Holiday Beach Reading in Brazil? Why Bother?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

After visiting Brazil over the holidays, I wondered, when it comes to beach reading in such a beautiful place, why bother?

Editorial by Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives

Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives

This past holiday season I spent a few days visiting Florianopolis, Brazil (aka Floripa) — a place renown for its surf beaches, tiny bikinis and people so beautiful that they “make the Cariocas in Rio look ugly,” as our Brazilian correspondent and PublishNews colleague Carlo Carrenho informed me.

Maybe it was the persistent rain that affected my mood, but I found the resulting experience a bit underwhelming: the surfers were few and far between, the bikinis are, while smaller, also “one-size-fits all,” — which results in some surprisingly super-sized bodies wearing surprisingly tiny bikinis — and the people, well, they were beautiful in a way that took body consciousness to a high level. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time in Los Angeles or Miami, but the “superhero” physique on men — shoulders twice the size of the waist — just looks odd, much in the same way over-inflated fake-breasts on women can look absolutely alien.

Don’t get me wrong: the beaches in Floripa are stunning and the people are indeed eye-catching. And I’m sure if it weren’t the few days before Christmas that I was there, they would have been teeming with a wider variety of life. Even so, Brazilian beaches offer plenty of tantalizing amenities. You hire a beach chair and an umbrella from an attendant, who will bring you drinks — beer, caipirinhas — and serve you food from a menu. Vendors work the beach selling everything from sarongs to fresh cheese grilled and served on skewers (which is delicious, by the way). And, they are non-invasive, unlike the beaches in, say, Mexico.

Blood Drenched BeardAs for beach reading, that is something I didn’t see much of in Brazil. The few books I saw on display were in the hands of a pair of French visitors — one reading a slim Patrick Modiano novel, the other reading a novel by Porto Allegre’ author Daniel Galera (whose novel Blood Drenched Beard has just been released in an English translation by Penguin Press).

Nearly everyone else on the beach had a cell phone in their hands, when they weren’t catching the intermittent rays of sun (which was still strong enough to leave me with a serious burn on my feet and face, where I forgot to apply sunscreen) — and who knows, maybe they were reading ebooks? But I doubt it: Brazilians are mad for social media and it’s not uncommon to sit through an entire meal and sit will your Brazilian table-mate only looks up from their phone to take in a few bits of food or sips of beer. They might, though, include you in one of their numerous “selfies.” (Again, I know, it’s the company you keep!)

Me, I was the nerd reading The Atlantic and The Economist, opting not to commit to the paperback edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude I had errantly stuffed in my bag. I was in the mood for “SF” — absurdly rationalizing Marquez was a good literary stretch of the genre — but instead I did finish reading The Forever War by Joe Halderman (great…happy to have finally gotten to it!) and, later, Meghan Daum’s recent essay collection The Unspeakable (excellent and highly recommended). But both of these I read on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 — when I wasn’t on social media or snapping my own selfies and before I got so burnt I could pass for someone in a perpetual state of embarrassment (which I was).

I did visit one Floripa beach which had — surprise — a vendor selling used books. There was a selection of perhaps two dozen mangled paperbacks on offer next to the sunscreen and soft drinks. And though Brazilian mega book chain Saraiva released its own proprietary e-reader this year, the Lev, I didn’t see a single one in use nor a Kobo, Kindle, or any other e-reading device.

Returning to Rio on Christmas day and venturing into the shopping district of LeBlon offered an entirely different perspective on the Brazilian book scene: like Paris, there seemed to be an small independent shop selling books every other street — the most notable being the highly-regarded Livraria da Travessa. Stopping in to visit Livraria Argumento, I was reminded just how sophisticated and multi-lingual Brazil’s bookselling business really is: among the selection of local titles were piles of imported books, in English, French, Spanish, German…even Japanese. And among those titles I spotted on sale was Parisian Cats, co-authored by our Paris-based correspondent Olivia Snaije. (Bravo, Olivia!)

Of course, the beaches are also one of the attractions of Rio as well. So the next day, with the skies clear and the temperature topping 90s, I headed to Ipanema — naturally, after trying on and rejecting the purchase of a Brazilian sunga for myself.  I found the scene there far more frenetic than Floripa. Rio is famous, among other things, for its New Year’s Eve celebrations, which draws more than a million people to the city’s beaches, dressed in white, where they party till dawn and beyond. And the city seemed to be getting an early start: the beach was thronged with bodies, thousands deep, taking in the sun and — more than likely — collecting their wits after holidays spent with the family. It was so busy, and so festive, that our beach vendor ran out of limes for caipirinhas and tried to concoct a substitute out of tangerines (stick to the limes…trust me).

Still, I saw no books.

And the fact is: when you have so much natural beauty to sightsee, when it comes to reading books, and your brain is half-melted from the heat, why bother? You might as well save them for the bed and bath. That, I suspect, is where you might find a Brazilian reading during the holidays.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.