By the Book: Head to the beach with a great book

There aren’t too many things more pleasant than sitting on the beach reading a book. It could be a Mary Higgins Clark or a John Sanford “Prey” book; it could be Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.” It could even be a two-pound edition of “Crime and Punishment” in the original Russian. But it’s a book, and you’re at peace with the world.

I never fully understood how this smallish object, a thing you can hold in one hand, can capture you and sit you down for hours, even days, at a time. From “Jerry Todd and the Secret Letter” to “From Here to Eternity,” from “Beau Geste” to “The Poisonwood Bible” — hooked by someone else’s words in a made-up story. But Hallelujah!
I gravitate toward fiction. I don’t generally do serious, preferring to escape into adventure or crime or romance or sticky situations or silliness or, or, or … I can’t imagine how many books I’ve read but it’s certainly someplace up in the thousands.

People ask me what my all-time favorites are. Surely “The Killer Angels” would be up there and “Mutiny on the Bounty” (my first “grown-up” book, in the summer of 1943, right out here at my grandfather’s house on Nassau Point). “Gone With the Wind,” with the daring (then) “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” People gasped. “The Caine Mutiny,” definitely. “The Odyssey.” A Nero Wolfe. “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Here are several random titles that would fit right into a beach bag. Some are old, some new, some are extraordinary, some are no doubt trash (let’s hear it for trash!). All you need is a beach chair, a cold can of something and the ability to doze off and wake up with your finger still holding your place.

• “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (John Irving)
• “TransAtlantic” (Colum McCann)
• The Elena Ferrante trilogy (C’mon, you have three months.)
• “A God in Ruins” (Kate Atkinson)
• “A Death in the Family” (James Agee)
• Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on World War II in Europe (OK, so you might need some of October, too.)
• Any Elmore Leonard

These are books from over several years — maybe you weren’t aware of some, maybe you just plain missed one or two and are catching up. And who knows, maybe you’ll say, “Yeah, I remember that one,” pick it up and read it again.

We have wonderful libraries out here on the North Fork, all staffed with outstanding people. If they don’t have the book you want, they’ll get it for you in a day or two. We have stores that stock cold cans of whatever. I assume you have a beach chair, but if you don’t, well, I’m guessing you have a towel. And you have roughly 100 days to read one or two or even three books. And I don’t want to hear “I’m not much of a reader.” Become much of a reader. It’s not like walking on hot coals.

And actually, no one asked me what my favorite books were. It just seemed a good sentence to stick in this particular column.

Jerry CaseJerry Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at [email protected].