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Ask Roundtable: The Songs of Summer for 2021
It’s that time of the year again. The days are warmer, the nights are shorter, we long to spend our holidays reading a great page-turner on the beach — and we’re listening again to some of the ubiquitous songs of the summer.
But since things haven’t been exactly normal lately, Ask’s team of writers and editors gathered around a virtual roundtable to talk specifically about this summer’s musical themes. Is there as clear a winner as in years past? Do songs of the summer even exist if we’re not dancing to them at nightclubs? What exactly is a song of the summer, anyway?
Here are some of the main takeaways from our Zoom chat.
What Constitutes a Song of the Summer?
Ask’s resident music expert and Social Media Editor Bryn Rich has a clear idea of what a song of the summer is. “It doesn’t matter what you’re into or what you listen to, it’s the song that’s just unavoidable,” he says. “Think ‘Call Me Maybe,’ ‘Old Town Road,’ ‘I Gotta Feeling.’ Whether you want to know it or not, you will hear it in every Uber you take and every 7-Eleven you walk into.”
Ask’s Writer Eric Mueller has a similar notion of what constitutes a summertime anthem. “To me, a song of the summer is linked to fate. For a song to become the ‘song of the summer,’ it must be so ubiquitous that you hear it everywhere, especially when you’re traveling and only have a rental car’s radio and you notice that you hear a certain song no matter where you are. I think of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella,’ or Rihanna in general when I think of what the cookie-cutter for a perfect song of the summer is.”
But Ask Media Group’s Senior Managing Editor Michael Kasian-Morin doesn’t necessarily agree. For once, with the pandemic, we’re not taking that many Ubers, going to the store that often, renting cars or heading to dance clubs. But also, with streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, the musical experience and what those services’ algorithms recommend can become very customized. “The concept of top 40 or song of the summer has become more personal and circumstantial for what your interests are, what you like to do and what gets you motivated,” says Michael. “It’s become more personal and you don’t have to necessarily rely on radio to discover things that you enjoy.”
“Spotify’s algorithm certainly helps point me in the right direction at times or in directions I didn’t expect,” agrees Editor Kate Bove. She also has somewhat of a broad definition of what a song of the summer is supposed to be: good driving music. “Anything I can listen to and enjoy on a drive feels like an appropriate song of the summer. And it could be downtempo music too and get in your feelings a little bit. Good driving music to me has that nostalgic, long, unending summer days [feeling]. We’re not still, we’re just, like, moving forward.”
Ask’s Editor Hannah Riley also has more of an experiential approach to the whole “song of the summer” concept, especially because she doesn’t seek the Top 40 charts. “I don’t know what it is for the general population,” says Hannah. But she still has thoughts about what makes a summer song. “The way you can look at songs of the summer is like how people describe summer itself: sunny, bright, upbeat and relaxing for daytime. But nighttime is sultrier, smokey and beguiling.”
“A song of the summer can put you in a place where you want to be (a beach, a nightclub, with someone special) or it can encompass the here and now. The best songs of the summer do both,” adds Eric.
You can get a pretty general idea of what the mainstream sounds of the summer of 2021 are by heading to Spotify’s Charts , Apple Music’s Charts or Billboard’s Charts . You’ll see that some of the artists making waves right now on a global level are Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, BTS, Justin Bieber, Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Ed Sheeran and Bad Bunny.
But the song of the summer isn’t something you’re supposedly seeking but encountering even if you don’t want to. “In a year where we’re not in 7-Elevens and Ubers that much, is it songs on TikTok? Is there where we’re encountering these singles? Since we’re not out and living in the real world?” says Bryn.
TikTok is the place that Kate associates with Doja Cat’s songs. But besides social media platforms and their viral themes, Eric has other methods of discovering what’s cool when it comes to music. He relies on TV shows — he’s a fan of everything on Insecure’s soundtrack, for instance — and because he hasn’t been going out that much, he also listens to some old-school FM radio and recommends Pulse Radio . “It’s Pride-themed, which I like. I feel a lot of pop music in general, I used to hear at queer spaces and gay bars because it’s so celebrated there.”
And now that we’ve established what makes for the perfect summer sound and given a few suggestions on how to find it, let’s see what’s been on Ask’s playlists these past few weeks.
Ask’s Favorite Songs of the Summer in 2021
Kate Bove, Editor
lately I feel EVERYTHING by Willow
Kate’s choice of listening material this summer is Willow’s new album. “‘transparent soul’ with Travis Barker is really good. Avril Lavigne is on another one of the tracks. So I feel it has sort of that era vibe but very updated to 2021,” she says. Editor Hannah Riley agrees with her, calling the album “very nostalgic.”
Michael Kasian-Morin, Senior Managing Editor
Samurai by Beny JR and El Guincho
“That’s the perfect driving-in-the-car album,” says Michael. “ Samurai , it’s simply phenomenal and it makes me feel like I’m in the future when I’m driving in the car… even when I’m stuck in traffic. And that’s what I want to listen to. ‘Combo la L’ specifically is top-notch song-of-the-summer material.”
“ F*ck Him All Night ” by Azealia Banks
“When I’m on a sweaty, foggy dance floor at 3AM I want to hear Azealia Banks’ new song [F*ck Him All Night],” says Michael.
“ Get Low ” by Glüme
This is Michael’s favorite song to amplify his summer behavior if he’s strutting through Walgreens in his short shorts. This song is also Hannah’s song of the summer of choice. “It has everything,” she says. “It’s very smoky and textured and synth-heavy. It’s just perfect.”
“ Afrique Victime ” by Mdou Moctar
“If I want to pretend I’m in an amphitheater rock concert — because I’m still not going to those — I would listen to Mdou Moctar’s ‘Afrique Victime.’ These are certain kinds of tracks that I only want to hear when I’m trying to do things in the summertime,” Michael adds.
Eric Mueller, Writer
“ MONTERO ” by Lil Nas X
“I feel like ‘MONTERO’ really kicked off Pride season,” says Eric. “It was one of the few music videos that people actually watched. It’s strange to think that videos aren’t the norm anymore, but Lil Nas X’s explicit queerness helped bring the song to life. The beat is so agreeable that I wouldn’t mind hearing it in the background literally anywhere, which is great since the song is everywhere still. The title of the song also invokes Call Me by Your Name , a movie about a summer romance. Perfect for the time.”
“ Physical ” by Dua Lipa
“Dua Lipa appears to be filling the Rihanna-sized hole in our hearts during her hiatus,” says Eric. “‘Physical’ is so high energy that it just makes me want to go outside and get moving.”
“ Save Your Tears ” by The Weeknd
According to Eric, this theme does a good job at capturing a more reserved take on a summer song. “High-energy songs always steal the show in summer, but at some point, the party ends and you need to process that. ‘Save Your Tears’ creates space for that. Plus it’s great to drive to,” he says.
“ Without You ” by The Kid LAROI
“I don’t know who Kid LAROI is but this song, it’s everywhere,” admits Eric. “The acoustic vibes make it great when you’re outdoors after sunset.”
“ Itty Bitty Piggy ” by Nicki Minaj
“This is more of an honorable mention. Nicki Minaj had never released this song formally, but it was on mixtapes and her Myspace for a long time when she was first starting out,” explains Eric. “As an earlier fan of hers, it was such a treat when she ‘dropped’ the single on Instagram Live and I wondered, ‘Could a 2007 Myspace song become the song of summer 2021?’ This was also before Delta and Lambda variant cases rose and everyone was expecting to have a wild summer. Still, I’ve listened to it on Spotify more times than I should have.”
Patricia Puentes, Senior Writer
“ Don’t Start Now ” by Dua Lipa
I discovered this one thanks to my Barre instructor. She’s included it in some of the classes’ playlists. It’s so catchy and has a great beat, so I added it to my 2021 running playlist. I love songs that keep me engaged when I work out.
“ Milionària ” by Rosalía
This one is two summers old but I discovered it this year. My sister played it for me when we were driving through the Mediterranean coast south of Barcelona. It’s a very danceable theme and Rosalía sings in Catalan, which isn’t that common since most of her themes are in Spanish.
Bryn Rich, Social Media Editor
“ Butter ” by BTS
This theme was the first one that came to Bryn’s mind when he thought about the song of the summer of 2021. “They’re sort of omnipresent,” Bryn says about K-pop band BTS . “They’ve gotten the McDonald’s meal. They’re at every award show. They’re doing the Samsung ads. That song broke Spotify’s first-day streaming record. It had 20 million streams in the first 24 hours it was out.”
“ Bad Habits ” by Ed Sheeran
Even though Ed Sheeran is not really Bryn’s thing, he feels his comeback has met expectations in a way maybe Lorde or Billie Eilish’s didn’t. “Ed Sheeran is back and he’s dressed like a glittery vampire and it kind of sounds like The Weeknd, for some reason. But it’s big and shiny and catchy. I think we could all use a little bit of that right now,” says Bryn.
“Levitating ” by Dua Lipa
This Dua Lipa theme has been on the charts for 42 weeks and it’s still going strong. “It came out as a single last fall and is hanging out in the top five,” says Bryn. “And it’s also just a great song.”
“ Be Sweet ” by Japanese Breakfast
“If there was any justice, ‘Be Sweet’ by Japanese breakfast would be the number-one song in every country in the world,” says Bryn. Not for nothing, Japanese Breakfast’s latest album, Jubilee , is his favorite this year and made it to his selection of the best music of the year so far . And if that’s not enough recommendation — and it should be — “Be Sweet” is also one of the themes of the summer for Kate.
But with three different songs on this list, it looks like Dua Lipa has made Ask’s summer of 2021 a bit better.
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4-STAR REVIEW: CRIME AND PARCHMENT by Daphne Silver
5-star review: one love for liv by marianne arkins, 4.5-star review: the taken by donnette smith, 4-star review: a true account by katherine howe, 4-star review: cry wolf by lark o. jensen, new release: and so, we fall by bella michaels, new release: the zing fling by dee g. suberla plus giveaway, new release: wild at heart by stacy gold, new release: mrs. england by stacey halls, new release: a very modern marriage by rachel brimble, spotlight: one love for liv by marianne arkins plus giveaway, spotlight: saving madonna by kate bristow plus giveaway, spotlight: face of greed by james l’etoile plus giveaway, spotlight: the day before tomorrow by monique britten plus giveaway, spotlight: shadows in sussex by emma dakin plus giveaway, interview: bookworm by robin yeatman plus giveaway, interview: victoria & violet by rachel brimble plus giveaway, interview: with action-adventure author edward m. hochsmann plus giveaway, interview: with young adult dystopia author adria carmichael plus giveaway, 4.5-star review: an autumn kiss by laura rollins, annette lyon, and lisa catmull, 4.5-star review: summer reading by jenn mckinlay.
Publication Date: May 16, 2023
When a woman who’d rather do anything than read meets a swoon-worthy bookworm, sparks fly, making for one hot-summer fling in New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay’s new rom-com.
For Samantha Gale, a summer on Martha’s Vineyard at her family’s tiny cottage was supposed to be about resurrecting her career as a chef, until she’s tasked with chaperoning her half-brother, Tyler. The teenage brainiac is spending his summer at the local library in a robotics competition, and there’s no place Sam, who has dyslexia, likes less than the library. And because the universe hates her, the library’s interim director turns out to be the hot-reader guy whose book she accidentally destroyed on the ferry ride to the island.
Bennett Reynolds is on a quest to find his father, whose identity he’s never known. He’s taken the temporary job on the island to research the summer his mother spent there when she got pregnant with him. Ben tells himself he isn’t interested in a relationship right now. Yet as soon as Sam knocks his book into the ocean, he can’t stop thinking about her.
An irresistible attraction blossoms when Ben inspires Sam to create the cookbook she’s always dreamed about and she jumps all in on helping him find his father, and soon they realize their summer fling may heat up into a happily ever after.
There are so many terrific things about Jenn McKinlay’s Summer Reading : a spunky neurodivergent heroine, a hunky librarian hero, and some interesting and complicated family relationships.
Chef Samantha Gale leaves behind a career disappointment to spend the summer watching out for her teenage half-brother while her dad and stepmom tour Europe. In an awkward incident on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, Sam meets a handsome guy who turns out to be the interim director of the library.
In an event-filled summer, Sam builds a kinship with her brother, rekindles an old friendship, finds a new direction for her career, and discovers love.
It is a pleasure to see new romances with neurodivergent characters. In this case, Samantha has dyslexia and is somewhat ADD. By writing in the first person, the author invites us to see the struggles Sam has faced and the many ways she has learned to cope. Sam is in her early thirties but realizes she still has much to learn about herself. She is funny, slightly insecure, and hesitantly optimistic.
Librarian Bennett Reynolds has had a difficult past but has made great strides in dealing with it.
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The Invention of Summer Reading and the Birth of the Beach Read
Welcome to Summer Reading at the Los Angeles Public Library! This year our theme is My L.A., and we hope you will join us in reading all about our fair city! But first, let’s turn back the clock for a look at the hidden history of summer reading and the beach read book…
"These paper covered romances… the heroine an unprincipled flirt… chapters in the book that you would not read to your children at the rate of a hundred dollars a line?" thundered the Reverend T. De Witt Talmadge in 1876. "I readily believe that there is more pestiferous trash read among the intelligent classes in July and August than in all the other ten months of the year." He was of course fulminating against the new craze for light summer reading, especially among young women whose impressionable minds he yearned to deliver from temptation. Nowadays when the May Gray burns away, we hardly bat an eye at the inevitable superbloom of "Best Beach Books" listicles and bookstore displays piled high with poolside pulps, slathered in tangy neon or Tuscan pastels. In Books For Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer Reading , Donna Harrington-Lueker brilliantly unearths the beginnings of the modern phenomenon of the beach read, tracing it to canny Victorian publishers seeking to capitalize on the burgeoning trend of summer vacation travel. They turned a traditionally slow time of year for book sales into a season of sizzling sun-drenched bestsellers, with plots often set at resorts and destinations.
And it wasn’t just the publishers. Harrrington-Lueker shows that even writers as staid and upright as Quaker abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier were keen to get in on the action. After his poetry collection Snowbound was a hit in 1866, his publisher James T. Fields urged him to get another book on the shelves quickly. He complied in early 1867 with The Tent on the Beach , a poetic recounting of his trip to a coastal town some years earlier, where he basked in the sun and enjoyed the restorative graces of nature. The book "ought to be out by the first of June," Whittier urged Fields. "It is a sea side idyll and it is wanted then, if ever." Et tu, Greenleaf? The Tent on the Beach turned out to be a huge summer bestseller and set off a fad for beach camping at that same town.
Harrington-Lueker follows this with a fascinating cavalcade of long out-of-print Victorian summer romances, awash in twisty plots featuring raffish beaus and dizzy heiresses dancing, prancing, and partner-swapping at resorts like Saratoga and Cape May. My favorite of her synopses is of an 1892 book called A Florida Enchantment , in which the heroine "eats a mysterious seed that transforms her into a man, giving the young woman the opportunity to exact revenge on her faithless lover and providing readers with the chance to explore, quite explicitly, the nature of same-sex and opposite-sex desire."
But it was not always so. Prior to 1850, summer reading was usually presented as an act of "good taste, deliberation, and gentility." One was encouraged to "walk slow, talk slow, think slow" in summer—eschew the tumult of political opinion columns and soothe your intellect with the serenity of the classics. It was also explicitly positioned as an activity for (elite, white) men, whose example women might do well to emulate.
Then during the second half of the nineteenth century, America’s population tripled, and its cities boomed. The country blasted off from an agrarian way of life into the industrialization that produced a middle class, with white-collar jobs offering stable salaries and vacation time off. Along with the massive urbanization came the crowds, the noise, and the hubbub, and especially in summer, the smells and the heat. All this made escaping the city for summer travel a desirable option for a vast new set of people beyond the upper crust—including, as Harrington-Lueker shows, affluent African Americans, who vacationed at many of the same destinations as whites or developed their own when barred by segregation. Further democratizing the leisure industry was the proliferation of steamboat lines and railways that could quickly take one to the coast or countryside. Sleepy seaside towns and resort spas responded to the influx of tourists by building piers, hotels, esplanades, and attractions. Newspapers and magazines celebrated it all in print, teaching Americans how to do summer.
Book publishers were no enemies of the dollar. One of their chief concerns in the decades before the passage of the International Copyright Act in 1891 was a wave of lurid pulp dime novels and pirated European novels which were popular with the increasingly literate American readership, stirring up a backlash from the pulpit against sinful sensationalism defiling impressionable readers’ minds. Publishers seeking to sell a nation of vacationers on a positive view of summer reading took pains to introduce a new discourse that framed it "not as a disreputable indulgence but as a respite from the increasing pressures and complexities of Victorian life," along with imprints that explicitly referenced summer leisure, like Appleton’s Town and Country Library and Holt’s Leisure Hour Series. Critics and reviewers helped out, proffering the stance that "rather than being a danger to a person's immortal soul, summer novels were simply appropriate for the holiday frame of mind… a way to fill the vacant hours, protect against the boredom (ennui) of wet days, and provide agreeable companions when the ladies were not inclined for company." Distribution strategies diversified, ensuring that these books were easily snapped up at coastal gift shops and newsstands.
The new positioning of summer reading was definitively feminine; the advertising imagery all trended towards ladies in hammocks or sitting in the shade, happily immersed in a page-turner. A typical effusion from Harper’s in 1889:
"As certainly as the birds appear, comes the crop of summer novels, fluttering down upon the stalls, in procession through the railway trains, littering the drawing-room tables, in light paper covers, ornamental, attractive in colors and fanciful designs, as welcome and grateful as the girls in muslin." These middlebrow summer books were designed for flexibility and disposability. "They have a cool and summery look," enthused American Bookmaker in 1887, and "may be readily stowed away in one’s pocket or thrust into any unfilled corner of a traveling bag. They adapt themselves to every conceivable reading attitude, from the bolt upright to the recumbent position assumed on a sofa or lounge, or in steamer-chair, hammock or bed, or stretched out on greensward or sandy beach."
Lightly clad, like tourists themselves, the books were a metaphor for holiday release. Harrington-Lueker weaves countless examples of subtle and not-so-subtle marketing into a clear picture of a publishing industry determined to drum up a blockbuster season. Ultimately, the rise of summer reading generated its own reader community—not only vacationers themselves, but even those stuck at home could enjoy the escapism of a frothy summer romance set at an Atlantic City resort.
The Victorian-era marketing of summer reading revealed by Harrington-Lueker marks an intersection of two broader ongoing trends: the development of paperback publishing, and the rise of the romance novel to become the dominant genre in book sales.
Paperbacks were well established in France and Germany in the 19th century, especially with prestige imprint Tauchnitz Editions. But it was not until the 1930s that the mass-market paperback, sold not only at bookstores but also drugstores, bus stations, and chain stores like Woolworths, really took off in England and America. As Kenneth C. Davis recounts in Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America , there were only a few thousand bookstores in America in the early 20th century, mostly clustered in big cities, and hardcover books were very expensive. In 1935 British publisher Allen Lane launched Penguin Books with ten carefully chosen titles. Robert de Graff followed suit in America with Pocket Books in 1939, setting the standard size of 4.25 inches by 6.5 to fit in wire spinner display racks. Both were wildly successful. They epitomized the high-low divide in paperback content, with Penguin opting for more literary and edifying titles and Pocket satisfying popular appetites with westerns and adventure books. The original Penguin covers were elegantly text-only, while Pocket Books, soon followed by Avon, Dell, Bantam, and Signet, featured eye-catching cover illustrations, often with titillating hints of sex and violence, whether relevant to the texts within or not.
The best-selling sector of paperbacks would soon become romance novels, a genre unique for being mostly written and read by women (some 10-15% of the contemporary readership is estimated to be male). In the 1950s, Canadian imprint Harlequin bought out British romance publisher Mills & Boon and quickly grew to market dominance, selling their books in supermarkets and through direct marketing. Oddly, Harlequin published only UK authors, even in America, dumping their partnership with Simon & Schuster in 1976 and thus setting off the ‘romance wars’ when Simon & Schuster created the imprint Silhouette to compete. Harlequin also had to start adding more steamy scenes beyond their usual kissing-only policy after Kathleen Woodiwiss’ explicitly erotic The Flame and the Flower became a huge hit for Avon in 1972, kicking off the craze for ‘bodice-rippers.’ By 1992 Harlequin was back on top, with an 85% market share. Over half of their readers were purchasing an unbelievable 30 titles a month, according to Forbes. Romance novels accounted for 45% of all mass-market paperbacks sold in 1991, and in 2008 generated sales of over a billion dollars, with some 7,000 new titles published that year alone, according to research conducted by the Romance Writers of America.
Pamela Regis provides an astute defense of the genre in her study A Natural History of the Romance Novel . Starting with Samuel Richardson’s best-selling Pamela in 1740, and continuing through Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice , Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View , the romance novel tells the story of a heroine seeking romantic fulfillment, overcoming barriers without and within to achieve betrothal to her beloved by the end, standard elements from ancient Greek myth switched to a female perspective. Male critics have long scoffed at romance novels (without actually reading many of them) for being shallow, boring, sappy, and formulaic, especially for the genre convention that each must end in some variation on Happily Ever After coupling. But there are plenty of formulaic male-oriented genre novels about cowboys, detectives, spies, and spacemen too, and an entire genre should not be dismissed on the basis of its laziest examples. In the 1960s, feminist critics started slamming romance novels for promulgating subservience to the patriarchy and driving women into the bondage of marriage, which as Regis points out, does not credit romance readers with much agency or willpower. Though not always the most progressive of genres, many consider it at least a somewhat feminist genre, empowering women authors and prioritizing female characters. Regis surveys romance novels with enduring merit from Georgette Heyer to Jayne Ann Krentz, talented authors telling the stories of complex, resourceful heroines.
More telling criticism in recent years has accused the romance fiction industry of racism and heteronormativity. Writers of color and queer writers have clearly been sidelined by Big Romance, and for decades most romance novel plots have seemingly unfolded in all-white worlds. Hardly any non-white romance novels were published before 1970, and no mainstream ones until a decade later. Writers like Rubie Saunders, Sandra Kitt, Beverly Jenkins, and others celebrated in Jessica Pryde’s excellent essay collection Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters have made some inroads, but publishers tend to segregate African American romances onto special-interest imprints, which then get short shrift from retailers. In 2018 the Romance Writers of America suffered a public lambasting when Alyssa Cole’s acclaimed Black historical romance An Extraordinary Union was snubbed in the nominations for the RITA, its highest award. The RWA acknowledged the problem, admitting in a statement that in the previous 18 years only 0.5% of RITA finalists had been Black authors, and none of those had won. Queer romance, including ‘slash’ fiction, has circulated in the underground press and online for years, but apart from a few noteworthy breakthroughs like Gordon Merrick’s best-selling 1970 gay romance The Lord Won’t Mind and Ann Shockley’s influential 1974 interracial lesbian romance Loving Her , has rarely found mainstream acceptance. The Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance was first introduced in 2007, and a gay romance was first nominated for a RITA in 2015.
Just as romance has kaleidoscoped in recent decades into a dizzying array of subgenres from paranormal romance to NASCAR romance to Amish romance, the publishing landscape has fragmented too, with independent imprints popping up, fans discovering self-published authors online, and Tik Tok influencers taking up the pen. While the RWA and Harlequin (still the likeliest loci for a profitable career in romance) undergo their racial reckoning, many authors, especially younger ones, have simply moved on. Newer ‘rom-com’ romances, featuring colorfully illustrated covers (without any bodice-ripping) and titles often inspired by ‘80s songs, are more racially and gender inclusive. Romance is diversifying more quickly in some areas than others, but it certainly isn’t going away.
‘Beach reads’: these are often romances, but plenty of non-romance books count too. The term first appeared in trade periodicals around 1990 and has become ubiquitous since. What makes a beach read? Ultimately, a beach read is whatever you feel like reading for fun at the beach or by the pool, but calling a book a ‘beach read’ typically implies a few identifiable features, many of them going back to Victorian summer books.
For one thing, lots of beach reads get you in the mood with plots set at the beach, resort, or travel destination. Beach authors know you want this, and they deliver: think of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising , Jennifer Weiner’s The Summer Place , Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back , Mary Kay Andrews’ Beach Town , Emma Straub’s The Vacationers , or Rebecca Serle’s One Italian Summer . Or even a tense, a high-stakes thriller that happens to unfold during a Bora Bora honeymoon, like Catherine Steadman’s Something in the Water . Or any of the dozens of books with a getaway theme that appears on the shelves every year right around May. There may be a beach wedding to plan, with complications in the run-up, a reunion of sisters or friends at a summer rental, or a city gal who is stunned to learn that she has just inherited her aunt’s beach house, which is in need of renovation; fortunately, it comes with a hunky but irascible local handyman. Elin Hilderbrand lives on Nantucket and sets her annual beach read on the island’s sandy shores, with an occasional side trip to the Caribbean. Mary Kay Andrews stakes out the southeastern beaches around Savannah and Hilton Head, while Debbie Macomber lays claim to the northwest coasts of Washington and Oregon.
A beach read is also traditionally a book that requires minimal intellectual stress or heavy lifting; quick and easy reading, light and humorous, with no weighty themes or gritty realism or pressing sociopolitical issues. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary , The Devil Wears Prada , Jasmine Guillory or Sophie Kinsella, or James Patterson. Although in recent years, more highbrow books have begun appearing on beach reads recommended lists, like Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch . For a certain kind of reader, a vacation free from the mental stress of work is the perfect time to tackle that serious tome by James Joyce or Isabel Wilkerson that’s been staring you down from the bedside table.
Or at least, you may want to appear to others to be reading something impressive, like the characters on Netflix’s black-comedy vacation series The White Lotus , who post up by the pool ostentatiously gazing into their copies of Nietzsche and Malcolm Gladwell—a phenomenon known as the ‘braggy’ beach read. Which brings us to another aspect of the beach read: while not necessarily performative, we all know it is something we are most likely going to be seen reading, so title selection carries a certain social acknowledgment. For many, it is important to get with the zeitgeist by reading the year’s ‘it’ book—Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl , Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies , Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven , Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad , Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere . This year’s ‘it’ book is still to be determined, but so far Prince Harry’s Spare is looking like a contender.
And don’t forget about horror! Ever since Steven Spielberg turned Peter Benchley’s Jaws , about a great white shark terrorizing beachgoers at Amity Island (a stand-in for Martha’s Vineyard) into the first summer blockbuster movie in 1975, horror novels from Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, and Anne Rice have made their way into beach bags. Grady Hendrix documents the horror boom of the 1970s and ‘80s in his delightful survey Paperbacks From Hell , packed with glorious images of die-cut book covers with embossed foil titles featuring demented clowns, killer rabbits, skeleton doctors and homicidal toys. Though Hendrix surmises that Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs marked the boom-ending shift in marketing terminology from ‘horror’ to ‘thriller’ in 1988, horror is defiantly back today, with a whole new generation of writers here to chill your spine including Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Stephen Graham Jones and Victor LaValle.
You could also go dystopian with an anti-beach read, like Nevil Shute’s 1957 On the Beach , about a group of survivors of a nuclear war in southern Australia waiting for the inevitable radioactive fallout cloud to come down. Or Camus’ existentialist classic The Stranger , in which the protagonist engages in seedy nihilism in Algeria, ultimately killing an Arab on the beach and ending up in prison. Or something depressing but informative like Sarah Stodola’s The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit and Peril at the Beach , in which she digs beneath the surface of the world’s most tourist-mobbed beaches to tell their true stories of unsustainable overdevelopment, overuse and environmental destruction.
Media-savvy readers that we are, we know we are being targeted by the beach read industry, but we need those darn things anyway. Emily Henry nails the dilemma in her enjoyably meta 2020 bestseller Beach Read , in which romance novelist January Andrews runs into her old college rival Augustus Everett, now an acclaimed literary fiction writer. Both are struggling with writer’s block, and they challenge each other to spend the summer writing a book in the other’s genre; January will aim for the Great American Novel, and Augustus will have to try to write something light and romantic. Look for the movie version soon… or just read it!
Whatever kind of beach read you choose, happy summer reading!
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Summer is a great time to encourage kids to read and actively explore the world. Books can be the perfect springboard to building background knowledge and a love of reading.
On this page:
Parent resources, resources for teachers and librarians, more on summer reading and summer reading loss.
The research is clear that children who don’t read during the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress and that loss has a cumulative, long-term effect. The following resources and articles provide information about summer reading and summer learning loss. Plus you’ll discover great activities to encourage kids to learn, read, and have fun in the summer sun.
Literacy at Home
Reading Adventure Packs
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Read. Explore. Learn!
Start with a Book
Blogs About Reading
- Summer Learning, Side-by-Side Children are full of questions about the world around them, and summer is a perfect time to tap into your child’s interests. Here are some ways to start a journey of discovery together. (In English and Spanish)
- Summer Literacy Challenge! For most parents, it’s a challenge to keep kids reading and writing all summer. Suddenly 10 weeks of summer can feel like a very long time! We’ve got 10 ideas to help make this summer full of fun, creativity and learning. (In English and Spanish)
- Take a Break, but Bring a Book! Reading over the summer not only keeps your child from losing ground, but actually improves skills for the coming year. Here are some suggestions to keep a book in your child’s hands over the summer months. (In English and Spanish)
- Use Summer Fun to Build Background Knowledge Interesting experiences give kids a broader framework for new information they might encounter in books, and when kids have lots of experiences to draw on, they have a better chance of making a connection with what they read! Help your child build background knowledge this summer with these activities. (In English and Spanish)
- Day Trips for Book Lovers Not everyone lives near Chincoteague lsland off the Maryland and Virginia coastline ( Misty of Chincoteague ) or has a chance to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder house museum in the Ozarks ( Little House on the Prairie ). But books can inspire some exciting day trips.
- Strategies for Summer Reading for Children with Dyslexia Here are a dozen simple strategies to help your children keep the academic skills they learned during the school year. Support them as they read. Give them material that is motivating — and some of it should be easy. Help them enjoy books and feel pleasure — not pressure — from reading. The summer should be a relaxed time where their love of learning can flower.
- Finding a Great Summer Program: A Checklist for Parents Early and sustained summer learning opportunities lead to higher graduation rates, better preparation for college, and positive effects on children’s self-esteem, confidence, and motivation. High-quality summer programs keep students engaged in learning, teach them new skills, allow them to develop previously unseen talents, and foster creativity and innovation.
Voices of Experts
Webcast: Summer Reading
Ron Fairchild and Dr. Loriene Roy, nationally recognized experts on reading and summer learning, address how to make the most out of the summer months. Taking advantage of high-quality programs and accessing community resources can turn potential summer loss into summer gain.
Launching Young Readers Series
Adventures in Summer Learning
Giving kids a summer full of reading and learning. Meet parents, teachers, and researchers in Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Boston who are discovering the best ways to keep kids engaged with learning during the long summer break — and avoid the “summer slump.”
- Get Ready for Summer! Ideas for Teachers to Share with Families Reading Rockets has packed a “virtual beach bag” of activities for teachers to help families get ready for summer and to launch students to fun, enriching summertime experiences. Educators will find materials to download and distribute as well as ideas and resources to offer to students and parents to help ensure summer learning gain rather than loss.
- Summer Reading Loss Do you spend most of the fall reviewing what was taught last spring? Help prevent summer reading loss by finding out why it happens and encouraging family literacy while kids are at home for the summer.
- Lost Summers: Few Books and Few Opportunities to Read Many kids lose ground during the summer months, especially those from low income families. Part of the problem is that many students don’t have easy access to books. This article presents some suggestions for what schools can do.
- Making a Splash With Summer Reading If you’re a children’s librarian who wants to promote an upcoming summer reading program at your public library, start by targeting the local schools. After all, that’s where the children are.
- Collaborative Summer Library Program (opens in a new window) CSLP is a consortium of states working together to provide high-quality summer reading program materials for children, teens, and adults at the lowest cost possible for their public libraries. Public libraries in participating states or systems can purchase posters, reading logs, bookmarks, certificates and a variety of reading incentives. Materials are developed around an annual theme.
- The Learning Season: The Untapped Power of Summer to Advance Student Achievement
- How to Make Summer Reading Effective (opens in a new window)
- Effective Out-of-School Time Reading Programs
- Kids Lose Learning Skills Over the Summer Months (opens in a new window)
- Summer Can Set Kids on the Right — or Wrong — Course (opens in a new window)
Browse our summer reading resource library
Learn more about how to keep children reading and learning during the summer. You’ll also find articles, research and additional information about summer learning loss. Visit our Summer Reading section
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Summer in the City Paperback – May 25, 2021
- Paperback $6.12 38 Used from $0.96 27 New from $2.99
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- Print length 320 pages
- Language English
- Publisher Kensington
- Publication date May 25, 2021
- Dimensions 5.47 x 0.73 x 8.21 inches
- ISBN-10 1496732677
- ISBN-13 978-1496732675
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About the author, product details.
- Publisher : Kensington (May 25, 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1496732677
- ISBN-13 : 978-1496732675
- Item Weight : 9.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.47 x 0.73 x 8.21 inches
- #3,256 in Hispanic American Literature & Fiction
- #13,690 in Romance Collections & Anthologies (Books)
- #24,813 in Short Stories Anthologies
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About the author
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS is a USA Today bestselling author and 2018 RWA® RITA® double finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latinx flavor. She and her work have earned praise from the O, The Oprah Magazine, Washington Post, New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Redbook, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, amongst others. Priscilla earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently serves as adjunct faculty in the program and teaches the online class “Romance Writing” for ed2go. While she’s a devotee of the romance genre, Priscilla also considers herself a sports fan, beach lover, and Zumba aficionado, who often practices the art of napping in her backyard hammock.
To follow along on her fun-filled and hectic life, visit her on the web at prisoliveras.com, on Twitter via @prisoliveras or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/prisoliveras/.
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Book #Review: One Summer in Sicily by Nancy Barone
About the book, one summer in sicily.
- Publisher : Aria; 1st edition (June 8, 2023)
- Publication date : June 8, 2023
- Print length: 347 pages
A new fun and fresh rom-com set in Sicily by Canadian-Italian author Nancy Barone.
In an attempt to resuscitate her twenty-five-year-old marriage, aerophobic Gillian Dobson knocks down a few tranquilisers and takes a dreaded flight to the Sicilian Island of Lipari to surprise her husband, away on a business trip. But her troubles are just about to begin…
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Aria Publishing | Purchase Link | Goodreads
About the author, Nancy Barone
Nancy Barone grew up in Canada, but at the age of 12 her family moved to Italy. Catapulted into a world where her only contact with the English language was her old Judy Blume books, Nancy became an avid reader and a die-hard romantic. Nancy stayed in Italy and, despite being surrounded by handsome Italian men, she married an even more handsome Brit. They now live in Sicily where she teaches English.
Nancy is a member of the RWA and a keen supporter of the Women’s Fiction Festival at Matera where she meets up once a year with writing friends from all over the globe.
Connect with Nancy:
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I always love a novel where the protagonist isn’t a twenty-something girl with very little life experience. In Gillian Dobson, the lead character of One Summer in Sicily, author Nancy Barone has given us a brilliantly flawed, mature (but not old) woman. Married for twenty years, she visits Sicily to surprise her husband only to find that the surprise is on her, and it’s not a happy one.
Subsequently we get to see Gillian, who already conquered aerophobia to get to Sicily in the first place, deal with all the issues women deal with when they are in transition: self-esteem, body image, loneliness. While she challenges herself to conquer these issues, it’s the journey that makes the story, and author Barone has crafted an excellent plot.
I enjoyed the language choices the author used, and the way Sicily seemed like a character in the novel. rather than merely a setting. I liked Gillian, and rooted for her. But, speaking as someone who is about to turn 53, forty is not old, especially in today’s world, and the younger woman (the surprise she finds her husband with) is only a few years younger – in her mid thirties. Making Gillian truly middle-aged – mid forties to mid fifties – and/or making the younger woman significantly younger would have given the story more impact and made Gillian even more sympathetic.
Over all, though, this was a satisfying read, and I will happily read more of Barone’s work.
Goes well with: espresso and a cannoli with citron.
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Glenmore Island Doctors #1-2
Summer fling: a bride for glenmore / single father, wife needed, sarah morgan.
365 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 2011
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