Sunday, June 12, 2011

Memorable Vacation Reads

In the Oprah Magazine article 7 books that made a difference to Yoko Ono, Yoko tells us she travels a lot. She says:

So when I arrive in a city, I like to go to good local bookshops and make a selection based on how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking. The book I pick usually seems to have a definite karmic connection!
I don't have Yoko’s luxury of having a driver to take me to a local bookshop when I travel, so I need to figure out what my book karmic connection will be before I leave home. For an avid reader like me, a week away from home without a good book can be disastrous and has happened. So when packing for a major vacation, I now take at least four books with me.

When I think back to my most memorable vacation reads, my favorites have been when I got the karmic correction right.

What do I look for in a vacation read?
Ever since I read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, while camping on an island in the Chippewa Flowage, I try to match my vacation reads with the setting or place I am visiting.

A book that perfectly matched subject with setting was:
A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean by Melinda Blanchard and Robert Blanchard which I read while traveling to the Caribbean island Anguilla. The book recounts the Blandchard's experiences including the obstacles they encountered while opening their upscale restaurant in Anguilla. The book provides insights into Anguilla’s culture and its people.

Last year while planning my vacation to Montana, the decision of what books to take was a tough one. I had already read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West about the Lewis and Clark expedition and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, one of my all-time favorite reads, about several retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana; both would have made perfect selections. In desperation, I asked Sarah at Citizen Reader for recommendations. She came up with Laura Bell’s Claiming Ground. This autobiographical book takes place in the hills of Wyoming where Laura worked as a sheep herder and cattle rancher. She examines her life and the choices she made. It was a good book to read while sitting on a picnic bench in Yellowstone surrounded by the Wyoming Mountains.

Nonfiction does not always make a good vacation read:
Generally I have found getting the karmic connection right for nonfiction (my preferred genre) to be tricky. A nonfiction book that is a great read at home can seem down right depressing and out of place on vacation. For example, I received a comment from a reader here telling me she was setting Gail Collin's book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present aside ‘til she wasn’t on vacation anymore . It was making her too angry. I have found in order for nonfiction to work as a vacation read it has to either relate to the place or setting I am visiting or read like fiction.

I read Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession on my recent vacation in Northern Wisconsin. It was an enjoyable book that read like a novel. This book had been on my reading list since Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness mentioned Susan Orlean is a narrative nonfiction writer she enjoys. After she included The Orchid Thief on her reading list for her hypothetical class Journalists who say "I", I decided to take it with me. While reading I kept thinking this book would make an ideal selection for someone traveling in South Florida.

If I can’t come up with a book that matches the setting or place I am visiting, or a nonfiction book that reads like a novel, I look for a really good story. My most memorable fiction read is Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. Atwood’s book which includes a story within a story reads like sheer poetry. Reading it under a palm tree on a beach in St. John was the ultimate karmic connection.

I also find historical fiction to be a safe vacation choice. Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl was a memorable beach read from my Anguilla vacation.

And lastly, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was my favorite vacation read from last month’s up north vacation. I am usually disappointed with popular mainstream fiction, but this book was outstanding. The book is about black domestic servants working in white Southern households in the early 1960s. I was enjoying it so much; I remained outside in our vehicle reading long after we had returned to our cabin.

What do you look for in a vacation book? Do you have a memorable vacation read?


  1. I've been thinking about vacation reads as well -- I'm going to out family's cabin for 4th of July and already have a stack of books to bring.

    I agree about the nonfiction thoughts -- vacation nonfiction needs to be on the lighter side for me as well. But since I like to review all my nonfiction, and don't like to take notes on vacation, I decided I'm only bringing fiction with me this time :)

    My sister and I are planning to read The Help sometime this summer -- I'm glad it's good! And I LOVED The Blind Assassin; it's one of my favorite books of all time.

  2. Great book ideas! I need some good books to read for the Summer! :)

  3. My favorite vacation read was "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth--it was a very long book with an exotic setting but still an easy and interesting read. "Possessed" by A.S. Byatt was another one. And I certainly agree about "The Blind Assassin." I associate all three with summertime reading.

  4. Kim,
    I also take notes when reading nonfiction and one of the reasons I don't like reading nonfiction on vacation. I did take notes on The Orchid Thief and didin't mind one bit this vacation.

    I'm curious to see what you think of The Help. I've been recommending it quite a bit. Something I don't normally do. Most people I know don't share my taste in books.

  5. Classy Career Girl,
    Thanks for stopping in. If you find a good vacation read please share.

  6. Grace,
    Thanks for sharing your favorite vacation reads. I never heard of "A Suitable Boy." I just looked it up - sounds like a book I'd really enjoy. "Possessed" has been on my TBR list for awhile. Perhaps its time to move it up the list.