There’s a different, if not precisely definable, rhythm to summer.
Salads and lighter entrees prepared on backyard grills replace heavy stews and he-man portions. Sweaters and jackets, and even shoes and socks, disappear to be replaced by T-shirts, shorts and sandals.
And when avid readers settle in with a good book during the oppressive thick of a Southern Nevada summer, they may well find themselves substituting for the brain-busting literary fiction and heavy-duty nonfiction they read during the rest of the year literature of a lighter, breezier sort.
That’s the notion, anyway, one that has given birth to the informal, beloved, boundary-slippery literary genre known variously as the summer read, the beach read or the vacation read.
But it makes sense, says Las Vegas novelist Deborah Coonts, whose latest book, “Lucky Bastard” — the fourth in her series of comedic mysteries featuring Lucky O’Toole, beleaguered troubleshooting executive at a fictional Las Vegas megaresort — was released last week, just in time for the summer reading season.
“I think, in winter, people are going to dark places and reading more literary books. They’re willing to take on a darker story,” Coonts says.
But during the summer, days are longer, the kids are out of school, vacations loom, the poolside chaise replaces the La-Z-Boy and we begin looking for books that are, well, a bit more fun.
During the summer, “we give ourselves a little bit of license, if you will, to try something that’s just silly and fun as opposed to important,” Coonts says. “And it’s OK to do that in the summer, because nobody’s feeling important in the summer.”
Summer books aren’t really very different from summer movies, Coonts adds. “I mean every movie this summer has superheroes, and it’s all about hope and redemption and good guys thwarting evil and saving the world.”
Summer books “are the opposite of message books,” she says. “They’re fun adventures. And I think, to me, they have a happy ending. Nothing horrid happens to anybody and you can just enjoy it. It’s a wonderful romp, is what it is.”
Henderson novelist Robyn Carr would agree. Summer reads, says Carr — the second and third volumes in her new Thunder Point series of contemporary romances will be released in June and August — “actually should be called ‘vacation reads,’ and I think it’s because they’re quick reads, and ‘quick’ is defined differently for every single reader.”
A summer read “takes you far away and allows you to completely relax,” Carr says, serving as the literary version of “chocolate fudge. They are pure indulgences.
“It could be suspense, it could be romance, it could be a thriller, it could be historical. But what it is to the reader is fun.”
For publishers, the catchall rubrics of summer reads or beach reads also serve as marketing tools.
“It’s still a marketing category, clearly, because books are marketed, ‘great for summer reads’ and things like that,” notes Felicia Campbell, an English professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Book bloggers and reviewers also find the phrases useful as jumping-off points for “giving themselves something different to say,” she says.
However, Campbell doesn’t, as far as her own reading habits go, put much stock in the notion of reserving certain types of books for summer. That, she explains, is because “I’m kind of a greedy reader, and if I get something I think is going to be really good, I can’t stand to save it.
“I’m a great fan of mysteries and detective (novels) and espionage, all of those things, and I read them year-around. I can’t think of anything I read only in the summer.”
Myrna Donato, co-owner of Amber Unicorn Books, 2101 S. Decatur Blvd., does have customers stop in to pick up books to read during vacations or summertime downtimes.
“Normally, they’ll want something that’s extremely light,” she says, so that “they read it and they don’t have to think about it. The can forget about it after they’ve read it.”
Linda Piediscalzi, owner of Dead Poet Books, 937 S. Rainbow Blvd., suspects her customers also do more “light reading” during the summer.
“I don’t know, there’s something different about (having) more daylight,” she says. “When the weather tends to be gloomy, you might want to curl up with a classic.”
However, Piediscalzi adds, “I don’t hear people coming in saying, ‘Have you got a good book to read this summer?’ And that used to be what they wanted: What was a good (summer) book?”
But it could be that the most salient characteristic of a summer read lies not in the read but in the reader.
“I think summer reading means you read what you want. It’s not what you have to read,” says Christine Britsch, director of collection development and bibliographic services for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.
“During the rest of the year when you’re not on vacation, you have to read for your job or school or whatever. But when you’re at the beach or in an airplane, you can just kick back and read what you want.”
For some readers, summer is a time to revisit a favorite author or book, or sample a new genre or, even, to check out a book one would be embarrassed to read at other times of the year.
“I think people are more open in summer and less concerned about what other people think they’re reading,” Coonts says. “So, it’s fine to pick up some sort of silly chick-lit book and take it to the beach because everybody gets that. But take it into Starbucks in October, when you should be reading ‘Life After Life’ or something, and (people) can be snooty about it.”
Yet, says Kathy Pennell, North Las Vegas Library District director, “what I see in general from people who come into the library is, most people who enjoy a specific kind of book enjoy that all year around. If they like mysteries, they don’t necessarily change to something like romance for the summer.”
Gayle Hornaday, assistant director of Henderson Libraries, says many summertime readers do seem “kind of reluctant to just pick up a book and try it.”
So what’ll be this summer’s hottest beach read? The consensus pick seems to be “Inferno” by Dan Brown, the fourth installment in the series that began with “The Da Vinci Code” and which was (surprise!) released just in time for the Memorial Day weekend summertime kickoff.
Donato also expects to see students shopping in her store this summer searching for books on their summer reading lists. And, thanks to the glitzy new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, “the hottest rage right now is ‘The Great Gatsby.’ If I had 10 copies, they’d be gone in five minutes.”
For readers who do buy into the notion of summer reads, summertime favorites of years past even can evoke a warm sense of nostalgia. Piediscalzi, for instance, counts among her all-time favorite summer reads “all of the Black Beauties and Nancy Drews.”
Then there was that summer when Piediscalzi was 12 and her parentally nonsanctioned summer read was Kathleen Winsor’s “Forever Amber,” which was racy enough to be banned in several states after its release in 1944.
“It was all about a courtesan, and I needed to find out what that was,” Piediscalzi says. “And it was so important to me to read this book. I used to go up in my attic and read, but my mother thought I was outside playing.”
Until, she says, “I got caught.”
Piediscalzi’s mom “confiscated it,” she recalls, “and I got this huge lecture.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.