There’s a reason Emily Henry’s Beach Read is consistently a best seller, and it has nothing to do with any of the covers. I also wouldn’t say it has anything to do with BookTok! or BookStagram!, but it’s about why this novel is always one to recommend for those just finding their footing in the genre. As someone who often read historical romances or fantasies, I couldn’t get into contemporary romance until diving into Beach Read. Still, that’s not what this article is about. Why is it that this book hits so hard, feels so personal, and shakes so many of us to our core when our lives don’t closely represent the heroine’s life?
My favorite quote in this book struck me immediately. I wept the moment I read it, thinking I wish I had written this myself, which sometimes can be the best compliment. Because ultimately, what feeling is better than reading something that puts all the pieces you’re searching for together with raw, jagged edges that seamlessly blend into a breathtaking mosaic? Nothing. And Emily Henry’s Beach Read essentially brings to life the importance of the romance genre and a specific style of writing beautifully.
“When you love someone,” he said haltingly, “…you want to make this world look different for them. To give all the ugly stuff meaning, and amplify the good. That’s what you do for your readers. For me. You make beautiful things because you love the world, and maybe the world doesn’t always look how it does in your books, but…I think putting them out there, that changes the world a little bit. And the world can’t afford to lose that.”Gus to January in Emily Henry’s Beach Read
We’re all rightfully romanticizing Augustus “Gus” Everett throughout this book, and while many moments deserve praises, these are the words that have always stuck with me. Gus not only sees everything about January that makes her beautiful, but he sees the purpose of her writing and understands the importance of her vision, not as someone who loves her but as a mere human desperately searching for something bigger. In truth, it’s a human instinct to want to give the ugly stuff meaning. No one romanticizes the idea of death, but to cope with the waves of grief, we find ways to add flowers to the grass, hoping that some kind of healing meets us halfway without our sadness consuming us.
People often ask writers why we write. The answers vary for the most part, but for many of us, we write because we don’t know how not to. We write because the thoughts are so overwhelming at times that none of us wants to know what will happen if we keep them all bottled up inside. But it’s also about how we write and why. Why do we write romance novels and not dark tragedies? Why do my reviews focus so heavily on the best (or perhaps more vulnerable) parts of something than the things I didn’t like? I can only answer this question for myself, but in truth, the quote sums it all up perfectly. We want to give meaning to the things we don’t quite yet understand, but we’re hoping to find somewhere along the way. We want to find a way to bring the beauty in something (or someone) to the surface and share it with the rest of the world because the feelings are so overwhelming that we have to share them.
I wept through this entire chapter in Emily Henry’s Beach Read, if I’m being honest, but I fully lost it when Gus told January, “I’ve always admired that. The way your writing always makes the world seem brighter and the people a little braver.” Because that’s what all of this is truly about—how we’re hoping the world can be. No romance writer sincerely believes that the world is rainbows and butterflies, and frankly, no one ever writes it that way despite how quickly people are willing to dismiss it. But we hold onto this fraction of hope that the essence we’ll find in quiet moments will bring beauty and depth to the heartaches while showcasing a person’s bravery through the perils they’re living through.
There’s a beat in every writer’s life where words don’t seem to do anything justice—where, like January, we find ourselves questioning our tone and style because the world is trying to convince us that our view is somehow so rose-colored that there’s no way any of it can be “realistic.” However, people don’t want to wallow or marinate in darkness forever. No one wants to stay in their grief even as they’re holding on to someone they love more than anything. We don’t want to torture ourselves by remembering terrible things when we could potentially focus on brighter paths and healing while carrying the moments that shaped us. And to find meaning in the ugly stuff, writers search tirelessly for the directions to take or the words to use to find a way to create a safer place amidst the darkness.
The problem with all these concepts isn’t that people are dismissive, but rather that they aren’t willing to give it a chance. Romance isn’t highly credited in academia—I’m one of few who’s studied it extensively. In contrast, no matter where we are in the world, we’ve probably lost track of how many Shakespearean courses are revered. (This statement isn’t an insult to Shakespeare because I’m the same English Lit nerd who can cry about how we don’t talk nearly enough about how Horatio is the unsung hero of Hamlet. @Hollywood, where’s his spin-off TV series?)
Shakespeare was given a chance in a way that the romance genre and “flowery writing” might never be. But the thing is, it’s not about using fancy words to showcase our intellect; it’s about finding words that feel like they’re enough to convey the immensity of what we’re experiencing. It’s about the detail that sometimes we want to honor something so desperately that we have to scramble through to find words that we feel do it justice.
I, for one, will never say, “ugh, another romance with a happily ever after?”—or, “why do we have so much wholesome television like Ted Lasso now?” We might run out of things to say, and the prose might start to sound the same, but the darkness isn’t leaving this world any time soon. It’s a part of this world, and living with it ultimately requires deconstructing what it’s meant to teach us. Why are we here? What’s the purpose of it all? What was this heartbreak meant to teach me? Who would I be without that loss?
Emily Henry’s Beach Read looks into what it’s like to be worn down and to doubt, and in those moments, people can dabble with other things without feeling like the thing they’re gravitating towards is somehow better or less than. Writing is all about bravery and vulnerability. It’s about putting words to a page to bring our own readings. It’s about screaming at the top of our lungs about the things we love and talking about them to the people we know will appreciate them too.
The romance genre consistently accomplishes a lot, but more than anything else, it reminds us that we are not alone in wanting more joy. There’s a purpose for the way we write whatever it is that we do, and it’s a reward when people see those jagged pieces of ourselves as beautifully as we see the things that inspire us.
Further Recommended Novels: Book Lovers by Emily Henry