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Beach Reads with Non-Readers

Updated: May 8

By NB Youth Ambassador Katherine Barbour

The day was idyllic. It was midafternoon and my three best friends and I were sprawled on a beach in the corner of Florida. Birds dove headfirst into the indigo waves searching for salt and meat and bone. A group of elderly friends sat in a pleasant circle of foldable chairs, laughing and squinting against the sun. Their skins were bronzed into deep leathers, tanned and rough from lives spent next to the sea. A father waded out in the waves at about thigh height, he held his son by his armpits and kept his head above water. He was covered in large swirls of ink; the word VALOR was carved in bold font along his Adam's apple. He pressed his smile into his son’s curls who shrieked delightfully as another swell made its way towards them. I was reading a collection of travel essays by Mark Anthony Jarman that I was meant to review. As Jarman recounted a time when he saw a woman fall from a building in Shanghai, I watched a man with a powered paraglider languidly fly over us like a cloud eclipsing the sun.

My group was quiet, not solemn but I felt a holy sort of hush fall over us as it had every day as we settled into our chairs, books in our hands. The four of us had done this vacation before. Like before, we stayed at Brielle’s father’s house in St. Augustine and planned for 10 days of doing absolutely nothing to celebrate the end of another school term.

While my three friends all study different forms of science, I am the only English major among us. Last year, I had packed 5 books to take with me, not believing I could read them all in 10 days but wanting variety and for the sheer fact that I had extra room in my carry-on, and it felt wrong to leave that space empty. One by one each of my friends picked up a book, and then another and another. They were ravenous for it. Though I’ve long grown accustomed to my yearning for books, they approached the endeavor new and fresh, like tourists stumbling upon pizza in Naples— and they gorged themselves on it. None of us had international phone plans and so we all relished spending our days reading by the community pool or next to the ocean instead of being drawn to our phones. The only times we set down our books were to cool off in the water or to snack on melting, pink cubes of watermelon.

While their newfound love of reading last year was a surprise, this year it was planned and glorious. Nothing is more thrilling as a reader than seeing your non-reader friends get excited about books. Before the trip, I filled them with recommendations, handpicked their books at the bookstore, and gave up precious space in my luggage on my way home from university to give them copies of my favourite romance novels. As we boarded the direct flight from Moncton to Orlando, we took with us a total of 12 books to be shared. On the plane ride over I told my friends about how a popular book had a hilarious fake being sold on Amazon titled “Hoppy Placy.” We laughed so hard, the delirious kind of laughing that comes from waking up at 3am for a flight.

While I tried to read varying genres of books, they all stuck to steamy romance novels. They traded back and forth some mainstream authors, while I tried to spice up my own genres.

One day, lounging on the hot sand, books held aloft to block the sun, and toes wiggling in the sand during particularly heated scenes, Frances broke the silence when her book approached what I know is called the “Third-Act Breakup.”

“Oh my god, this book is so annoying! Why can’t they just be together!” She viciously shut her navy book cover and stood, crossing the distance of sand till she met water. I was reading a heavier, historical fiction and had to brush away tears before looking up at her. The three of us, having already read her book days before, came alight in her absence.

“Okay, now that she’s gone, we can talk about the book.”

This became our new ritual. Weighing who was and was not in hearing distance, what books and which parts could be discussed. What part are you at? What did you think of the end? Which book do you like better? Oh my god, the hospital scene! All trip long, we squirmed in our beach chairs, wanting to gush about characters or moments but had to hold it in so as not to spoil the book for the next person.

The UV was always scorching, the beach minutes away, and the taco shop of our dreams was just around the corner— it was paradise, pure vacation. At every shiny moment on the trip, we declared it our Hoppy Placy. But the constant reading, sharing the parts of books we hated and loved, crying on the sand as characters died suddenly… it was all my Hoppy Placy.

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