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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

An essay, On Looking Forward to Summer and Good Beach Reads, requires they be of a stop-and-start, interruptible nature, because one never knows when others in the group might want to take a dip, or go to the ice cream store, or pile into cars to hit the local cinema. The Three Weismanns of Westport, a tale of the dissolution of a long marriage that is a dead-on look at the emotional, financial, irretrievable cost of the husband's words and actions. "A novel" appears in fairly small print on the cover of this enjoyable narrative, Luncheon of the Boating Party, that is a kind of hybrid of fictionalized biography, historical novel, and discourse on painting techniques of the Impressionists.

On Looking Forward to Summer and Good Beach Reads

by Julia Sneden

In my family, it is well past time to consider the yearly dilemma often phrased as: “to beach or not to beach?” This is odd shorthand for should we try to gather up everyone to see if we can work out the various schedules to allow for a time when all of us can cram into a house for couple of weeks beside the ocean, or should we just let it lie until next year? As the family has grown, the answer to that question has become — well, unwieldy would be the polite way to describe it. Adult children with carefully measured vacation days; grandchildren with camps and sports schedules, never mind summer jobs; and siblings in our own generation who have kids and grandkids of their own, all complicate the ability to arrive at a solution that will fit everybody.

This year, we threw up our hands and decided to give it a rest. Some of us will take mini-vacations in other places; some of us will hit the beach with non-relatives; and some of us will stay home, a few with noses slightly out of joint, but most of us nonetheless content in our quiet, air-conditioned comfort. Wherever we are, you may be sure that everyone, oldest to youngest, will lay in a good supply of what is commonly called “beach read” books. What’s a vacation, especially a stay-cation in your own home, without a stack of enticing paperbacks next to your comfy chair?

I have heard beach reads defined in all sorts of ways, most often as books that can be read in a day or two. Beach read requirements include lively plots which don’t require deep philosophical involvement, and conclusions that tie up all the loose ends in satisfying ways. I reckon I’d add that beach books need to be of a stop-and-start, interruptible nature, because one never knows when others in the group might want to take a dip, or go to the ice cream store, or pile into cars to hit the local cinema. For the older generation, those interruptions include rotating lifeguard duty, or emergency band-aid dispensing and splinter-removal, or babysitting at the drop of a hat.

Oh, and one more thing: a true beach read must be one that you can pass along, which is why ours are almost always paperbacks. When you’ve found a satisfying beach read, others will request your copy as soon as you’re through with it, probably because you’ve been recounting your delight at the dinner table (an obnoxious habit, that, but I’ve had some good reads out of it). If you’ve been emphatic enough with your praise, the book will travel from hand to hand, and probably wind up going home with someone else.

Of course a good beach read doesn’t have to meet all the criteria. There are vacationers among us who prefer deep, capital-L Literature, or professional tomes, or books that promise bits of esoteric information which would interest no one else (think the anatomy of crustaceans, or the function of mucous glands). Others rarely ask to share those books.

But about this time of year, I find myself scrutinizing all sorts of publications, from my local newspaper’s Sunday book review section, to Best Seller lists, to Amazon’s emails, to The New York Times Book Review, to the paperback rack at my drugstore, to various bookstores around town including the “Used Paperbacks” store, to the public library, in search of a small stack of books to get me through to the end of August.

Here is a first suggestion, should you find yourself wandering through your library’s selection of summer reads, looking to engage in some cheerful escape.

by Cathleen Schine
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux; © 2010 Hardcover: 292 pp

“Cheerful” is not exactly how I would describe Schine’s novel, but engaging it certainly is. It has been touted as “a playful…homage” to Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, and that authorial intention seems quite evident. Verities like the emotional tugs between sisters, one practical in the extreme and the other flighty in equal extreme, translate easily into any era. They are devices that can generate interesting plots.

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©2010 Julia Sneden for

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