The term “beach reading” has only been popular since the 1990s, when publishers started to use it to market light summer reading. But the tradition of summer reading is much older: it dates back to the early 19th century.

In his immersive article, Julian Novitz quotes Fran Leibowitz: “I have no guilty pleasures because pleasure never makes me feel guilty.” This should be our attitude to recreational reading all the time, he says – but the summer beach read is our best opportunity to embrace it.

What are you planning for your summer reading this year? Will you catch up on a classic? Dive into a thriller or romance? Both options would fit tradition. Summer reading began as a refined pastime: according to one early writer, the volumes of Lord Byron epitomised “perfect” summer reading. By the 1870s, though, American publishers were capitalising on a popular trend for “sensationalist, diverting fictions” to accompany summer travel.

Novitz says the best beach reads can be chance encounters: his copy of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, picked up from a backpackers’ in 1999, is now falling apart from repeated re-reads. One of my very favourite books is a library book I took a chance on during a summer visit to my childhood home: Barbara Trapido’s literary romp, Brother of the More Famous Jack.

Whatever you choose as your personal beach read, kicking back by the water with a book is a great way to release yourself from the stresses of the year.

Jo Case

Deputy Books + Ideas Editor

Melodramatic potboilers, worthy classics and DIY escapism: a brief history of the beach read

Julian Novitz, Swinburne University of Technology

Summer reading is a byword for light escapism – but it can mean anything, from catching up on the classics to a new romance novel. Julian Novitz travels to the 19th century to trace its evolution.

When we swim in the ocean, we enter another animal’s home. Here’s how to keep us all safe

Rebecca Olive, RMIT University

Swimming and surfing in the ocean is fun and invigorating. But sharing the water with animals comes with risks to us and them.

MMP in New Zealand turns 30 at this year’s election – a work in progress, but still a birthday worth celebrating

Richard Shaw, Massey University

It was the first time in a Westminster democracy that citizens were given the chance to change their electoral system. The rest is history.

Why do people tailgate? A psychologist explains what’s behind this common (and annoying) driving habit

Amanda Stephens, Monash University

It’s the holidays and for many of us, that means driving. Here’s how to keep your cool on the road this summer.

Discovering the ‘honeypot’: the surprising way restricting immigration can turn out to hurt the working poor

Dean Hoi, The University of Melbourne

A new historical study looking at migration into the US suggests restricting low-skilled immigration boosts low-skilled wages in the short term – but ends up hurting local workers’ wages longer-term.

What makes kids want to drop out of sport, and how should parents respond?

Cassy Dittman, CQUniversity Australia

One longitudinal Australian study found children who drop out of sport between eight and ten years are at greater risk for social and emotional problems compared to those who continue in sport.

The rich history of our love affair with luxury

Peter McNeil, University of Technology Sydney

What is considered ‘luxury’ is different now to what it was in ancient times – but it’s always about conspicuous displays of wealth and consumption.

Green streets: why protecting urban parks and bush is vital as our cities grow and become denser

Elizabeth Elliot Noe, Lincoln University, New Zealand; Ottilie Stolte, University of Waikato

Urban green spaces are threatened by growing cities. But research shows the importance of protecting access to nature as housing densification increases.


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