It was 15 years ago that I was on Marco Island, Florida, spending summer vacation at the beach. I was in a condo, near the ocean, and the biggest decisions to be made each day were whether to spend the day at the beach or the hotel pool, and whether to eat more seafood or break things up with a pizza.
On one of the days that I found myself at the pool, I looked up from my book to see what other people were doing. People that weren’t in the water were doing one of two things. They were either sleeping or reading a book. One after another, with the chaise lounges all in a tidy row, I saw body after body with eyes closed, or eyes hidden behind pages. There was nothing amazing about the scene itself—that’s what people do at the pool on vacation. What was amazing was that every one of those readers, with the exception of two, was reading the same book: John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer.
As far as I can remember, the first John Grisham book that I read was either A Time to Kill or The Firm. They had come out a few years before The Street Lawyer. Whichever book it was, I loved it. I loved it because of the simplicity of being able to pick up a book, start reading and almost immediately want to read more. Soon after, I read another John Grisham book, but by the time I was at that pool in Marco Island, I had sworn I wasn’t going to read anymore Grisham. The books had become too predictable, the plot devices had become too repetitive. The formula just began to seem, well, formulaic.
After seeing so many bathing-suited supine bodies in a row reading The Street Lawyer, though, I was worried I might be missing out. I decided when I got to the airport to go home that I would give it one more try. I read the book and haven’t read another Grisham book since.
The following summer I found myself at a pool or beach somewhere again. Like the Grisham legal thrillers, my summer vacations, too, had become formulaic. Again, I looked up from whatever I was reading, only to find that everyone else was reading the hot new paperback: Memoirs of a Geisha. Just a few summers ago, the hot book was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
It occurred to me then that every summer there is the book that catches on at the beach or pool and everyone gravitates toward it like a de facto beach book club. About six years ago, it became harder to join that book club.
It was during that summer vacation, at a fake beach, about 20 yards away from a blackjack table and an Elmo drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag, that I was sitting next to a woman at a Las Vegas hotel reading from a Kindle. I tried to sneak peeks at how the device worked, whether there was glare, how she turned the pages, how her hands held the device, and most importantly, what she was reading. I couldn’t tell what she was reading, and ever since then haven’t quite had the same success figuring out what the national beach book club has selected as our collective summer reading.
Will it be Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn? I have a feeling it will, although I wonder, is there anyone left who hasn’t read it? It was two summers ago that it somehow jumped its way into sunbathers’ hands, even though it was a hardback book, bucking the trend of what I thought was the foundation of summer reading—that the hot book of the summer had to be paperback. This summer, for the first time, Gone Girl is a paperback. I have a feeling it will be at a lot of beaches.
Dan Brown’s Inferno is out in paperback this summer. Whatever the phenomenon is that has so many reading the same book at the pool, a much bigger phenomenon took place when everybody everywhere, summer or not, seemed to be reading the Da Vinci Code. I read it, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not reaching for Inferno this summer.
I haven’t figured out what book I’ll be reading at the pool this year. Maybe Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins? It seems to meet all the criteria. . .just came out in paperback, easy to get into, a wonderful coastline setting. Maybe it will be something that isn’t on anyone’s radar yet. It’s not the critics or book publishers who get to pick, after all, it’s all those people, half asleep, on all those lounge chairs at the pool or on their beach towels at the ocean.