Ring Lardner, Chad Harbach, Barry Svrluga: Books Briefing

📚 The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst

Jesmyn Ward’s eerie, powerful uncovering of history

“[Ward] uses a haunting, magical-realist style to masterfully warp two of life’s most inflexible realities: time and death. Her book seems to ask whether a family or a nation can atone for inequities that remain well and alive.”

📚 Sing, Unburied, Sing,  by Jesmyn Ward

Why the Gulf Coast is uniquely vulnerable to disasters

“People don’t just find themselves in places vulnerable to flooding. They are pushed there by racial injustice, economic inequality, and short-term, profit-driven development practices.”

📚Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South, edited by Cindy Ermus

The chemist who thought he could harness hurricanes

“[Irving Langmuir] soon sketched out an idea so revolutionary that he abandoned every other project on his slate to pursue it. It promised not only to improve rainmaking but to give Langmuir the superhuman power to control hurricanes.”

📚 An excerpt from Caesar’s Last Breath,  by Sam Kean

The Reference Desk​

(New York Public Library)

This week’s question comes from Richard in North Carolina. He’s wondering why people would choose to read at the beach when they could do so at home—which got us wondering in turn about the specific appeal of outdoor reading and the origin of the “beach read.”

There’s no one reason why people enjoy reading outside, but a variety of factors throughout history may have shaped the habit. In the 18th and 19th centuries, reading in private was seen as morally suspect, while reading in public presumably left fewer opportunities for transgressive thoughts. The popularization of paperback books in the late 1930s made reading outside easier—even on the front lines of battle. According to the journalist Michelle Dean, the phrase beach read emerged in the 1990s, most likely as a catchy way for publicists to sell their new summer releases.

Reading while on vacation and/or reading outside has remained a popular choice for those who associate both reading and the outdoors with pleasure: I’d recommend Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as an interesting book to read outside.

Write to the Books Briefing team at booksbriefing@theatlantic.com or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Myles Poydras. He just bought The Yellow House, by Sarah Broom.

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