Tag Archives: cottage reads

Excessively planned reading for vacation: Guest post and solid advice

Thanks to R.T. for this fantastic guest post on reading suggestions for holiday and vacation. Turns out R.T. is not only smart, funny and great to work with, but a super star of a reader, too. 

I’ve developed a habit over the past few years that is activated whenever I am planning to go on vacation, “vacation” meaning anything that gets me out of my normal routine for more than a night: a conference involving a hotel stay, camping or cottaging for a 2 day weekend or longer, holidays at home, or proper vacation. The habit is this: once I know a “vacation” is on the horizon, I plan what to read, and plan to diabolical excess.
When I determined in March that I was getting the opportunity to go to Halifax in June for a conference followed by a road trip of Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island with my husband – finally making a long term dream of traveling the east coast possible – the very first thing I did was gleefully plan out what to read. The actual accommodations planning happened in the 11th hour, but boy, did I ever know what I’d be reading while potentially sitting on my suitcase in the street! I documented books set around the east coast, books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, romantical vacationy books, emotionally challenging books – all things I would be inspired to dive into with this bucket-list-checking break from routine.
In the two weeks leading up to my trip – about the time I got the travel bookings completed – I consulted back to my now months-old, trusty, grandiose reading list and began regularly checking out and holding ebooks and audiobooks. Here’s what I (managed to, holds permitting) checked out, whether I read them, or whether they collected digital dust:
Audio
  • Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou – Started this in the Public Gardens of Halifax and finished it in Point Pleasant Park the next day during conference week (yes, I actually attended the conference as well)! This was a great book for taking in nature and feeling feels. In this book, Maya talks about her life through the lens of her relationship with her mother. It was unique, human, and touching.
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – Oh boy. Moments after finishing Mom & Me & Mom, I thought to myself “you enjoyed that so much in this natural setting, you won’t top it right now, please don’t start something new, please don’t start something new, please don’t start something new”…I lasted 15 minutes, then started Hatchet, all while still wandering Point Pleasant Park. I remember seeing kids my age with this book countless times when I was young, and retrospectively wanted to know what the fuss was about. But much like a beloved-by-others childrens’ movie seen years too late – which for me is The Neverending Story seen in my 20s – I did not partake in the fuss whatsoever. I think I’m just too old for it, that and/or my parents aren’t divorcing currently so I don’t need the emotional support and life-or-death metaphors to help me understand what I’m going through – though I appreciate that this book could be a great help to kids. Good to know it exists, I suppose.
  • The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore – Husband and I have enjoyed reading Christopher Moore books in print, so I thought a couple of his audiobooks might be a good fit for a road trip. Sadly, this audiobook was abandoned 1 hour in. Husband is eager to read this on paper where he thinks the style and characters and plot will work better; I am not so eager. I would much rather go back and re-read Lamb.
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris – Excellent road trip book. I’ve listened to this before and enjoyed sharing it with my husband. David Sedaris just knows how to write, and tell, a story.
  • Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson – I took this on myself after getting through Hatchet. It certainly satisfied my east coast setting quota, but was too saccharine, even for this avid Anne fan.
  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Husband and I tried this YA after listening to David Sedaris. It was fine, but pretty boring. I wonder whether I somehow would have found this more exciting in print? One of my favourite things about listening to this book was the Irish accent of the narrator when reading as Artemis, so probably not. I doubt I’ll continue with the series. You want a good vampire / magical / fantasy YA novel? Try Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On AND Fangirl.
  • Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore – Didn’t get to it, but somewhat by choice. Serpent made me fearful to try another Christopher Moore book in audio form.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle – Didn’t get to it.
  • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – Didn’t get to it.
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris – Didn’t get to it – sadly.
eBooks
  • Where the Words End and my Body Begins by Amber Dawn – This was so short and sweet I started and finished it before even leaving on the trip. Whoops! I really enjoy Amber Dawn’s writing which is honest and strong.
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – I really liked this book, and thank goodness because it took me the entire trip to read. I always love a good family drama and/or moving-on-from-catastrophe type story – and this was a somewhat light one at that, one might say as beach-read a family drama story could get!? Strangely, I don’t have much to say, so there you have it. It was good.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Didn’t get to it.
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – Didn’t get to it.
  • The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling – Didn’t get to it.
  • A Whale for the Killing by Farley Mowat – Didn’t get to it.
  • Island by Alistair MacLeod by Didn’t get to it.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – Didn’t get to it.
My east coast trip lasted 14 days. I checked out 18 books and 8 of them “happened” – 7 read, 1 abandoned. While I’m sad I didn’t get to more ebooks during the trip, I’m excited that I got through so many total books in a short span of time – indeed, part of the enjoyment of my vacation reading sprees is admittedly quantitative. What’s interesting is that of the 4 books I’d say I really enjoyed – Mom & Me & Mom, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, Where the Words End and my Body Begins, and The Shipping News – I was already familiar with those authors and/or the very book itself for 3/4 of them. Perhaps my next excessively planned vacation reading should gear towards voices of familiarity if what I’m looking for is a safe bet, but I can’t say I’m disappointed. While some of those audiobooks were a bit of a pain to get through, I still enjoyed the journey, and if nothing else, perhaps it will come handy in a trivia question sometime soon. I am now looking ahead to a short 4 day Toronto visit + Bon Echo camping weekend. I wonder if any books are set in Bon Echo…time for another research and planning session!

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Cottage Reads 2015

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I’m of the privileged few able to take a week holiday in the Muskokas each summer. This holiday is shared with my family (though my partner has fewer weeks of vacation and was working) and so involves a combination of swimming, hearts tournaments, making ‘suggestions’ about how to eat/sleep/parent/live and reading-in-proximity. It was newly wonderful this year as my nephews are old enough now to turn the pages of their board books, and to make gleeful noises at the appropriate places in The Paperbag Princess. In my family, reading is both a solitary activity and a shared practice. Count me privileged in two ways then: spoiled in the ways of cottage; spoiled in the ways of books.

I probably read more than the rest of my family this past week because I’m a grumpy introvert and I insist both on shared reading time and hours (and hours) of time alone on the dock with a book. But even with this additional solo-time, I read less this year than in the past. I attribute this ‘lost’ time to the bountiful addition of time shared with E. and M. as we screamed up and down hallways, paddled in the shallows and practiced over and over and over saying “Auntie E” (it didn’t work).

So what did I read? And what would I recommend taking on your own cottage vacation (should you be lucky enough to get one)?

The Pope and Mussolini – David Kertzer

My mum has been going on about how good this book is for ages. It’s the non-fiction account of the rise of fascism in Italy and the relationship between the Pope and Mussolini that made this rise possible. I don’t read much non-fiction (as you know) and would never have picked this one up without mum’s insistence. And I didn’t finish it because a) I didn’t care about the story b) that’s the only reason. There were certainly narrative elements that helped this reluctant non-fiction reader to stay interested – neat character descriptions and conflict – but on the whole I just… didn’t care.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

Despite being more short story collection than novel, I really enjoyed this one. Each chapter follows a different child of Hattie, with Hattie making her own appearances at different points. The first chapter that narrates Hattie’s experience parenting two sick twins is incredibly moving. And sets the stage for a series of provocative, emotional and taught explorations of growing up, class, race, sexuality… it’s got a lot going on. And where you might expect this range of thematic interest to lead to less depth, it doesn’t (I talked about the same with The Bone Clocks – this book isn’t nearly as good at That Great Book, but it is good).

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

This one reminded me a lot (a lot) of A Man Called Ove. The same sort of whimsical tone, the same exploration of what makes meaning in life, the same absurdist plot premise (in this case our protagonist is walking the length of England to ‘save’ his once friend from cancer), the same easy enjoyment and sense of contentment on conclusion. It’s a book that wants you to feel good about yourself, about life, about connections to others, about the possibility for late-life change, for reconciliation. It’s a feel gooder if I’ve ever read one.

The True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey

I think I remember this being one of M.’s favourite books and I always meant to read it for that reason. Why did I wait so long? What a delight. A romp through history. The historical fiction ‘true history’ of Ned Kelly presented as autobiography (so cue my favourite things: historical fiction & metafiction). It’s an at time playful, at times painful look at the relationship between state and criminal and our efforts to memorialize ourselves (and to make our lives meaningful). Gosh, and the writing is so good.

That’s it for my summer reads. I’m now gearing up for fall teaching and book clubs. If you have more recommendations or requests, you’d best get them in soon. Oh. That’s not true. I’m waiting for my advanced review copy of the new Jonathan Franzen to arrive. (I can’t wait) (even though I’m waiting). (I’m so excited) (even though I’m usually a Franzen complainer). (end post). (now).

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