough the rest of the year that we can be permitted some indulgence lake-side, a beach-read and a glass of wine on a Wednesday afternoon.
But then again, take in the view in a different way. You can see a horizon for the first time in months, hear water lapping at the shore—the sound of eternity. When was the last time you had time to read on a Wednesday afternoon, never mind the wine? If you haven’t got the head-space to read a brilliant book right now, you never will. What might happen to the summer if you read a book that rocked your world?
Which isn’t to say that you should be sitting on the beach with a doorstop, that now’s the time to finally conquer Ulysses (though it might be), but I mean to emphasize that all great reads aren’t necessarily arduous. I mean to say that maybe you really can do better. That you’re not a sheep, and if you’re going to read just one book this summer, why not read two? You have the power to discover a book that nobody’s heard of yet, to do your part to make the beachside bookscape that much more interesting.
Pick a book from our 2012 Summer Reads List, or a book with a cottage-setting. Browse books that have been shortlisted for awards across the country this year, or, as ever, select a book from one of our expert-curated recommended reading lists. Ask your local librarian, or your favourite independent bookseller.
Or turn to the woman in the chaise-lounge beside yours, the one who’s reading 50 Shades like nobody’s watching, and ask her, “So, what else have you been reading? If you could recommend one more book, what would it be?”
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