Can you manage to read at the beach? A summertime choose your own adventure.

James Folta

May 17, 2024, 1:31pm

Many pitfalls and impediments lay between you and a day of enjoying your book in peace. Can you manage to get past everything arrayed against you? Choose wisely!

Your phone buzzes. A text: “Hey we’re all headed out to the beach this Saturday. You should come!”

Even though you’re a bit of a beach hater — you don’t like the sun and it doesn’t like you — a day on the shore sounds like a nice chance to relax. What better place to get some uninterrupted time with a book than the beach?

You stuff your biggest tote bag to the brim with all the beach gear you’re gonna need: towel, sunscreen, second sunscreen for your face, hat, water bottle, umbrella, the weird little folding camping chair that may or may not work.

The bag’s getting pretty full… Is there even room for a book?

No — It just won’t fit. You leave your book on your bedside table, staring at you. It won a Man Booker, but you couldn’t manage to bring ‘er. Turn to the last page.

Yes — After a few tries that fold the cover in half and almost rip a few pages, you manage to stuff your book in between warming cans of seltzer and a bag of pretzels being pummeled into dust. Continue on.

You don’t manage to read at all on the ride to the beach: you’re too busy chatting and trying to keep your bag from bursting open. You dash across the parking lot and the sand, spread the towels and blankets, snap the chairs open, and get settled in.

You see your book peeking out from your bag: almost time! But first, sunscreen. Do you ask a friend to help you out with the application?

Yes — They do a great job. You’re protected from the rays, and it’s time to get reading! Continue on.

No — Everything goes well until you try to get to the hard-to-reach places. It’s physically impossible to apply sunscreen to your own back (science has proved it), but you try anyway. You attempt to squirt sunscreen down your back, but end up sending a stream of ‘screen straight into your bag. Your book is unreadably soaked. But at least now it won’t get sunburned. Turn to last page.

Your little folding chair seems to be holding, and you pull out your book. It’s only slightly damp due to the condensation of the cans it’s been nestled against.

“Volleyball, anyone?” Your friend is holding out a tangle of poles and netting in your direction. Should you play?

Yes — The task of getting the net untangled makes you feel like you’re untwisting a ball of Christmas lights or you’re a tuna caught in a trawler’s nets. After 45 minutes, the net is finally set up. You bat the ball around for a bit. Continue to lunch.

No — You can’t be distracted by athletics. Continue on.

You settle back on your towel, trying to prop yourself up on one arm and open your book with your other arm in a way that won’t cut off circulation to your hands. While trying to maneuver your body into a comfortable reading position, you make eye contact with your friend’s four-year-old, holding a bucket and a little shovel out to you.

Should you help out with a sand castle?

No — You have no time to be Frank Lloyd Babysitter. Continue on.

Yes — You’re no architect, but you do remember that the sand needs to be the right wetness to hold shape. You and the four-year-old start building an impressive complex of castles, some with an imposing Romanesque massiveness and others with a Gaudi-inspired natural undulation. You’re really getting into this, and the kid hands you the shovel.

“Don’t worry, there’s another,” the child assures you as they toddle off.

You keep working, making sure the entryway has the right balance between grandeur and openness. You want this place to be welcoming and inspiring, for your sea citizens.

“Should the moat be deeper?” You look over and see the kid has dug a pretty deep hole— using your book as a shovel.

The sand and seawater have swollen and bent your book into an unrecognizable blob. You suddenly understand Godzilla’s urge to smash a beautiful city. Turn to the last page.

It’s lunchtime! You haven’t managed to open your book to read yet, but you set it aside and accept a sandwich that has been sweating in a cooler for a few hours. It’s as damp as it is lukewarm.

After lunch, you’re starting to feel a little hot. Should you take a dip in the ocean to cool off?

No — There’s no time! You’ve almost cracked your book, don’t lose focus! Continue on.

Yes — The swim is refreshing, and you walk back to your towel and feel the pleasant coolness of the breeze. But you see a blur of activity near your bag…

Seagulls. Dozens of them.

They’ve torn open your bag of pulverized pretzels and are thrashing your tote! Do you intervene?

No — The gulls have already won. Let them have your book, your phone, your wallet. Maybe they’ll make better use of them than you have. You sit down in the sand and watch the ocean, contemplating how you are just another speck of sand compared to the awesome power of nature and her gulls. Turn to the last page.

Yes — You sprint over and shoo away the gulls, just in time. Your book only has a little bit of bird poop and feathers on it, and your phone is only partially submerged in sand. The pretzels have been ground to dust, returned to the flour from whence they came. Continue on.

You settle on your towel with your bent, sunscreen-greased, seagull-mauled book. You adjust your hat and umbrella so the sun is out of your eyes, and settle into the beach chair. Opening your book, you scan the page for where you left off—

“Whatcha reading?” One of your fellow sand-fans is standing over you, pointing to your book. Do you reply?

Yes — You reply to the question, explaining how you came to this book, what you make of the author, and what you think of it so far. Your friend nods vigorously — did you see what the author posted on Instagram about the Met Gala? Soon, you’ve put your book back in your bag, taken out your phone, and are showing each other the greatest hits from your collections of literary gossip screenshots.

The sun starts to set. You shove your book back in your bag — it’s easier now that the birds made room by eating your pretzels.

Maybe you’ll have time to read when you’re back home, when opening your book will scatter three-quarters of a cup of sand all over your bed? Turn to the last page.

No — You don’t say anything, you just turn the book cover to show your interrogator.

“Oh I think I heard of that one,” and they turn back around.

At long last, it’s just you and your book… Continue on.

Congratulations! You read your book at the beach! You only manage to get through a couple of pages before it’s time to pack up and leave, but it won’t stop you from calling this book “the perfect beach read!” You did it!

Whoops! You failed to read a single page at the beach. Every teacher who you impressed by reading above grade level as a child is disappointed in you. Enjoy your “fun” in “the sun.”

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