GUY RAZ, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
Today we're launching a brand new series on books here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. It's called Three Books. We're inviting writers to recommend three great reads on a single theme. This Memorial Day weekend author Sloane Crosley will start off the series and the summer reading season with three beach books that are all set on, you guessed it, the beach.
Ms. SLOANE CROSLEY (Author, "I Was Told There'd Be Cake"): Everyone knows you're not supposed to read "War and Peace" while sipping a Pina Colada under a beach umbrella. But what makes a perfect beach book if you are the kind of person who gravitates towards the literary? Books with beach and sun, literal beach reads, with miles of shoreline, like Bret Easton Ellis's "The Informers," that opens like this: Bruce calls me, stoned and sunburned from Los Angeles. Out of all of Ellis's novels, this one always struck me as the most beachy; the patently familiar celebrity brand names take a backseat to the descriptions of pools and Jacuzzis, of sunglasses and suntan lotion.
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. Though in terms of ocean-front imagination property, it has nothing on Francois Sagan's "Bonjour Tristesse." Ninety-nine percent of this book takes place on the Mediterranean, with the exception of the 1 percent that takes place 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. Our heroine, Cecile, is severely judgmental of a woman who doesn't tan well. But when this same woman is jilted by Cecile's father, Cecile 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.
Between the shorelines 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, her mental health deteriorates, but as the narrator puts it she was the best she ever was when she was at the beach.
The beach represents the ideal, be it the fantasy of Bali or the childhood reality of Narragansett Bay. 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.
RAZ: Sloane Crosley is the author of "I Was Told There'd Be Cake." You'll find details on these three books and recommendations for many more summer reads on our Web site; go to npr.org/books.