Emma Straub released The Vacationers just in time for everyone to pick up the hardback (or download the eBook) and carry it to the beach. Critics immediate embraced the book as this years beach read–something I’m generally completely disinterested in–but simultaneously became NPR’s summer darling–needless to say I was sold.
The book was wonderful and refreshing, fun look at a New York family–full of self delusion–and their vacation to an island off of Spain. While there were hefty issues–children coming of age, cheating, divorce, the American Dream, sex, leaving the lest–the tone of the book somehow always stayed lighthearted. That could be attributed to the attitude of the main-ish character, Sylvia Post, who is on her way to college after the summer and sees a lot of the things around her as passing mirages. The book wasn’t from Sylvia’s perspective, but it seemed that she led the tone and was, to me, the only sympathetic character.
I read a lot of the book in the rain, finished it before I ever left for the beach, and thought the tone of the book was a little melancholy but for some reason it still resonated as a summer read. That made me wonder a lot about what makes media “summer media.”
Luckily, Pop Culture Happy Hour (which if you aren’t aware of you should acquaint yourself) had an episode debating the merits of summer media. Besides its release date, the panel mostly agreed summer media must be fairly mindless and massively consumable.
The Vacationers isn’t mindless, but it is smart while being incredibly accessible and relatable. No particular group of people could be targeted as readers since the different characters can be related to by some group, or another, and the setting is relatable but completely detached.
I would argue the biggest aspect of summer media is its shimmery quality. Think about the best summer music. It is always full of delays and chorus effects, big harmonies and relatable but completely detached lyrics. Think about the band Rogue Wave, or the Porches record I wrote about last month.
There is a mirage quality to summer media in my mind. Something temporary. Summer blockbusters are always bigger than life–there is no reality; they’re fleeting.
The shimmery quality makes summer media refreshing and light. A pallet cleanser for the winter when Homeland is back on TV, Jon Krakauer puts out a new book or you decide to pick up C.S. Lewis.
So go find a summer read, you still have a month left. Find something comfortable and enjoyable–like a pair of cutoff blue jeans–something fleeting and detached. Don’t feel guilty about reading escape fiction in between your heavier consumptions, and if you need a summer read with a little more meat in it, pick up The Vacationers.