Monday, July 21, 2008

vacation reading

When I left off here, I was getting ready for a week in Maine (which was wonderful and restful and fun, btw). Packing reading material for any trip is a challenge. In typical fashion, I agonized over which books to bring, knowing full well that I’d bring too many.

Elsewhere I’d written this:
Books. Well certainly you need something for the plane and something to span the time until your return flight. Maybe there’s a long car ride from the airport to your destination so you’ll need something to read aloud to the driver. Mass-market mysteries are perfect for leaving in plane seat pockets if you finish in-flight or if the book is too unbearable stinky to finish. A book related to the place you’re visiting can be nice. Something literary can keep you busy for a while, especially if you like to re-read stunningly written passages. Story collections or essays serve up short pieces, ideal for short attention spans and for when you’re short on time. No hardcovers, as they’re too heavy in the carry-on and can be too unwieldy to hold.
Am I able to head my own advice? Hell, no.

I wanted this trip to be different from the trips where I bring more books than I can possibly read, what with sightseeing and general vacation busy-ness. Couldn't one book sustain and entertain from door to door? With this fresh idea in mind, I purchased Tim Weiner’s National Book Award-winning Legacy of Ashes. It's sort of a door-stopper at 812 pages, but it would last the week (and then some). Best, even in paperback, this fat book fit comfortably in my hand.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I felt pretty good about knowing what I was going to read while on vacation. I could skip all the late-night drama over choosing books. Yet, as I packed, I must have picked up Legacy of Ashes, placed it in my carry-on, and pulled it out, at least five or six times. Ultimately, I just couldn’t commit to just one book. Nor could I leave a novel out of the mix of reading material. So what did I bring? An ARC, a slim novel, and some magazines in my carry-on, as well as a few mass markets (tucked into my checked luggage).

What did I read?

On my departing flight to Maine, as a warm-up to cracking a book's spine, I read the July Vogue. And, a week later, on the flight back to St. Paul, I read the August Vogue. As far as books go, I started Apologize Apologize, a first novel from Twelve (a Little Brown imprint) coming in April ’09. For some reason I expected the protagonist/narrator to be female so I was a little thrown when I realized, a few pages in, that the protagonist was very much male. Starting the book again helped. The first thirty-eight pages of this family drama drip with faux quirky and feel overwritten, but it’s promising. Something about the protagonist is very likeable.
I also had an opportunity to dip into Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. Just before my trip, my friend Caryl and I had a chance to pop into indie bookseller Magers & Quinn, where I spotted this title in a beautifully packaged edition from NYRB. I could not resist buying this novel that follows the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, who spend the summer on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. The setting seemed to match the area in Maine where I would be spending vacation, and the story, told in vignettes, seemed heartwarming. In a word, perfect vacation reading.

We did a lot of driving on this trip. Well, I should say: my husband did a lot of driving. First, there was the five-hour drive from Boston to Blue Hill, Maine. Conversely, there was the return drive from Blue Hill to Boston. In between, we commuted from the inn, on one side of Blue Hill, where we were staying, to Gruesome Gables, my in-laws’ rental on the other side of Blue Hill. One day we drove over an hour, each way, to Acadia. All of which yielded ample car time during which I could read a book aloud to the driver.

Mr. Bibliotonic and I tend to gravitate toward mysteries when we read-aloud. Mysteries and thrillers give us a chance to visit favorite characters, as well as offer short chapters, which suit frequent interruptions from the junior Bibliotonics in the back seat. On this trip, we cozied up with Daniel Silva’s A Death in Vienna. Art restorer and ex-Mossad agent Gabiel Allon is summoned for another mission. This time in Vienna, under cover of authenticating a painting, Allon identifies a man in a photograph who may have been a key player in the Nazi’s Master Plan, as well as having brutalized Allon’s mother during the Death March from Auschwitz. The mystery is clever and suspenseful, successfully enriched by historical events.

Mr. Bibliotonic covered the boys’ bedtime reading with the second book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but I got to sneak in random tales from Homer Price. We loved Homer for his ingenuity, curiosity, and adventurous spirit, and we’re grateful to Robert McCloskey for the wonderful illustrations that impeccably capture the characters from Centerburg. I chose this book mostly for the local connection to the author. McCloskey lived in Blue Hill, Maine, not far from which is Bucks Harbor, the setting for One Morning in Maine. Homer Price’s Centerburg is probably found in Ohio, where McCloskey spent his formative years. There is, however, a universal appeal to the town. Substitute the small town or suburb where you grew up, and you’re likely to feel a connection.

As is typical, I packed too many books and could have used Nancy Pearl's advice for choosing a carry-on book, which came a moment too late for this trip. Next time!

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