Saturday, November 08, 2008

Vacation Reading

Part of being self-aware is knowing what kind of book is perfect for a vacation. Many a conversation have I had with friends about this very subject. "I'm going to a beach house for a week, what should I take?" That's easy - Bridget Jones' Diary, or The Nanny Diaries, or something else with "Diary" in the title. I like Carl Hiaasen for a week in Cancun, lying on the beach. Something complex for a night in the woods: Wallace Stegner or Carol Shields.

So, for our trip to Florence, I needed something special - not too gripping that I wouldn't want to leave it and go look at Donatello's Magdalene in the Museo Dell'Opera Del Duomo, not something about Florence, like A Room with a View, which would have been silly (plus Forster bores me to tears), not something I've been dying to read, which would be forever tainted by the memory of reading it on a plane. Not something chancy, because what if I hated it and then - horror - found myself with nothing to read at all?

Long did I stare at my (embarrassingly large) to-read pile, trying to figure out what to take. And then! Ah Ha! The Best American Short Stories of 1999, edited by Amy Tan. Perfect - a nice thick volume, short stories by Junot Diaz, Chitra Divakaruni, Pam Houston, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lorrie Moore, Annie Proulx, Alice Munro (and more)! And, if I ran into something I didn't like, who cares? I'd just skip over it.

Turns out it was the perfect book to take - the ones I expected to love, I did love, and yes, I did run into a couple of stinkers but just a few, and I found a couple of wonderful stories by writers I've never heard of that really captured my imagination - like The Rest of Her Life, by Steve Yarbrough, which was so amazing even now I think about it, and have created a whole movie about it in my mind.

The only lame thing is that about 5 of the short stories came from the New Yorker, which I suppose would have been kind of a drag if you had a subscription to the New Yorker in 1999 and then bought this book. Even though they may very well have comprised 1/5 of The Best short stories that year, I wish Tan had gone outside the New Yorker box. I mean, everyone knows that you're going to find a great short in the New Yorker - it would have been more fun to see something unexpected.

What do you like to read on vacation?


E. L. Fay said...

For a good vacation read, I would recommend Neil Gaiman's American Gods. On the one hand, it's basically a fantasy adventure novel (which rather disappointed me), yet it also has a lot of postmodernist depth if you look closely, in addition to some fascinating historical aspects. So it's not quite beach-read fluff but it's not too dense either.

Special K said...

Eek, I tried to read that but I couldn't get into it. I really wanted to, because I was interested in the House of the Rock-angle.