Thursday, July 16, 2009

Six great beach reads

1. The Beaches are Moving by Wallace Kaufman and Orrin H. Pilkey Jr. This classic work on the natural mutability of shorelines and our crazy efforts -- largely by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers -- to "manage" their shifting sands is a passionate and urgent piece of science writing, in the mode of Rachel Carson. Despite ample warning, humans continue to build on barrier islands, resulting in massive property damage each time a storm comes in to move the beaches. This was essential environmental reading growing up on that big sand bar called Long Island. I read it in the original hardcover Anchor Press edition. It is now available from Duke University Press.

The Primal Place by Robert Finch. A year on Cape Cod by one of our great nature writers, published in 1983 by Norton. Natural history is human history, the history of a place in which we interact with everything around us, to make a world. Finch knows this and records how that interaction plays out in the ever-changing environment of the Cape. Brilliant anecdotes, marvelous portraits of men and animals, yet nothing sentimental, this lovely book is a great evocation of a moving beach. And, of course, it harkens back to Thoreau's Cape Cod.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. A masterpiece of military history, this is the essential book about the Allied invasion of mainland Europe on Normandy Beach, June 6, 1944. Vivid, epic, and almost breathlessly suspenseful, this 1959 publication has not been surpassed, in book or film.

The Sea by John Banville. The beach is a place where Banville's protagonist Max goes to remember, to reconstruct his life, the place where his clotted life comes undone, where the sea can shrug or lift him up. But it cannot give him consolation. Banville is one of our greats -- who can forget The Book of Evidence or The Untouchable? -- and The Sea is one of his finest acts of fiction.

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow. The best California surfer crime novel ever. Pure entertainment from a writer who always delivers, populated with tough dudes, curvy babes, and enough San Diego County loonies to populate at least a couple of Elmore Leonard novels. Someday Winslow, who has waxed his board to a high sheen, will ride the big one into Hollywood. These days, I dig him in glorious black-and-white, between paperback covers.

A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A slim volume of poetry that has likely had more impact on American literature than whole libraries of Big Fat Serious Tomes. Light, jazzy, beat, of course, impressionistic, adolescent, very much a product of its time, yet still in print and still read after 51 years. After all, that's what the mind is, isn't it? Coney Island, baby.

1 comment:

  1. I'll be checking out "A Coney Island of the Mind" very soon. Thanks for the suggestion!