Sunday, January 22, 2023

Q&A with Sarah Stodola



Sarah Stodola is the author of the new book The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit, and Peril at the Beach. She also has written the book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times.


Q: What inspired you to write The Last Resort, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: I didn’t start traveling to beaches frequently until my 30s, so I came to the culture of beach resorts as an outsider who found the whole scene strange and fascinating. After working as a travel writer for more than a decade, it had also become increasingly apparent to me that beach tourism was an enormous global industry that hadn’t been properly examined as such. I wanted to explore both of these things with The Last Resort.


The title “The Last Resort” felt perfect because we are in a critical moment with regard to the future of our shorelines. There could indeed be a last beach resort at some point. Or we may need to find a solution of last resort to save them.


Q: You write, “At its root, the hold that the beach resort has on us is a social construct, kept in place by the cultural forces that shape our desires and behavior.” How did that social construct come into being, and how has it changed over the decades?


A: In the beginning, the phenomenon of the beach resort emerged in England thanks to claims about the health benefits of seawater and sea air—a wellness craze of sorts. This set the stage for everything to come.


It has changed substantially since then. Originally a winter season activity, beachgoing has obviously shifted to warmer seasons and climates. It was also a more ascetic experience in the beginning. Only in the late 1800s did we start to see indulgence and fun become central to the beach resort experience.


And it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the concept of the beach as paradise took hold, as resorts started to be built beyond Europe and America in more tropical locations.


Q: Harper’s Bazaar’s review of the book says, “With expert precision, Stodola weaves together travel notes, climate journalism, and scathing critiques of capitalism into a work cultural history exploring why we all flock to the beach in the first place.” What do you think of that description?


A: I like it very much. I’d only add that the book also looks to the future of beach tourism.


Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to the world of beach resorts?


A: Certainly for the moment, beach resorts aren’t going anywhere. But I think in the coming decades, the beach resort was we know it will be altered. Palm trees, for one example, are not a sustainable choice for many shorelines and are likely to be phased out.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: For the short term, I’m working on a number of shorter pieces rather than a book-length project. After that, we’ll see.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love to encourage people to find the “Easter eggs” in the book’s cover design that refer to elements of climate change, overdevelopment, and other issues affecting beaches around the world.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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