Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Seasonality of Books

In this time of summer reading lists, I've been thinking about the seasonality of books. Are books really seasonal, and, if so, what makes a book a good "summer read"? Or are the seasons exploited by publishers and booksellers as merely another way to market books?

I starting thinking about these questions when I ran across a recent advertisement in an electronic newsletter geared towards booksellers marketing Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else (by all accounts, a great book) as "The Perfect Summer Read." This novel is about an actual historical figure--inventor Nikola Tesla--and his unlikely friendship with a young chambermaid in a New York hotel. There is nothing particularly summery about this book. In apparent recognition of this fact, the original hardcover edition was published in February 2008, and the more recent paperback edition was released in March of this year. In many parts of the world, February and March are decidely un-summery. The only reason I can see to market this paperback edition as a "summer read" is the fact that the calendar says it's June, almost July. The Invention of Everything Else may be the perfect summer read, but that's because it's a good book and not because it's somehow seasonal, like a ripe tomato or a dip in the ocean.


Anonymous said...

I think "summer read" began as a euphemism for "lightweight" but I believe you are correct; now it's just part of a general desperate marketing effort. When I was younger, and subject to a rather poor education, I used to think of summer as the time to dig into the so-called "great books" - all the thick and difficult classics of literature my school would never think to assign. Now I too use "summer" as a euphemism for lazy; to read forgettable quick-read mysteries instead of tackling something weightier. It's indeed intriguing how the *concept* of summer has come to stand for so many things besides the weather!

Lit and Life said...

I agree with rhapsodyinbooks, in that I believe "summer reads" were originally books that didn't take a lot of thought, so that you could take them to the pool and read while still watching your kids. Now I am more likely to read something that is a little heavier because I have more time in the summer without school activities.

My review of "The Invention of Everything Else" is at http://litandlife.blogspot.com/2009/05/invention-of-everything-else.html. I was really looking forward to it but was a little disappointed.

An Anonymous Child said...

I think summer reading takes on different meanings at different stages in life. Up until the end of school, summer reading means the books teachers assigned mixed with fun random books. Maybe the term evolved from that: once students began leaving school, all that was left was the randomness and the "light" literature. So that, instead, turned into summer reading.

Zibilee said...

I would have to categorize a summer read as something light and easy to read, like the other posters. I tend to think of chick-lit and other similar types of books as summer reading, whereas I would think that darker historicals, mystery and suspense would probably fit better into the winter reads category.

Dave said...

Publishers seem to be going overboard with the summer reading theme -- every other book that crosses my desk has "beach," "sand" or "summer" in the title.
I find that summer is actually a time to read more literary books, because I have more vacation time. I must run counter to the trend.