books · On Writing

Revitalizing Nuts and Bolts–or Beach Reads Reimagined

Summer brings respite

A change in daily routines

Nourishment profound


We’re already deep into hot weather, fierce thunderstorms, and longer daylight hours that characterize summer in Connecticut. School is out, older students shuffling wan and blank after final exams while little kids bounce, shriek, and dash into the ocean. However, summer is just begun. There are wonderful months ahead to savor just-picked blueberries, meander with the dog, throw together impromptu pies, laugh during late dinners eaten beneath the stars.

There are also books — so many wonderful books by authors I have read before and marvelous discoveries that I can’t wait to enjoy. Right now, I am reading the excellent Courtney Maum’s Touch, Gary Keller’s and Jay Papasan’s The One Thing, and Mary Simses’ The Rules of Love & Grammar. Coming up after these are Amy Ephron’s Loose Diamonds, Jeff Goins RealArtists Don’t Starve, Jamie Beck’s Before I Knew, Kyle Cease’s I Hope I Screw This Up, and Dan Blank’s Be the Gateway. Other enticing books await Adirondack chair reading, but this is my priority list for right now.

My own stories, articles, and novel are coming along very well, at least that’s the way that it’s working right now. While I don’t believe in a monolithic Writer Block that slams writers into blank pages and existential angst, there are certainly factors that thwart a writer. These blocks are the particular combination of emotional, physical, mental, spiritual challenge that will best baffle the writer and offer growth and development. Each writer must find their own way past their block and on to their next adventure. I use early morning walks, gardening, cooking new recipes, driving with no navigation to places I’ve never been, and countless other hands-on, fully involving activities that get me out of my head, away from the work, and into living life.

Of course, there is also reading. Reading books that are not in my usual swath of authors and genres intrigues, fascinates, and rewards. Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys delight. Children’s picture books such as the wonderful It’s a Book by Lane Smith yank me out of tangled plot lines and complicated characters to the pure essence of story, a single and mighty impact. Twisty mysteries set in Paris and Italy have me turning pages deep into the night.

When I was a teenager, I used to visit Wildwood, New Jersey, every summer with my best friend and her family. For a week, we would swim for hours in the ocean (except the year we saw Jaws at the movie theater and resisted going in very far), feast on delicious meals, play games, and ride bikes, returning home with happy faces, replete with exploits. During that week, I always found my way to the beautiful Wildwood public library, settled into my favorite armchair in front of the massive picture window facing the ocean, and read Jane Eyre.

That story yanked me out of my small-town suburban life and dropped me into a world of wild landscapes, treacherous society, and heartwrenching realities of a young woman struggling to live well. My friend preferred other stories, but we agreed upon the essential, life-giving powers of books.

Against threatening nubs of writer block, I keep a copy of Jane Eyre shelved beside It’s a Book. They are flanked by Ann Patchett’s What Now? and Anna Quindlen’s Being Perfect and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. I’ve read each of these books many times — and am forever grateful that I invested in hard cover copies so that they don’t fall apart when I need them most.

When someone talks about a beach read, it can be a disdainful condemnation of the story, implying that a person reading a book on a beach can’t manage a towel, sunscreen, and an engrossing, meaningful novel. For me, a beach read is anything that takes me out of my everyday life and into another world. A beach read is essential nourishment, a reminder of why I write and why I read.

So, to any nascent writer blockages thinking about bothering me, I hold up my old favorites along with my new wonderful reads. Now that the day is bright and it’s not too hot, I just may head to the beach with my reads…


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