An article in The New Yorker suggests the idea of "summer reading" came about during the industrial revolution when the working class was figuring out how to take vacations by the shore. Apparently at least one Baptist preacher was against the idea of flipping the pages of frivolous books, calling it "literary poison in August." That may have given the genre a shot in the arm; or maybe it was just good marketing. In 1877 Publishers Weekly warned booksellers that summer profits could dip, so they had better do something to push titles upon the unsuspecting public during the third quarter.
Fun = Vacation and Beach Reads
Either way, it worked! Turn the page and poof, every website (and every magazine, before that) had a list of summer reading, and most "Beach Reads" were ballyhooed as sexy, juicy, escapist, fun, rollicking romps. Surprise, surprise: most are marketed at women. Maybe we should take offense? Nah - it's much easier to take out our credit (and library) cards and slurp up the stuff. With a fruity umbrella drink.
And I'm guilty as charged - sometimes, anyway. Here's my take on two titles that probably deserve the "Beach Read" label. Enjoy or avoid them, as you see fit.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau (Harper Collins paperback, April 2022) is a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old girl from a tight-laced family who gets a sweet summer gig as a babysitter for a much more laid-back family down the street. The babysitter's name is Mary Jane. The title also refers to the Mary Jane that laid-back folks smoked in the 1970s. The premise is far-fetched, but remember, it's a beach read. We aren't looking for the kind of believable storyline of a more classic work, like Jurassic Park.
Mary Jane is hired to watch the local psychiatrist's young daughter while he focuses on helping his rock-star client through detox. The coming-of-age story is sweet, silly, and involves wearing outfits Mary Jane's mother would never approve of. Although adults in the book smoke dope, break things, and have sex, Mary Jane (and her young charge) do not. I give it a PG-rating and recommend it if you ever wore bellbottoms and a halter top. Or wanted to, but your mother wouldn't let you.
Things We Never Got Over by Lucy Score (That's What She Said Publishing, Paperback, January 2022) earns an R rating, for sure. It was poorly written, completely unbelievable, and I couldn't put it down.
In my defense, I'll say that I don't have a favorite junk food, I have several.
Sometimes it's a delectable sorbet with fresh fruit, sometimes it's the bottom of a bag of salty pretzels with whatever chocolate I can find and a shot of tequila. Lucy Score brings the broken bits of stale chips and a cheap bourbon chaser, and you know what? That hits a certain spot sometimes.
Things has a runaway bride with daisies in her hair meeting up with a hot-hunk-of-a-barber. They hate each other immediately. She has an evil twin. He won the lottery before she hit town. They fulfill each other’s needs - not all of which are sexual, but there is a six-page-sequence (and a few shorter ones) that make it clear all of those boxes can be checked, thank-you-very-much. Thrown in for good mix are a smart-mouthed tech-savvy tween, coolest grandma ever, several cute dogs, a lot of sassy dialog, a high-stakes poker game, a kidnapping, and a very sappy happy ending. It's set in Knockemout, Virginia, where all the residents work hard except when they're attending great parties, running off evil twins, or wrestling crime-mob bosses to the ground.
I suspect you could find at least one Baptist preacher to damn Things and Mary Jane to you-know-where, but that would probably only serve to boost sales of both books.
Whatever you read this summer, enjoy it! I'm pretty sure that's the whole point.