Classic Beach Reads to Revisit

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“Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.” 
― Grace Metalious, Peyton Place

In 1956 the book that would spawn nine sequels, two movies, two television series and two made for television features came out and immediately shot to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List where it stayed for fifty-nine weeks.  The heady mix of lust, adultery, murder, incest and abortion set in the strait-laced New England town was an instant success, selling sixty thousand copies in the first ten days of its release.

Being regularly banned only helped secure its place as a guilty pleasure.  It has inspired everyone from Jacqueline Susann to John Waters.  Read it for the ‘good bits’ left out by the cleaned up film version, and because as Vanity Fair writer Michael Callahan puts it it’s “a cultural bitch slap at the duplicitous notions of proper conduct in the age of Eisenhower“.

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“I bet the pill is harder to get than drugs–which shows how screwed up this world really is!” 
― Beatrice Sparks, Go Ask Alice

Before your insta-chats and snap-webs, when phones were attached to walls and therefore couldn’t come to school with you, books like this were what got passed around at lunch time.  Published anonymously as the real diary of a TROUBLED fifteen-year old who falls in with a BAD CROWD and succumbs to DRUGS, Go Ask Alice was in fact penned by Mormon counsellor Beatrice Sparks.  Sparks published a whole slew of teenage diary books around issues like teen pregnancy, homelessness and eating disorders.  Read it for the nostalgia hit or if you’re parents just won’t stop yacking and listen to the kids for once, man.

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“Elaine Conti awoke in her luxurious bed in her luxurious Beverly Hills mansion, pressed a button to open the electrically controlled drapes, and was confronted by the sight of a young man clad in a white T-shirt and dirty jeans pissing a perfect arc into her mosaic-tiled swimming pool.”  ― Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives

Jackie Collins, sister of Joan and queen of the trash (novel) got her big break with her ninth book Hollywood Wives in 1983.  The book, which looks at the lives of Hollywood hostesses, stars and starlets has sold over fifteen million copies and was turned into the most successful mini series of the 80s by super producer Aaron Spelling.

Read it for the glitz, the sex and to try to figure out who the who the real life inspiration for the characters are!

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“Nothing is whole, not for too damned long. The world is half night.” 
― Peter Straub, Mystery
Mystery is the middle volume in Peter Straub’s weird Blue Rose trilogy, a thriller series that hovers somewhere between detective fiction and horror and is like nothing else you’ll read.  Despite being published as a trilogy the books are all stand alone works that cross paths only tangentially.  It came out in 1990, won the Bram Stoker Award in 1993, and continues be one of his most popular books.
Set on the Caribbean  island of Mill Pond, teenage sleuth Tom Pasmore investigates a historic murder case with the help of elderly neighbour and ex-celebrated detective Lamont von Heilitz.  At over five hundred pages Mystery is the perfect book to fill empty days at a bach with– just add a hammock and you’ve got the perfect holiday read.

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“There were shadows in the corners and whispers on the stairs and time was as irrelevant as honesty.” 
― V.C. Andrews, My Sweet Audrina

The only stand alone novel in V.C. Andrew’s oeuvre, My Sweet Audrina is an insane (even by her standards) mix of rape, hauntings, multiple falling-downstairs-accidents (in fact the same stairs), diabetes and brittle bone disease.  No, seriously.

Although many V.C. Andrews’ books were ghostwritten, this 1982 masterpiece of trashtastic madness is definitely from her own hand.  Her hugely popular books make the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ kind of redundant– just embrace the magic and go with it.

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“Helen Lawson: They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway. But Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way, I’ve got a man waiting for me.” 
― Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls

It’s no secret that we at Eclectic Ladyland love Valley of the Dolls.  And we are far from alone– the novel was the best-selling book of 1966 and has since sold over thirty-one million copies.  Jacqueline Susann wrote what she knew– a stage and television actress she filled her books with show bizz types so familiar many assumed the book to be a Roman à clef .

Valley of the Dolls follows three friends through the trials and tribulations of Broadway and Hollywood and their increasing dependence on speed and tranquillisers– the eponymous dolls.  The book was adapted for the big screen in 1967 and the resulting film starring Patty Duke, Susan Hayward and Sharon Tate helped seal its place as a cultural artefact of high camp.

Fun fact— Jacqueline Susann had met Grace Metalious, author of previous trash hit Peyton Place when the latter was interviewed for television by Mike Wallace.  Minutes before the interview Metalious’s girdle broke and Susann who was working in the studio apparently helped her out– although exactly we may never know!

 

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“Which one of you bitches is my mother?” 
― Shirley Conran, Lace

 

That is the line that confronts the three central characters of Lace— Shirley Conran’s 1982 scandalous classic.  Filled to the brim with sex, bitchiness, and female desire the book has remained extremely popular.  It was adapted into a fabulous mini-series (with Phoebe Cates) in 1984 and was re-issued on its thirtieth anniversary, at which time The Guardian described it as a “feminist bonkfest”.

Read it for the high-class bitchery and remember how much it actually celebrates female friendship and sexual agency.

As always– one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and what may be denounced as low-brow entertainment in one era, can be another era’s celebrated classic.  Don’t feel guilty in your pleasures– literary or otherwise– whether you’re lazing on a beach or wishing you were.  As Shirley Conran once said– “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” .

4 thoughts on “Classic Beach Reads to Revisit

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