The Sunday Salon: My Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer Vacation Reading

The Sunday Salon

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.
Just fill your basket full of sandwiches and weenies
Then lock the house up, now you’re set
And on the beach you’ll see the girls in their bikinis
As cute as ever but they never get em wet….”

Apparently, the beach bums of Nat King Cole’s hit song were too preoccupied by … well, other pursuits, to include a book in their basket with those sandwiches, pretzels and beer. And while I’ve been known to indulge in a hoagie and a soft pretzel while downashore (are my Philly girl roots showing yet?), the number one requirement that I have is a book.

I mean, it’s not even a question.

So, the question becomes “which book“? And, in what format (hardback, paperback, from the library, Kindle?)

There are no easy answers. But by following some simple, self-imposed rules, I’ve always had a plethora of beach reads. Hence, the method to my lazy, hazy, crazy summer reading madness.

1. Bring more books with you than you can possibly read.  This is a given. At the bare minimum, one book for each day of the vacation.

2. No books on parenting or special needs are permitted. I read a lot of autism parenting memoirs the other 51 weeks of the year., Not this one.  

White Chair

White Chair on Strathmere Porch, June 2013
photo credit: Melissa Firman

3. Library books are verboten to be read on the beach. They can, however, be read on the porch of the beach house. The reason for this rule dates back to 1985, when, as a teenager, I worked in a library shelving books. Nothing was more off-putting and sensory-repulsive to me than handling library books with grains of sand imbedded in the covers. (I still cringe just thinking about it.) Or maybe it was a reminder that the affluent patrons of the library were taking the books to far-flung beaches in the dead of winter that made me so sensory-adverse.

4. Kindles are for the car. A recent development (and a welcome one) is the fact that I can read in the car – on my Kindle only. (Reading a print book still gets me carsick but the Kindle doesn’t.) But, my Kindle does not go to the actual beach.

So, for those keeping track at home, that means I needed

  • 6+ books for this vacation
  • a non-library book to read on the beach itself
  • a book to read back at the house, say, on the porch in the evenings (this book is permitted to be a library book) and
  • a Kindle book for the car (it’s an 8-hour trip from Pittsburgh to the beach) 

Got all that?

I’m aware that this makes me come across as a little unhinged. But, hey, you don’t mess with a proven system. And this one, crazy as it sounds, works.

Here’s what was in my beach basket (i.e., my beach book) this year.

Red House

Beach Bag Book, Strathmere, NJ
photo credit: Melissa Firman, June 2013

Red House fit almost all my criteria. (Also unsaid is that I like my vacation reads to be somewhat relevant to the place or experience or life situation I’m in. I like to conjure up the “perfect book at the perfect time” scenario for my vacations. I also like to bring my own books along.)

Okay, I’m aware to the uninitiated that this post is sounding a bit bizarre.

Ahem.  Red House, then.

It’s the “mostly accurate account of New England’s oldest continuously lived in house,” and I selected it because of the history of our own beach house.

I only got up to page 44 or so of this one (because it was exclusively a beach read and I am still reading it now that we’re at home) but I liked what I read.

“There were houses, she knew, that you bought simply to inhabit – apartments or houses like these she had grown up in – nothing special. And then there were houses that could change your life: the rooms, the walls, the roof, the land, and view from its windows could reshape you, mold you.” (pg. 17)

Yeah, I can kind of relate.

My Beach Books

Stack of beach books
Photo credit: Melissa Firman, June 2013

Of course, as we’ve established, that’s just one book. These were the others that came along.

Not pictured is my Kindle, on which I read Blood Type by Melissa Luznicky Garrett while we were traveling. I spent most of my vacation with that, The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, and West Wind by Mary Oliver. I didn’t get to any of the others.

Blood TypeYou couldn’t ask for more of a variety. Blood Type has drawn comparisons to Twilight, which, ironically, Betty was (and is) currently reading. Now, I’m not much of a vampire teen fiction fan. It’s just not my thing, and I probably wouldn’t have picked Blood Type up if Melissa wasn’t a friend. That said, I do like her work and this was no exception. I was in the mood for a light, YA-ish read en route to and from the shore, and this fit the bill nicely. It wasn’t overly gratuitous, gory, or scary and I would have no problem with my 11 year old reading this. I’ll have a longer review up at some point.

The Other TypistI spent the most vacation time with The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, which was fantastic. I’m reviewing this for my gig with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, so I can’t say much more about this one other than I absolutely loved it and it will be among my favorite books of the year.

West WindThere’s a little library on our shore island, which is such a treasure (and a nice resource to have in case one – horrors! – runs out of books). My aunt was in need of some summer reading of her own so while we were there, I checked out West Wind, by Mary Oliver on her card. This short volume of poetry is the perfect summertime companion for reflecting by the sea or in the mountains or wherever your travels take you. I spent a few hours on the porch soaking this one up.

The Light in the Ruins

My current read is Chris Bohjalian’s upcoming novel The Light in the Ruins, due out July 9, and which I’m slated to review for the Post-Gazette. I just started this last night.

Now we’re back home and honestly, that vacation seems like it was already a lifetime ago. June is almost over.

You’ll wish that summer could always be here, indeed.


Thanks for sharing this post!

9 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: My Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer Vacation Reading

  1. Sue Jackson

    Sounds like my kind of book-filled vacation!! I totally understand your many requirements for the perfect vacation reading. And what a discovery that you can read on the Kindle in the car! Wow, that would be amazing – I will definitely try that later this summer.

    But, The House of Sand and Fog as a beach read?? I haven’t read the book, but it was the MOST depressing movie I have ever seen in my entire life. Not a single drip of hope in it. (though I understand it has sand in the title).


    Book By Book

    Big Book Summer Challenge

  2. Cousin Meg

    I just love when you write about our family beach house! It makes me feel so connected to our family esp when we’re all spread out across the country. Your writing has a way of connecting all the dots, so to speak

  3. Bryan G.

    Grains of sand in the covers: Yep, I can relate. We have a few of those books on our shelves at the library where I work. Yep, hate them. Completely agree with that rule. 🙂

  4. Lisa (Books in the Burbs)

    You have a great list of books!! I think packing book reads to go on vacation is as essential as packing your toothbrush!! I love to read on vacation and it’s just something that is important to me, so to do without, would be too hard for me! I don’t take my laptop and I don’t even answer calls, but I have to bring books! I’m not a library person….I just don’t like picking up books from the library and not knowing where they’ve been 😉 I’m a bit of a germaphobe, but I’ve been good at not having my kids think that way 🙂 Working at a hospital in ICU (years ago), does that to you 😉

  5. Jennifer

    I like your rules. Anyone that is as nuts about their books as I am is doing something right 😉 It makes me feel less alone/crazy 😉

  6. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I’m super obsessed about vacation reads too. I have a whole particular list of criteria that I go through in trying to pick what is going to “work” for the situations I’m reading it. I wrote a whole post about it for Book Riot that’ll go up sometime in July (probably while I’m on vacation…). So, if you’re weird I also am too (and I’m going to broadcast it to the very big bookish Internet).

    I’ve been going back and forth on whether The Other Typist was going to make it into my beach bag. Now that you’ve recommended it, I definitely will be taking it along. A question for you — what do you think of The Orchardist as a vacation by the beach read? I’ve had it on my shelf since you gushed about it, but can’t decide whether it’d be good by the lake or not. Thoughts?

    1. Melissa Firman Post author


      It depends. Is this a vacation where you’ll have a lot of time for reading, or is this the sort where you’ll want to dip into something here and there? THE ORCHARDIST isn’t a light read, either – very character-driven and spanning a number of years. I’d say yes if you want something heavier than usual and if you know you will have a couple good hours per day (or whatever constitutes a good chunk of reading time for you). Hopefully that makes sense! But it is definitely unputdownable.

      1. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

        That does make sense! I think I will have some good chunks of reading time late in the week, but I’m not sure I’ll be in the mood for something heavy. I’ll probably still bring it along, just in case though 🙂 You can never have too many books.

  7. Kristen

    I don’t think your rules are strange at all. If I drew up a list of my own, they’d be pretty similar, especially #1. Of course, since we go and visit with family for almost a month, I am taking just a few more books along than you are. ::grin:: And yes, for a vacation that long, I do still insist on at least one book per day at a minimum even if many of them travel home untouched. The worst summer for me was the year that we went to the cottage and the boat sank on the way over (not kidding) and all 70+ of the books I’d brought with me were drenched. I actually spent as much time turning the pages of each of them and getting them to dry out as I did reading them that summer. Unfortunately, that also included one library book as well which I had to pay for. 🙁 I no longer include library books in my vacation stash!

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