Inventing the Beach Read appears in JSTOR Daily and is by Livia Gershon, a freelance writer in Nashua, New Hampshire.
“It’s the season for flopping on the beach with a romance novel or tucking a thriller into your carry-on bag. As English and Communications scholar Donna Harrington-Lueker writes, light reading has been associated with summer vacations for a long time.
“In the early 1800s, Harrington-Lueker writes, many well-to-do Americans began taking time off in the summer to travel by railroad or steamship to picturesque destinations like Niagara Falls or the Catskills. Within a century, the middle and even working classes were increasingly enjoying summer travel, even if it was just a day trip to the beach.
It didn’t take long for publishers to see an opportunity. In 1853, Boston’s Ticknor, Reed & Fields published A Book for the Sea-Side, a collection of ocean-themed poetry featuring work by Lord Alfred Tennyson, William Wordsworth, and others. In 1872, the Book Buyer, a trade journal from the Charles Scribner publishing house, ran its first ads for books explicitly labeled “summer reading.” Among the beach reads of the 1870s was Scribner’s own Bric-A-Brac series, gossipy stories about famous authors. In 1876, the Book Buyer reported that “‘Have you seen the new Bric-A-Brac’ was as common a question at Newport and Saratoga as ‘Shall you be at the hop [dance] tonight?’”
Soon, Harrington-Lueker reports, each summer brought a flurry of novels that were both literally and figuratively lightweight...”
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