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Summer Lovin’: 5 love(ish) stories for summer reading


Posted July 22, 2013 by

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Beach books have become synonymous with “Chick Lit,” an often condescending term for light-hearted books by women and about women that assumes predictability and a story about shoes, cosmos, and Mr. Right (the literary equivalent of a chick flick). Now in most genres, there is room for both good and (inevitably) less good writing, but not here. Chick Lit has become an insult, a synonym for “bad” writing (women’s only, of course), a “guilty pleasure” that a well-read person wouldn’t want to admit to reading. Diane Meier, author of The Season of Second Chances, was surprised to encounter this in the reviews of her recent novel:

“was [it] Chick Lit or not? That, in itself, became the general theme of most reviews, professional and consumer.

‘Five stars because it is NOT Chick Lit.’

‘Zero stars because it is NOT Chick Lit.’”

Aptly, she respondedWhat? Who asked for this as a mark of critical analysis?”. (I’d also like to know the answer to that question.) Are some books that are considered Chick Lit badly written, privileged, or shallow? Sure. But so are some historical novels and crime stories. While I don’t agree with calling beach books Chick Lit because they are unintelligent, I do enjoy a light-hearted book  about a funny lady while I’m at the beach! So if some of these books are Chick Lit, then I’m letting my Chick Lit flag fly, and you should too!  The women in these books, although looking for love, are looking for a whole lot of other things too, and they are the perfect,  hilarious love(ish) stories to bring in your beach bag this summer!

summer reading

1. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones’s Diary is a 1996 novel by Helen Fielding which won British Book of the Year in 1998. It’s written as a diary and chronicles the weight, cigarette consumption, family issues, and relationship troubles of Bridget, a thirty-something woman living in London. It might be what they call Chick Lit, but it’s damn good Chick Lit. The diary entries are an absolute riot; I laughed out loud on the bus many times the first time I read it. It has all the essentials of a good beach read: humor (Bridget’s family are over-the-top hilarious eccentrics), fun (usually involving alcohol and too much smoking) and romance – it is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and has its very own Mr. Darcy in the form of Mark Darcy (cool fact: Colin Firth plays Darcy in the movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice AND Bridget Jones).

summer reading


2. Emma by Jane Austen

Speaking of the incomparable Austen, Emma is another novel of romance and repartee that’s great for summer reading (and she’s earned enough respect to avoid the stigma of Chick Lit, so no need to use your discreet book sleeve on this one!). The novel opens with this description, “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich” and proceeds as a comedy of manners starring this rather atypical Austen heroine who is none too affected by romance. It tells the tale of Emma’s meddling and matchmaking and all the misguided ways she thwarts love for others and herself. Like Bridget Jones’s Diary, the novel also delivers much of its humor through the depictions of Emma’s hilarious and eccentric family members and acquaintances. By turns funny and charming, Emma focuses more on the failed matchmaking than the successful, but, ultimately, all’s well that ends well here!


summer reading

3. Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood

Because there are things besides novels one can read at the beach! Murder in the Dark is a collection of micro-short stories and prose poems by Margaret Atwood, perfect beach-size bites. It might sound dark and dreary, but don’t let the title mislead you! Small and mighty, these pieces offer little glimpses into the inner workings of relationships, women’s minds, and women’s writing itself. “Simmering,” for instance, is a short satire in which women work in offices and men are housekeepers and recipes become a symbol of status for the male homemakers. “Women’s Novels” comments on many of the same things this article does, and “Happy Endings” lets you as reader “choose your own ending” for a relationship. Also included are stories such as “Liking Men,” “Boyfriends,” “The Boy’s Own Annual, 1911″ – this collection looks at the harsh realities of romance with a dry humor that exposes some things we’d rather not see, and allows us to laugh at ourselves.


4. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

summer reading

Sheila Heti’s 2010 novel/memoir/play-like dictation was a polarizing sensation. People either loved it or hated it, but everyone was talking about it. Compared to the stylings of HBO’s Girls (by those who loved it, of course), How Should A Person Be? is as much an analysis of self-indulgence as it is a self-analysis (and it has been both praised and criticized for that). So, if you enjoy the post-Carrie Bradshaw girls in the city type of humor, this book is the best fit for your beach bag! Sheila (the character) is uninspired and bored and records her friends for material, including the extremely personal, ugly, and intimate. Much of her wondering how she should be is done while having sex, which she describes (in detail) but by no means romanticizes. This no-bullshit quality is where the humor comes from, as evidenced in this line, which even references books like the Austen one above: “We live in an age of some really great blow-job artists. Every era has its art form. The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel.”



5. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

It’s funny, it’s tender, and it’s quirky – another gem for summer reading. Also semi-autobiographical, this novel features the author’s namesake as protagonist as well. Jeanette (the character) grows up in a Pentecostal family, stitching apocalyptic samplers to scare her classmates, until things take a turn: her family’s reaction is extreme when they find out Jeanette has feelings for a woman. Winterson also disperses fable and unconventional fairy tales throughout the novel, showing how interchangeable fantasy and reality are – her family can be so ridiculous sometimes, you’d think it had to be made up! It’s a love story, a comedy, and a (subversive) fairy tale all in one. The novel addresses some pretty serious stuff, but through Winterson’s innovative and fun techniques, humor allows us to see those truths and also thoroughly enjoy the story.


Bonus: Hark! a Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Besides Archie Comics, this is the best comic book to take to the beach! Internet comic sensation Kate Beaton has recently released a comic book showcasing her best and funniest pieces from her website. Since we’re in the mood for love, laughing, and even laughing at love, this book is perfect. Often poking fun at our favorite novels (in good spirits, I promise!), you’re sure to find one of your treasured reads referenced in here. For a little sample, check out “Dude Watching with the Brontës.” (Poor Anne.)


What are your favorite summer love (or anti-love) stories? Let us know in the comments below!

Summer Lovin’: 5 love(ish) stories for summer reading 5.00/5 (100.00%) 3 votes


Maritime gal friday with two degrees in literature and a love of magic realism, typography, and poetry in all its forms.

One Comment


    the beach is my favorite place to read !

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