Henry Holt and Company, 2001
maybe it's not what most people mean by "summer beach reading."
Van Steenwyk explores the social history of the beach from
ancient cultures to the present, but Let's Go to the Beach
leaves something to be desired. Mostly she concentrates on
the role of the beach as a place to spend leisure time, and
the aspects she has chosen to emphasize at the expense of
others seem uneven and subjective.
Van Steenwyk could not possibly cover everything in a single,
short book, but there are notable absences. Disappointingly,
she misses several opportunities to discuss in greater detail
the plant and animal life of beaches. She never mentions lighthouses,
another prominent and popular feature of the beach landscape.
Snorkeling (one of her chances to discuss marine life) is
passed over in favor of showier activities such as surfing,
volleyball or body building.
also has a frustrating tendency not to explain her points
fully. A paragraph devoted to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair,
for instance, fails to describe just why the Midway
there changed society's thinking about leisure time. And if
Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived
at the Pacific Ocean in 1805, is the "second most important
beach in our nation's history," what beach is most important?
Elsewhere she coyly teases. She asks the question "How
many know what ooid sand is?" but gives no answer. And
why couldn't those young ladies in the early Miss America
pageants eat pickles? Van Steenwyk does not say.
history and evolution of the bathing suit is pretty well covered,
as is the development of highly commercialized beach attractions
like Coney Island or the Atlantic City boardwalk.
book is amply illustrated in black and white, but here again
demonstrates odd choices. The fourth-century Roman mosaic
showing women in bikini-like outfits is fascinating, and vintage
postcards of sea and beach scenes are doubly appropriate.
On the other hand, the portrait of Martha Washington is of
dubious beach significance. And do we really need three --
count 'em -- photographs of Pudgy Stockton at Muscle Beach?
At least she tells us who Pudgy Stockton is.
jacket image used courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.
by Wendy Morris. © 2001
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