Skip to content

TSS: Summer Lovin’ Beach Bum Style

June 6, 2010

I’m departing from my standard TSS practice of lots of minireviews, since I still haven’t quite decided how to divide up my backlog. Instead, I’m going to run with a new idea I’ve been toying with. As y’all know by now, the only thing I love more than reading is putting together a good booklist! But the booklists I make on my blog are nearly always for me, which means they’re full of books I haven’t yet read. Recently, it occurred to me that it would be fun to channel my inner Nancy Pearl and start doing lists of books I’ve read and loved. Since it’s almost summertime here in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems as good a place to start as any! So, in the weeks leading up to June 22nd, I’ll be doing lists based on different ‘styles’ of summer readers. Today, I’m focusing on beach bums. :)

photo credit

You’ve got sand, water, glorious sun…what could be more appropriate reading than books of a seafaring nature?

You can’t go wrong with C.S. Forester’s classic Horatio Hornblower series. Hornblower is a British naval officer during the Napoleonic wars, and I find his combination of daring action under pressure and worried interior monologue charming. Forester can certainly write thrilling battle scenes, but he manages to use the naval language in a way that’s always understandable to myself, a confirmed landlubber. His writing style, in addition to being vivid, is nicely utilitarian, so you’ll be able to follow the story even if an occasional beach distraction pops up. While the male characters definitely outnumber the female ones (after all, this is the British 19th century navy we’re talking about!), Lady Barbara is as strong and fun woman as I could ask for. If you’re like me, and prefer to read them in the order they were written in, begin with Beat to Quarters (US title)/The Happy Return (UK title). While this is a marvelous introduction to Hornblower, I must admit that the next two books in the series, Ship of the Line and Flying Colours remain my favourite so far (I’ve read half). Be sure you have Flying Colours close at hand before beginning Ship of the Line; the latter’s cliff-hanger ending would otherwise feel too cruel! Since the books are slim, it’ll be easy to toss a couple into your tote bag with plenty of room left for sunscreen and towels.

If your seafaring preferences tend more towards the outlaw side, or if you just prefer novels with female main characters, be sure to grab Celia Rees’ Pirates!. Who can resist a title that incorporates such excited punctuation? It’s set a century earlier, in 1725 and features Nancy Kington, a girl who grows up in one of England’s port towns and eventually joins a pirate crew to escape an arranged marriage to an evil Brazilian. Along with Minerva, originally a slave from Jamaica, she sails the high seas having many a swashbuckling adventure and always hoping to run across her true love, despite knowing that as a Navy officer, he’d have to arrest her. The book definitely feels like Rees did her homework, but she walks the line of including enough details to make the setting come alive with so many it begins to read like a textbook instead. While Nancy is definitely a strong young woman, with progressive views on gender and race, she doesn’t seem so ridiculously anachronistic that I was continually pulled out of the narrative (which has definitely happened in other historical fiction I’ve read). Instead, I just enjoyed being able to accompany her on such a fun, crazy ride, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! For those who have read Rees’ better-known novel Witch Child, I found this one to be much better! And since it’s marketed as middle grade fiction, it’ll provide fun for the whole family. ;) Just be sure not to be turned off by the YA sticker….as an adult who doesn’t read a ton of ‘YA’ books to begin with, I adored every page of this one. I can only hope Rees will write a sequel featuring the same characters one of these days.

All of that time laying around on the beach is sure to make you start wondering more about the sea itself. Turn to Carl Safina for wonderfully personal scientific books centered around oceans and the animals that make their homes there. While Song for the Blue Ocean is his first book and a powerful call for environmental policy change, it’s a bit uneven at times. If I were you, I’d jump straight towards Eye of the Albatross or Voyage of the Turtle, depending on whether sea birds or sea turtles pique your curiousity more. Both are masterful blends of travel (Safina goes around the world tracking these animals), science, conservation, and accounts of what life is like for individual animals. Both are also books I’d recommend to those who primarily read fiction and are trying to branch out. Safina’s style is light and page-turning, but he never ‘dumbs things down.’ Personally, I prefer nonfiction authors who assume their audience has a reasonable level of intelligence but not much background information, and that’s precisely how Safina writes. Additionally, his obvious passion for and wonder about the sea and sea life comes through on every page. And that kind of passion is infectious! Oh, and have I mentioned his reasonably long chapters? One of my biggest pet peeves in nonfiction is when chapter length varies ridiculously (I just finished an eighty-page chapter in one of the books I’m reading now…so annoying!), but Safina does a good job pacing things, so you’ll always have a good place to stop when it’s time to take another dip in the ocean.

I know that this next book is not for everyone, but I ask you to at least give Moby Dick by Herman Melville a fair shot before dismissing it. For years, I’d heard that it was quite possibly the most boring book of all time, so you can imagine when I picked it up last winter, I was incredibly nervous. But it turns out it’s neither boring nor overly long (for a classic)…Melville’s writing is lively and funny and poignant, and I could almost smell that bracing salt air every time I opened up the book. The chapters are on the shorter side, often covering just a couple of pages, which makes it perfect for when you just want a bit of a reading break between beach volleyball games. ;) And sure, there’s a bit of a random digression in the middle detailing scientific information about whales, but if that’s not your cup of tea (I personally found the 19th century science quite interesting, but then…I’m a bit of an uber-nerd at times) you can simply skim those parts of get back to the story!

If you’d like a sea-based story sans all of the adrenaline-pumping adventure moments, The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima is a beautiful, gentle love story set in a small Japanese fishing village. Unlike the other novels I’ve mentioned so far, this is a book you read for its prose; Mishima’s writing is simply exquisite and compelling. I found myself being carried along through the story like a dream, and I believe I finished the book in one sitting (it’s a bit less than two hundred pages). The plot is simple: it’s a tale of first love and the obstacles the two young lovers face. But the setting, the prose, and the character examination are really what make the heart of this book, and for me it left me wanting to read Mishima’s entire backlist.

If nautical nonfiction sounds interesting, but science isn’t your thing, why don’t you try history in The Far Traveller by Nancy Marie Brown. The book is centered about Brown’s research on the medieval Icelandic woman Gudrid, both her fascinating life and modern archaelogy’s attempts to reconstruct Icelandic history. It’s full of stories of the sea, since Gudrid was part of Viking culture, and Brown simply makes history come to life. Before reading this book, I didn’t have a lot of interest in Iceland, but now I desperately want to travel there. :) Even months later, I find myself sharing tidbits I learned from the book with friends and family…it’s really that memorable. Brown’s style is easy and engaging, and her descriptions of the daily life of Viking women will leave more thankful for your time spent lounging on a beach towel. ;)

This might be cheating, since I’m only halfway through the book, but I think Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh is the perfect seafaring novel for anyone who loves historical epics. It’s structured around the ship Ibis and its voyage from India to Mauritius in the 1830s, with the meat of the book being about the back stories of the different characters who find themselves on board. Maritime trade at the time was truly a cultural ‘melting pot,’ and the characters range from an American black man born of a freewoman to Bengali Indians of various castes to haphazard groupings of sailors to Indian-born Brits and French to Europeans who have travelled to India make their fortune. Ghosh’s lanuage is marvelous: it’s salted with sailor slang, several Indian languages, and the mishmash of English and Hindi the colonists at the time used but manages to stay completely intelligible. All of the characters leap off the page, and I desperately care what happens to every one of them. While it’s a thicker book (a bit under five hundred pages), I find myself so absorbed in it that time simply flies. If you like your books to combine page-turning plots with literary style, this one will entertain you through several beach days, while making you long for exotic lands just over the horizon.

Finally, for the more genteel reader who desires a mere touch of nautical seasoning, look no farther than Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which follows the story of Anne Elliot and British Naval Captain Wentworth. Years ago, Anne and Wentworth were engaged, but Anne called it off after a close family friend told her Wentworth’s lack of position and money made the match unsuitable. Now, the Napoleonic wars have left Wentworth a rich, successful captain while Anne, in her late twenties, is teetering on the brink of spinsterhood. Circumstances throw them together again, but what will come of it? Of course, I believe that Austen’s clever writing, sharply drawn characters, and soul satisfying plots make her the perfect choice for any occasion, but this seems especially appropriate for those who enjoy beaches of a cooler nature. When I lived in northern California, I discovered that beaches aren’t synonymous with glaring sun and warm water…if you need to throw a sweater in your beach bag, go ahead and throw Persuasion in too. You’ll be rewarded with one of the best love letters in all of fiction!

Whew. That was quite fun! I hope y’all enjoy reading this list half as much as I enjoyed writing it. I already have ideas for other ‘types’ of summer readers but feel free to share any suggestions. Did I convince any of you to pick up one of these books? And what do you think makes a perfect beach read?

75 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2010 5:20 am

    I love the list – especially that you chose seafarin’ as the first topic for your (I’m hoping) ongoing series of booklists! I looooove boats and have dreams of going sailing on the high seas. Sea of Poppies sounds like a particular treat, so I’m hoping you don’t finish it and decide that after all it is terrible. :p

    • June 8, 2010 6:25 am

      I’ve now finished Sea of Poppies, and it was glorious. ;) Aren’t the high seas tempting?!

  2. June 6, 2010 5:39 am

    Oh, I loved The Far Traveler– sometimes I think Brown was a little obscure, but it was absolutely fascinating.

    • June 8, 2010 6:26 am

      I’m a total nerd, so I didn’t even notice the obscurity! LOL I’m still obsessed w/ all the weaving facts…crazy!

  3. June 6, 2010 5:41 am

    Wonderful list. I’m glad to know the Ghosh is good – I am anxious to read it!

    • June 8, 2010 6:26 am

      The Ghosh is DEFINITELY worth picking up! :D

  4. June 6, 2010 6:16 am

    I love the list. And I hope you’ll do a lot more of these. I especially liked how you focused on the sea instead of beachreads as in the more standard “it’s summer so we’re going to tell customers that it’s ‘chick-lit’ season” reasoning bookstores use.

    • June 8, 2010 6:27 am

      Thanks Iris! I’ll definitely do some more. :) And yep…don’t get me started on the whole ‘beach reading must be vapid’ thing.

  5. June 6, 2010 6:50 am

    What a great list! I love the variety you provide here; definitely a little something for everyone! I never considered Persuasion as a beach read, but reading your reasoning behind it, I’m completely converted! Also, I have a copy of The Sound of Waves and am really excited for it! Mishima is such a powerful writer.

    • June 8, 2010 6:28 am

      Thanks Steph! :D I really need to read more Mishimia; I have one of his books that I snagged at my last library sale and still haven’t cracked open.

  6. June 6, 2010 7:20 am

    Oh what a great list. I jumped between “oh, yes, I *loved* those books” to “what? how could have missed that one.” Did you ever read the Patrick O’Brian books? I really love them on audio. I’m on about book 11 out of 20. I need to revisit Horatio one of these days. Oh, and any post that mentions Mishima is a winner to me.

    • June 8, 2010 6:35 am

      Aww: thanks so much! :) I’ve tried to read Master and Commander, both in print and on audio, at least three times now, and I just can’t seem to get into it. :/ I’m hoping in a few more years, they’ll appeal to me more!

  7. June 6, 2010 7:31 am

    Eva – You are a marvel! What a wonderful idea. I love this list and am adding Pirates! and The Sound of Waves to my TBR list. I have Song For a Blue Ocean but had to stop reading it because every time I pick it up I want to cry. I will read his other books eventually.

    I can’t wait to read what you think of Sea of Poppies. Have a great week.

    • June 8, 2010 6:36 am

      Thanks Gavin! Song for a Blue Ocean is MUCH more cry-inducing than his other two books, imo, which is part of why I recommended them. There are still some horribly depressing bits in the other two, but overall I needed much fewer tissues.

  8. June 6, 2010 7:45 am

    Oh great idea! If I ever get to the point of having read anywhere near as much as you, I’d love to do lists like this. As it is, I’m putting together my Top Ten lists and they’re a bloody nightmare! How do you decide? is the big question. Silly me but I’ll slog on!

    I have the Hornblower Omnibus – I forget which books are in it, possibly the first three. It was excellent. I loved watching the tv show too, which probably helped me get into the book.

    I just ordered Sea of Poppies but I have to say: that’s a very nice cover you’ve got there! Well then one I’m ordering is nice too but, y’know.

    I nearly bought The Sound of Waves the other week but dithered. Think I’ll go back and get it after all! Cheers Eva :)

    (oh, and do you still want Waterland? It’s seriously taking up space I don’t have!)

    • June 8, 2010 6:39 am

      lol! Top Ten lists are always sooo hard for me. :) The cover I used in the post isn’t the one my library copy sported; it’s just the one I found the prettiest, lol. Sound of Waves is well worth the purchase! Thanks for reminding me re: Waterland; I’ll e-mail you!

  9. Sabine permalink
    June 6, 2010 7:47 am

    Well, this is the first time I visited your blog and you made me add a book on my to-be-read list already. “Persuasion” is the only Austen I haven’t read yet and I must admit that I didn’t consider to do so in the near future – until now. Thanks for the great post. I promise to visit again soon.

    Best wishes from Germany!

    • June 8, 2010 6:40 am

      Thanks so much for the visit and kind words Sabine! :) You’re in for a treat with Persuasion; I wish I could read it for the first time all over again.

  10. June 6, 2010 8:18 am

    I love this idea! I do hope you continue these lists, because already I’ve added too many to my TBR from just this one. :) Pirates! especially sounds like it’s right up my alley.

    • June 8, 2010 6:40 am

      Thanks Heather! I think you’d DEFINITELY enjoy Pirates! . :)

  11. June 6, 2010 8:45 am

    Wonderful suggestions! Sea of Poppies is on my list of summer possibilities and can’t wait to get to it. Or hope I get to it. Not sure which really.

    Speaking of Nancy Pearl, did you see that she is now on Twitter. So excited! Have picked up only a few of her tweets so far but love the idea of an immediately accessible Nancy!

    • June 8, 2010 6:42 am

      Sea of Poppies is marvelous! I didn’t know Nancy Pearl was on Twitter, but now I’m following her: thanks for the tip! :D

  12. June 6, 2010 9:28 am

    Great list! I have another one for you: The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning. Lots of travelling to different ports in that one. And maybe Life of Pi since he was trapped on a life raft with a tiger.

    • June 8, 2010 6:43 am

      I’m off to look up The Sea Captain’s Wife! And you’re totally right about Life of Pi; definitely a seafaring book. :)

  13. June 6, 2010 10:37 am

    Muy excellente! I love this idea, and the blend of books you’ve chosen is tantalizing! Thanks for this, Eva!

  14. June 6, 2010 11:27 am

    What a great idea! I love the topic.

  15. June 6, 2010 12:04 pm

    I also love book lists! This is a topic that has been on my mind as well, and I love your choices. I thought The Far Traveler was a great read and Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. I started reading the Hornblower books, but I got sidetracked–really need to get back to those!

    • June 8, 2010 6:50 am

      You make the BEST lists Danielle! Your Thursday 13s are still great resources for me. :D Persuasion is one of my very favourites too!

  16. June 6, 2010 12:20 pm

    Great idea and great list! I loved The Far Traveler and Persuasion. I’ll be looking for a few of the pirate books on my next trip to the library.

  17. June 6, 2010 2:27 pm

    You are just the BEST at creating these enticing lists!

  18. June 6, 2010 2:39 pm

    Yes yes yes for The Sound of Waves :D As you know, I love that book so much!! And I’ve heard so many great things about The Voyage of the Sea Turtle…I’d really like to read that one. I love it when you do these lists, Eva! You always add so many books to my list :p How’ve you been???

    • June 8, 2010 6:54 am

      You’re totally the reason I read Sound of Waves! :D I’ve been good; I totally need to e-mail you now that I have computer time again!!! (Last week was INSANE here at chez Eva.)

  19. June 6, 2010 2:40 pm

    Fun! I may pick up Horatio Hornblower, since I really enjoyed the tv series and the first Master & Commander book. Another you might like on the ‘age of sail’ theme is Seafaring Women, all about the history of women who went to sea disguised as sailors, pirates or (not disguised) as captain’s wives.

    • June 8, 2010 7:02 am

      Thanks for the Seafaring Women rec! :) I’ve never been able to get into Master & Commander, even though I’d like to. And eventually, I’ll treat myself to the TV series!

  20. June 6, 2010 7:01 pm

    I love you included Persuasion on the list! If I didn’t already have tons of VICTORIAN novels on my list for this summer, I’d add a little Austen in. Maybe I will anyway….

    • June 8, 2010 7:03 am

      A little Austen is easy to slip in! And she’ll give you a break from all of those Victorians. ;)

  21. June 6, 2010 8:20 pm

    Oh, more awesome suggestions! I added three on: The Sound of Waves, The Far Traveler, and Sea of Poppies. Who knows when I’ll get to them, but I will some day!

    I am so glad you added Persuasion. I ended up reading it after you reviewed it a month or two ago and I LOVED it.

    • June 8, 2010 7:03 am

      Yay! I’m glad you loved Persuasion! :D And I hope you enjoy the new additions when you eventually get to them. ;)

  22. June 6, 2010 8:22 pm

    I loved Pirates! AVAST SAYS ME SAYS I. But seriously, it was an exciting book and the set up with her lover boy raised the stakes. That being said, I don’t think I’m brave enough or patient enough to pick up Moby Dick again.

    • June 8, 2010 7:04 am

      Wasn’t he a great lover boy?! Definitely a book I shall reread one of these days. :D

  23. June 6, 2010 9:31 pm

    Great list! I loved Pirates! on audio and Persuasion is my favorite Austen of all time. I’ve been wanting to read the Hornblower series for a while now – just haven’t found time.

    • June 8, 2010 7:04 am

      I love the audio version of Pirates! too. :) And Persuasion is in a class of its own!

  24. Mome Rath permalink
    June 7, 2010 12:20 am

    I’m a little late, but welcome back — I’m glad you’re feeling better! I love the scope of this book list. I can only imagine how much fun you had putting it together. I’ve been meaning to read the Hornblower series for awhile, so this may be the year I start. I’m about to hit the 500 section of my Dewey decimal read this month, so I’ll probably look up the Safina books, too — particularly since I get to see sea turtles so often. I look forward to seeing the next lists you put together!

    • June 8, 2010 7:10 am

      Thanks Mome Rath! :) Have fun working your way through the Dewey Decimal system; I’m not sure where Safina’s books fall, but they should be in my review directory organised by Dewey Decimal!

      • Mome Rath permalink
        June 8, 2010 9:32 pm

        The two you mentioned are in the animal biology/zoology section of the 500s (597.92 and 598.42 — not that I’ve been looking them up or anything ;-) ). I’ve been finding some great, unexpected non-fiction reads so far as I branch out from my 900 milieu.

  25. June 7, 2010 1:33 am

    Summer Lovin’…what a great blog post! Had me a blast…thanks, Eva!

  26. June 7, 2010 2:39 am

    Great list-your mention of the Hornblower books took me back to around age 1o or so when I read them all-great books -I also recently read and posted on Sea of Poppies-I cannot wait for the next volume in the trilogy to come out-I learned a lot from this book-

    • June 8, 2010 7:10 am

      Thanks Mel! I can’t wait for the follow up to Sea of Poppies either. And I wish I’d discovered Hornblower when I was younger; I would’ve devoured the books!

  27. June 7, 2010 3:21 am

    Oooh, I’m loving the variety of recommendations on this list. I’ve only ever watched the Hornblower TV adaptations which have been rather good. I’m not one for reading seafaring novels, but your list is rather tempting… especially the Mishima and Ghosh.

    • June 8, 2010 7:12 am

      Thanks! It seems like the Hornblower TV series is based on his pre-Captain days; the stills always look good. I’ll get to it one of these days!

  28. June 7, 2010 6:03 am

    Hey Eva, seems you have two German readers now! I like your list and for sure will grab The far Traveler and Persuasion at some point.

  29. June 7, 2010 7:05 am

    Great list — I love your theme. I’ve been eyeing Moby Dick for a while now, and like yourself, I’ve been a little intimidated. Sounds like an excellent summer read!

    • June 8, 2010 7:16 am

      I hope you end up enjoying Moby Dick half as much as I did! :D

  30. June 7, 2010 7:58 am

    Great list! I will definitely add some of these to my miles-long to-read list. Sea of Poppies looks particularly great.

    One of my favourite seafaring novels (& summer reads, but mostly because I first read it during a summer) is A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. It’s about a group of children who are kidnapped by pirates, which could be very silly and cliched, but Hughes turns everything on its head and confuses your sympathies marvelously.

    • June 8, 2010 7:17 am

      Thanks Alice! I’ve heard such good things about A High Wind in Jamaica; thanks so much for reminding me of it. :)

  31. June 7, 2010 9:39 am

    Eva, Sea of Poppies has been on my wish-list for ages and I’m looking forward to it and you made me curious about The Sound of Waves. More than sea, I like a bit of sun in my beach reads – coming of age stories set during the summer time are a favorite.

    Other seafaring recommendations (by the way, great that you included Persuasion, it does have a clear “maritime feeling” to it).

    – The Life of Pi by Yann Martel: a boy and tiger float adrift in the ocean in a tinny boat

    – The Disorderly Knights, Book 3 of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett: in 1551 Lymond is sent to besieged Malta, to assist the Knights of Hospitallers in defending the island against the Turks. Lots of sea travelling and adventures in the Mediterranean. Probably my favourite history fiction series of all time.

    – English Passengers by Matthew Kneale: a group of XIX century Englishman hire a former contraband boat and crew to take them to Tasmania, where they believe is situated the original Garden of Eden.

    – Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini: fun, fun, fun! A gentleman pirate, cunning attack strategies, sea battles, kidnapping and treasure!

    – The Shipping News by Annie Proulx: not exactly a favorite, but the sea plays a major role in this story of the timid American covering the comings and goings of a Newfoundland harbour

    • June 8, 2010 7:22 am

      Thanks for all of the recommendations! I’ve only read Life of Pie (and seen the film version of Shipping News). I love the Middle Ages, so the Dunnett looks neat, and Captain Blood sounds right up my alley-I love the Errol Flynn movie by the same name! I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Tanzania, so English Passengers is intriguing as well. :)

  32. June 7, 2010 10:12 am

    This is great and now I can’t wait to see what other lists you come up with.

  33. June 7, 2010 1:09 pm

    Great recommendations. I hate it when “beach read” becomes synonymous with “horrible books.” Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean I want to start reading awful stuff. Yay for any recommendation of Persuasion and I think you’ve inspired me to get around to the long-TBRed Moby Dick.

    • June 8, 2010 7:23 am

      I totally agree re: breach read stereotypes! And I hope Moby Dick works out for you. :)

  34. June 7, 2010 2:36 pm

    I loved the Safina books. And although it’s been ages since I read Moby Dick, that one was very good too (if a bit tedious at times). I know we read Sound of Waves in high school but I don’t remember much about it now…

    • June 8, 2010 7:24 am

      I love Safina too! You know, I don’t think I enjoyed 90% of my high school required reading, even though I’ve always been a bookworm. There’s something about analysing a book that takes the joy out of it for me. :/

  35. June 7, 2010 6:37 pm

    You just HAD to mention Moby Dick. I swear, that book is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

    • June 8, 2010 7:24 am

      lol! You’re totally the reason I qualified my opinions on it. ;)

  36. June 8, 2010 5:13 pm

    What a great idea for a post! I’m already interested in Sea of Poppies after reading your review, but the others that caught my eye here were The Far Traveller and The Sound of Waves. I loved Persuasion, it’s one of my favourite Austen novels.

    • June 11, 2010 1:04 am

      Thanks Dominique! And isn’t Persuasion lovely? :D

  37. June 29, 2010 4:35 am

    I don’t get why Moby Dick has such a bad reputation. I quite liked it :)


  1. Summer Lovin’: the Wishful Cooler Thinking Edition « A Striped Armchair

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: