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“Beach & Transportation” books

May 16, 2010 5 comments

  I have a special tenderness for what I call “beach & transportation books”. By that, I mean the books you read on the beach, in waiting rooms, airports or trains. Not Richard Powers’s literature but either totally absorbing books or read-despite-distraction books.

The first category are the best and most dangerous ones : the best because they can change a 6 hours trip in a blur and the most dangerous because they can make you miss your plane or train stop by forgetting time and place. When I lived in Paris, how many times did I get up in a hurry, just in time to get out of the metro at my station? It’s a strange feeling, like you were on another planet or day-dreaming and something hits you conscience and makes you get up and jump out of the train. You end up on the platform, a little shocked, the time for your mind to keep up with your actions and thinking “I almost forgot to get out…again”

The second category includes the books you can read and at the same time hear the speaker call for you flight or be aware of the children playing in the sand near you. You still understand the story and miss nothing important but you’re not oblivious to your environment.

It quite hard to find good “beach and transportation” books. Crime and mysteries fit the description, obviously but sometimes the rhythm of the story does not erase the poor style. Some of them are written in “subject+verb+direct object” sentences, it sounds like it was written by a computer rather than by a human-being. Once, I received The Quickie by James Patterson, a thriller written in such a bad style it was painful, even in English, which is not my mother tongue. (It helps to read bad books in a foreign language, you’re not that finicky about the style).

Despite that example, it’s easier to find good crime and mysteries books for beach&transportation episodes than novels. An episode of Elizabeth George’s Linley and Barbara Havers is perfect : you just get caught by the story, and it’s never predictable.

As far as novels are concerned, it’s trickier to find some that combine both a good-enough style and a light subject that only requires a distracted mind, like the “San Francisco’s Chronicles” or some chick lit. I also like to read Philippe Djian’s novels for that. He’s a French author who weights his words (according to his interviews, you can be sure every word written was thought through) and writes stories as entertaining as good movies. I’m afraid no translation is available, except for “37°2 le matin” (“Betty Blue”).

It’s also the moment when you read what everybody reads : so you can exchange recognition looks with other passengers reading the same best-seller as you. It creates an additional bond between two co-travelers, I sometimes wish to ask these people what they think about the book, but I never dare. These books are travel companions, quickly read, quickly forgotten. They are often a mirror of their time, too rooted in the present to reach the universal touch required for books to become immortal. They are like a good movie you watch for entertainment only. They are read in situations where having too good a book would be a waste, for you would miss a lot of it, by lack of attention.

 To conclude, I don’t think these books should be despised as being some kind of under-literature, they don’t pretend to be more than entertaining. If literature were a river, where on one bank would stand the people who never open a book and on the other bank would stand the read-addicts, then “beach & transportation” books could be for some the bridge that will enable them to discover more difficult and more powerful reading.

Categories: About reading
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