It’s officially summer, which means book lovers are on the hunt for beach reads.
I myself was recently looking for a good book to read on our family beach vacation.
A visit to Sundial Books in Chincoteague, Va. has become an annual tradition for me. It features a great selection of new and used books — and a giant framed poster advertising Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s upcoming album “Born to Run.”
The thing is, my choice in beach reads is, well, a little different.
Sure, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of beach reads about lawyer’s saving wrongfully accused clients from the police or the mob or drifter Jack Reacher rescuing somebody from a villain more shadowy than himself.
“Beach reads,” “airport books” — call them what you will. They are enjoyable escapism.
But what I really look for every year is a book that is, simply put, weird. And I’m not talking about weird in the sense of an alien invasion or a sea monster discovered off a small coastal town.
How about an amnesiac wakes up to find he is being pursued by a “conceptual shark” trying to eat his memories or his very existence or something like that?
Here’s another: A ship that includes prisoners whose punishments include surgical alterations is forced by pirates to a floating city and then sets sail on a voyage to some sort of rip in space time, I think.
Any interest in a two-volume epic about the Trojan War being refought on Mars may be in the distant future or in some parallel universe or something?
These were all great weird beach reads I found in Chincoteague: “The Raw Shark Texts” by Steven Hall, “The Scar” by China Miéville and the “Ilium/Olympos” books by Dan Simmons.
When I return from the bookstore beaming with pride over my latest weird find, I often am asked how I end up settling on any of these books.
Do I recognize the author? Sometimes, but it is hardly a deciding factor.
Finding a great beach read along these lines takes time and patience. You can’t rush it.
I almost walked out last week with an interesting sounding book about first contact with aliens via a lawyer. That sounds promising doesn’t it?
But I flipped through the book and found a Kato Kaelin joke. I knew with just that line it would not be the one for me. That just isn’t weird enough.
No, what I am looking for is a book that sounds, quite frankly, bananas.
How could I ever put back on the shelf a novel that involves Achilles on Mars? And I’m talking about sword-and-sandal Achilles, not an Achilles stand-in with a space suit with a laser rifle. Even knowing that it is a two-volume series with each book clocking in at more than 700 pages, that is just the kind of premise that I can’t pass up.
I want a beach read that I know if I were to put it back on the shelf of that bookstore, I may never find it again. What does the author even mean by a “conceptual shark”? Would that be a viable search engine term in trying to find a copy of “The Raw Shark Texts” online because I know I won’t remember the name?
I love used bookstores for this very reason. Sure, they have all the John Grishams and Lee Childs.
But buried within those stacks is the gold to be found in a great weird read, maybe a recent book, maybe a dime-store paperback from 1971 — who knows?
I’ve walked up to the counter at the Bookplate in Chestertown with such finds — buried so deeply in the shelves they didn’t even know they had them.
Beyond the crazy story lines, what really grabs me is the imagination at play. To see whole worlds built and our laws of nature replaced, those impressive flights of fantasy are what makes a great escapist read for me.
Daniel Divilio is the editor of the Kent County News. Email him at ddivilio@the