Kids! For some reason, sitting on a towel on some sand near water has always been viewed as a valid excuse to abandon all literary aspiration and read lurid, purple prose. And we'll take it! Some all-time favorites:
Forget your Rebeccas, your Secret Historys, your Stieg Larssens. Page-turning they may be, but when we say "beach read," we're talking about the books whose covers you conceal from your airplane seat neighbor, the ones for which Lillian Vernon used to sell those anonymous needlepoint covers. Maeve Binchy? Marion Keyes? Much too respectable. Yes, anything with Fabio qualifies, and bonus points for Harlequins with "virgin" in the title (if you can work in "sheik," "mogul" or "Italian" so much the better) or Bertrice Small novels. But if we're talking about the essential beach-read arsenal? Read on:
- Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann. When VotD came out in 1966, it was an instant beach-read classic, and no list of guilty pleasures would be complete without this tale of betrayal, ambition, and dolls, dolls, beautiful dolls!
The Plot:3 young career gals shoot for the stars. Instead they find porn, madness, sex, abortion and lots and lots of pills.
Read It With: Although Dexedrine and Demerol would be thematically apropos, they'd get in the way of the actual plot-following. We'd suggest an Amaretto sour, some broken dreams and a pair of shades to hide your pain.
- Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews This 1979 kickoff to Andrews' "classic" Dollanganger Series, FitA might as well be in the dictionary under "lurid."
The Plot: Psychotic grandmother locks children in attic. What follows is intrigue, torture, blood-drinking, psychological abuse, something about an inheritance and did we mention, incest incest incest?
Real It With: A strong drink - and maybe some powdered donuts. Even if you're 35, you're going to want to whisk this away from your mom's eyes.
- The Thorn-Birds, Colleen McCullough. What list would be complete without the 1977 smash that gave new meaning to the word "saga?"
The Plot: Meggie Cleary and her family move to the Outback to live near a domineering aunt. Meggie becomes close to the parish priest, Ralph de Bricassart. Then as she ages, really close. Cue forty years of forbidden love, death, plagues upon the land, greed, more death, Vatican intrigue and, of course, one iconic miniseries full of dubious and confusing accents.
Read It With: Plenty of water handy. They're always really dusty and thirsty in this novel.
- Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley. For our purposes, even Gone with the Wind is far too respectable. No, for real beach-read bona fides, we'll be calling upon the 1992 sequel, the unmitigated gall of which, if nothing else, will keep you reading.
The Plot:Rhett Butler, not allowed to frankly not give a damn, is stalked by Scarlett all over the world. They have a lot of sex and she finds herself.
Read It With: a quirked eyebrow and, obviously, a julep.
- The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory. If you're looking for actual, contempo chick-lit, well, how's about this Tudors-on-a-page histori-romp?
The Plot: Sex! Drama! Rivalry! Bodice-ripping! At the court of Henry VIII!
Read It With: A grain of historical salt and a sangria. Oh, and skip the movie - even if the casting is both inspired and totally historically accurate.
- Peyton Place, Grace Metalious PP and The Best of Everything duked it out for this spot on the list. Both have sex, illegal abortion, feckless playboys and mid-century Americana galore, but Metalious wins on the grounds of pure genre-defining.
The Plot: The seething, hypocritical underbelly of a typical, seemingly serene New England village! America - and the movies - would never be the same again.
Read It With: A glass of lemonade - spiked, of course.
And now, let's hear yours! We have a lot of summer hours to get through...what guilty, cringe-inducing pleasure will help them fly?