Beach Read: Rosecrans Baldwin's Thoughts On The Genre

08/26/2010 02:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My first novel, "You Lost Me There," has been described as a beach read. Tough bracket, beach reads. There's not much room for mistakes when you're competing against the sun for a person's attention. But I hope my book lives up to the category. I hope my novel engrosses a reader so deeply this summer she burns to a crisp. Apologies to her if she's reading this.

I can't picture going to a beach, or anywhere on vacation, without a couple of books as companions. Novels are wickets for memory. One summer, when I was twenty, I drove cross-country with two friends and a pile of Don Delillo novels, and it's with "White Noise" that I remember camping in a Nebraska state park after we'd been chased around by two drunks in a Geo Tracker. Mao II saw me from a Christmas tree farm in San Luis Obispo to Berkeley's coffee shops, where I scribbled big ideas in small notebooks. At San Francisco's Coit Tower, I tried deciphering Ratner's "Star" and got a headache.

By remembering what I've read, my memories shimmer. Turgenev's "Fathers & Sons": the first time I read it was on a beach in western Italy, a two-hour ride from Florence. It melted my ideas about novels, which I'd thought were solid. The sand was extremely hot. In the adjacent campsite, two families were cooking lunch on camp stoves, and in the thicket, near some garbage cans, I recall a young couple becoming loudly impassioned, then quieting down, then getting loud again. And somehow Turgenev still held my attention.

"The Brothers Karamazov" means Crested Butte--a snowboard trip that lacked snow, providing lots of reading time. Tintin comics evoke Bermuda, where my parents doled out comics for good behavior and my grandmother taught me how to shuffle cards. Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens" accompanied me to Boy Scout Camp, and I remember meeting another boy there who'd also read it, loved it and could quote the jokes, and that meant a lot to me when I was homesick and lonely.

My ideal vacation isn't about complex maneuvers. I want to arrive somewhere foreign where I don't speak the language, go hiking, then plop down in a sunny square, have drinks, read a book, and see what happens. In Saul Bellow's "Ravelstein," the Allan Bloom doppelganger tells the Saul Bellow doppelganger, "Writers are supposed to make you laugh and cry. That's what mankind is looking for." I'm homebound this summer, but escape is found in "The True Deceiver" by Tove Jansson and Barry Hannah's "The Tennis Handsome." One moment I'm in a wintry Swedish soap opera, the next it's summer in Mississippi and people's sexual organs keep falling out of their pockets. It's terrific time well spent, and no sun block required.

One fall morning about ten years ago, some friends and I went to Hunter's "Beach on Mount Desert Island," in Maine. The beach was deserted. We took coffee and books down to the water (I brought Russell Banks's "Rule Of The Bone") and decided to go swimming. We went in naked and enjoyed the cold water for as long as possible. When my friends waded ashore to get dressed, I called them weak. Then a middle-school science class appeared from the forest, to study tidal pools. I tried not to offend anyone when I finally got out, but that memory could be wrong.

Rosecrans Baldwin's first novel, "You Lost Me There" (Riverhead Books), was published August 12. He is a co-founder of the online magazine The Morning News.