What Actually IS A Summer Read?

Every year without fail I see those lists – the books to read this summer! best beach reads! – & etc., but it struck me that I’ve never actually considered: what is a summer read?

Sometimes it seems like a whole industry unto itself. I have never really felt an urge to seek out books specifically for reading on the beach — I mean, this year especially! And yet despite this, every year I’m hit with a whole bunch of marketing about the essential reading I should do while the weather is hot.

Well, the weather’s hot. Now what?

I have always considered a ‘summer read’ to be a romance, a chick-lit kind of book. Something light and low-stakes, two people falling in love in an idyllic retreat somewhere in a way that mimics your own delight at a holiday. An airport read, if you will. Something you pick up last-minute before catching a flight to somewhere nice, read on the beach under the sun and forget all about once summer is over.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this, of course. I kind of equate ‘summer reads’ to summer blockbusters: billion-dollar movies that everyone talks about for months and you forget all about as soon as it’s done. (Well I mean, I do.)

So this year, what with summer holidays seeming more a memory than a possibility, does it mean the idea of a summer read will change? No one (I hope!) is travelling around the world in the midst of a global pandemic, so are we meant to just get our beach-vibes from the garden?

Surprisingly not. Summer reads still continue.

I took a look at the book selection found on ‘summer reads’ lists, and these are some of the books that made repeat appearances:

The prevailing genre: romance. A kind of contemporary two people in love thing. So in the end, a summer read seems to be about escapism. Is it the warm weather that makes us want to be elsewhere? A bit of extra time? Or is it just a years-old marketing construct that means we now consider it an essential part of the year?

Except, in diving more into this, I found that not all of the books on these lists were romance. In fact, the books I was being told to read spanned more than just that genre:

  • Rodham: a ‘what if Hilary Clinton had never married Bill Clinton’ story which… is wild. What a premise.
  • A Burning: a girl from a slum in India gets jailed for something she didn’t do after writing a Facebook post, and tries to figure out what happened to her.
  • The Vanishing Half: twin sisters in 1950s Virginia run away from home – and somehow end up back there in the future.

These three books are very different from the others, and from each other, yet are also classed as a ‘summer read.’ I think they actually prove to me that a summer book, whether a romance or any other genre, is more about escapism than anything else. The stories here are not, conceivably, about everyday life. They are extraordinary events about extraordinary people, and therein lies the ‘summer read’ attraction.

This idea of escapist fiction may seem obvious to some, but as I said, I’ve truly never considered reading books specifically in summer. My reading list is always so endless I often find it difficult to be captivated by new books. In that sense, I guess ‘summer reads’ works, because a number of the books I have seen have piqued my interest, and I’m keen to read more.

Looking into this also changed a preconception I had about summer reads, in that they would all be sameish chick-lit with a not very diverse array of writers and characters. I was completely wrong about that, because there is so much variety here, even in the overwhelmingly large amount of romance stories.

When I started writing this I was sure that, good books included on these lists or not, I’d simply continue with my reading list and see if I came across these books at a later date. But now I’m very honestly intrigued by the idea of cutting your TBR in half and throwing in a few, newer novels for the fun of it before resuming scheduled reading. Maybe I’m really catching the vibes after all.

What do you think about summer-specific books? Will you be reading them? Let me know in the comments!

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