Beach Reads - How & What to Read This Summer
I’m on vacation. Today I spent almost every minute playing with my kids at the pool and beach. I wasn’t teacher or taskmaster or chauffeur, I was just mom. It was glorious. Of course, vacation today wasn’t what it would’ve been eight years ago. Eight years ago I would’ve slept until 11:00 (the first child woke me at 6:00 this morning), chosen a book from my book suitcase (as in, the entire suitcase full of books I would’ve packed to get me through the week), walked down to the beach with just a book and towel in hand (my double jogger is used as much for chairs, food, towels, and toys as it is for children), read on my towel until 5pm, then gotten in a few more hours of reading after dinner and family time. If you do the math, that’s about eight hours of sun-drenched reading time each day. Today I got about 15 minutes.
I’ve learned a few tips for getting in prime reading time over the past few eight of mom-hood. I’m posting them here as a service to my dear readers:
- “My turn/your turn” - I love my husband, but that man could read right through the lifeguard screaming, “Shark!” Once his book comes out, I’ve lost him. Enter the my turn/your turn plan. “Sure, babe, you can read for a half hour while I play with the kids, then I’ll take my half hour.” You know, like you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
- Offer to stay back for the baby’s nap - This one is all about how you frame it. “No, it’s okay, you stay at the beach with the kids and have fun, and I’ll head back for the baby’s nap. Don’t worry, you have fun, I’ll take this shift...” You see what I did there? I end up with the pat on the back AND the two hours of silent, solitary reading.
- Skip family movies - On our annual family vacation, the family (my husband is the film curator of the group) usually chooses a TV or movie series to watch together at night after a long day of spending quality time together. For years I did one of two things: sit through a movie I didn’t want to watch while the magnetic force of my book drew me emotionally/physically/mentally towards it or acted like an anti-social jerk and read outside by myself. Then I got wise. Here’s my new strategy for optimal book-time. First, I sit and join the family for the movie. As the movie starts, I sit and joke and cuddle up to my husband, then as everyone engages in the movie, I discreetly pull out my industrial-grade earplugs and slowly crack my book open (I know this sounds like a joke, but I am dead. serious.). When the movie is paused for an ice cream break, I close the book join everyone for the mid-movie/book snack then repeat the cuddle/earplug/slow-book-crack plan when the movie starts again. I’ve “joined the family” and gotten two hours of reading time. Classic win-win.
- Put down the book. Chances are that every minute you miss out on personal time is a minute that you’re enjoying your family. Sometimes letting your husband sit and read while you jump waves, playing in the sand while someone else covers the nap shift, or laughing through a family movie will provide more personal joy (not to mention joy to the people around you) than the “me” time you’re craving. Pre-kids me was so grateful to not have kids anytime I went to the beach. Post-kids me knows that these moments with my little ones are as good as it gets. I’m grateful for any reading time I get in, but I’m even more grateful for the little humans who “steal” my reading time.
I hope to finish a book or two this week (as compared to the 5-10 I would’ve gotten in pre-kids). This means, of course, that I have to be more selective with my book choices (I don’t ever quit a book, and I’m beyond disappointed if one of my choices ends up being a bust) and especially careful to select appropriate “beach reads” (an official literary genre, in case you didn’t know that).
Beach reads = books that can be easily placed face down whilst rescuing your child from a mouthful of sand and be just as easily picked up and re-captivated by. I jam to Tolstoy and David Foster Wallace, but I don’t typically lug those around in my beach bag.
So that you don’t have to participate in the heresy of quitting a book or the heartbreak of wasting your time on a less-than-great one, I'm sharing a list of my favorite beach reads.
1 - Top All-around beach read - SEVEN by Jen Hatmaker
"SEVEN" fires on all makes-a-great-beach-read cylinders. 2-3 page sections, check. Engaging and easy, check. Inspiring and informative, check. Equal parts funny/happy/sad/moving, check. Jen Hatmaker invites readers on her social experiment/personal journey of taking on seven different areas of excess in her life (think wearing only seven articles of clothing for a month and you get the picture). If you want to study the theology of simple living, this probably isn’t your book. If you want to be invited into one woman’s hilarious and raw journal entries on her struggle towards Biblical simplicity, then enjoy. If I could time-travel back to last year's vacation and choose only one book for my week at the beach, it would be this.
Second place: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay. I think it's nearly blasphemous to recommend a book you haven't yet finished, but this is my personal choice for my beach read this summer vacation, so I thought I would share it. The book is titled after Mr. Knightley...Mr. Knightley as in Emma, Emma as in Jane Austen, Jane Austen as in the greatest female author of the 18th century (and quite possibly, all time. I crush on Jane Austen so hard that I’ve named all of my children after her characters. My son’s middle name is Darcy, so that when he’s in high school and all the girls are swooning over Mr. Darcy, he can say, “Pssh...I know Darcy, I love Darcy, my middle name is Darcy.” Yeah, I may have chosen my son’s name as a set up for a future pick-up line.). Anyway, let's just say that in the first chapter the heroine, who just so happens to be a recently-aged-out-foster-youth, quotes Elizabeth Bennet in casual conversation. I was sold. If your favorite books are classic literature or tales of foster children, then first of all, let's be friends. Second of all, read this book.
2 - Top Beach Novel - Room by Emma Donaghue
This book, my heart. Take a harrowing story and tell it through a sweet child’s voice, and it’s just oh-so-good. "Room" is the story of a young mother who creates a magical little world out of the room she and her son are imprisoned in by her kidnapper. It’s equal parts heavy and light, and their journey is beautiful. After reading this, I posted on Facebook that “I want every person I know to read this book.” My best friend who has been known to send me angry/despairing “Why did you recommend this book to me?! I haven’t been able to sleep in days” texted asked if I thought she should read it. My response: “Um, everyone I know, besides you.” While I loved this book, it has the potential to wreck you, so be careful.
Second place: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I didn't make this the first pick simply because of the size and the fact that I'm certain most of the women in this country have already read it. If you haven't read this yet, you should.
3 - Top Beach Family/Parenting Book - Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World - Kristen Welch
Substantial enough to be worth your time, “Raising Grateful Kids” is also light and practical enough to gain the official classification of beach read. With real-life examples, practical strategies, and insight into the difficulties that kids and parents face, this book is a helpful resource for any parent. Whether you tend towards excess or you’ve already started the uphill-journey-towards-simplicity-and-gratitude with your kids, this book will serve you and your family.
Second place: You and Me Forever by Francis Chan. This is the perfect beachy marriage book. The eternal perspective to marriage isn't what you typically find in a marriage book. It's not comprehensive or full of heavy doctrine, just a simple book that will inspire you to love your husband and use your marriage to build the kingdom of God.
4 - Top Beach Non-Fiction Book - I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
If you want to broaden your horizons this summer, this book is a great place to start. "I Am Malala" is the story of a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way to school. Narrated in her sweet, passionate voice, Malala outlines her wonderful parents and their investment in their daughter, her own personal priority and pursuit of education, the culture shift in Pakistan after the Taliban's rise to power, her dramatic injury and recovery, and the effect of her life and advocacy since. It's informative and inspiring, and an all-around great read.
Second place: Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof. Heart-breaking and inspiring and far broader in scope than "Malala," "Half the Sky" devotes each chapter to a different issue of women's rights around the world. The stories are just so human and give a very readable crash-course in global awareness.