Three Books About Sand and Sun

Sloane Crosley

hide captionSloane Crosley is the author of I Was Told There'd Be Cake, a book of humorous essays about disappointment. She is perversely attracted to the smell of suntan lotion all year round.

Jayne Wexler, 2006

"Three Books..." is a new series in which we invite writers to recommend three great reads on a single theme.

Everyone knows you're not supposed to read War and Peace while sipping a pina colada under a beach umbrella. So it stands to reason that the best time to read it would be in the dead of winter, while sipping tea under a single bulb hanging from a leaky ceiling ...

OK, so maybe there is no seasonally ideal time to read War and Peace. But what makes the perfect beach book if you're the kind of person who gravitates toward the literary? The answer is simple: Books literally about beaches, featuring miles of shoreline.

Here are three luscious books about the beach that you can read on the beach:

'The Informers'

The Informers
The Informers, by Bret Easton Ellis, paperback, 240 pages

Out of all of Bret Easton Ellis' novels, this one always struck me as the most beachy. The opening line — "Bruce calls me, stoned and sunburned from Los Angeles..." — introduces a character who is so sunburned, our narrator can hear it through the phone.

The patently familiar celebrity and brand names take a backseat to the descriptions of pools and Jacuzzis, of sunglasses and suntan lotion. T-shirts may or may not be Gucci, but they always say "Los Angeles" and "California" across them. "For some reason," writes Ellis, "it's better on the beach. The ocean claims us, the sand comforts us."

Here is a book where even the doctors are young and bronzed; here is a book that will not silently judge you for smoking cigarettes and tanning at the same time.

'Bonjour Tristesse'

Bonjour Tristesse
Bonjour Tristesse, by Francoise Sagan, paperback, 160 pages

In terms of ocean-front imagination property, Ellis has nothing on Françoise Sagan's classic, Bonjour Tristesse. Ninety-nine percent of this book takes place on the Mediterranean. And the remaining one percent? That's set in a villa with a view of the Mediterranean.

The sun itself is responsible for plot twists: "We spent hours on the beach giving ourselves up to the hot sun, gradually assuming a healthy golden tan — except for Elsa, whose skin reddened and peeled, causing her intense agony."

While Elsa burns, the heroine, Cécile, lies "stretched out on the sand, [taking] up a handful and [letting] it run through [her] fingers in soft, yellow streams." Cécile is severely judgmental of a woman who doesn't tan well. But when this same woman is jilted by Cécile's father, Cécile turns to the sun for her defense: "You take a red-headed girl to the seashore, expose her to the hot sun which she can't stand, and when her skin is all peeled, you abandon her. It's too easy!"

'Impossible Vacation'

Impossible Vacation
Impossible Vacation, by Spalding Gray, paperback, 240 pages

Between the shores of California and France, is — naturally — Rhode Island, the setting for the opening scene of Spalding Grey's Impossible Vacation. As a young family arrives at the beach, the mother rolls down the station wagon window, crying out "Do you smell it? Do you smell the sea?" Eventually, the mother's mental health deteriorates but, as the narrator puts it, "She was the best she ever was when she was on the beach."

The beach represents the ideal, be it the fantasy of Bali or the childhood reality of Narragansett Bay. It nakedly symbolizes our year-round attempts to return to perfection. But alas, everyone must come in from the sun eventually. Closing each of these novels has the same effect on the brain as a day at the beach has on the eyes — the indelible "lights bursting," as Sagan put it, are left floating inside our heads.

Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.

Books Featured In This Story

The Informers
The Informers

by Bret Easton Ellis and Edward Kastenmeier

Paperback, 225 pages | purchase

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  • The Informers
  • Bret Easton Ellis and Edward Kastenmeier
Bonjour Tristesse
Bonjour Tristesse

by Francoise Sagan, Diane Johnson and Irene Ash

Paperback, 17 pages | purchase

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  • Bonjour Tristesse
  • Francoise Sagan, Diane Johnson, et al
Impossible Vacation
Impossible Vacation

by Spalding Gray

Paperback, 228 pages | purchase

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  • Impossible Vacation
  • Spalding Gray

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