Family vacations have the purpose of seeing and interacting with loved ones that normally you don’t get to see that much. However all of my family is well, so I’m going to revolve this blog entry around me as usual instead of summing up my actual vacation. I’ll do this by pointing out that this vacation was very beneficial because I read a ton and I think I’m back in the groove of reading and hope to plow through a plethera of books in the next few months.
A colleague of mine goes on what she calls ‘reading vacations’ or ‘reading marathons.’ On her facebook updates it seems like serious business, to read 7 or so books on a three day weekend. I admire this effort, but I don’t think I could read for every minute of a day. Last year on a family vacation at the same place I read a lot, and I planned to read on this one. I think that a change of setting, or not having to clock in at work, can give focus or attention to books. Maybe someday I should take a long weekend and book a hotel somewhere and simply read. For now, reading more than usual on my vacations is a step in the right direction.
Not all of these were read, but I brought these books for my vacation: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Neale Hurston, Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Goodbye, Columbus, Phillip Roth, the complete short novels of Anton Chekov, Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich, and Herzog by Saul Bellow. Over the course of the week I read three of these selections and one other book. I will shortly describe how I chose the ones I read, what I thought of them, and the epiphanies I reached through reading them.
Their Eyes Were Watching God was an easy first choice, because I scheduled it for my work book club. I read a few chapters the night before I left. On my day of travel I had a flight to Detroit and then a connection flight to Birmingham. On the flight to Detroit I mostly slept, but on the flight to Birmingham I read the whole flight. I even sat next to a pretty college girl but I made no effort to talk, I was reading. That shows that my priorities are wrong. Anyway I left plenty of time to read this in case I had difficulties with it. One participant of the bookclub before my vacation told me she had a hard time getting into it. At first the dialogue does seem wacky, but I got used to it. In my undergrad days I took a basic linguistics class and became familiar with the phonetic alphabet where a symbol represents a sound, and all sounds are put into this alphabet. The idea is that if you know the phonetic alphabet learning languages and dialects is much easier. So I Hurston’s classic ‘ah’ is what would usually be ‘I’. So once you found the similarities and patterns the dialogue did seem natural and authentic. In the first few days of my vacation I finished Their Eyes Were Watching God and I think it is a powerful book. I recommend people read it so I won’t summarize the book, and at less than 200 pages, it will not take much time. My work book club went really well. I also recommend people join book clubs, if you get a room full of people you learn so much more about the book and think about it differently.
So after I read Hurston’s book I had 5 books to choose from. Buddenbrooks looked too daunting, and did I ever imagine I’d really start reading that on my vacation? I do however have it still checked out, and with a possible 3 renewals I could have it for more than 10 weeks from now. The short novels of Anton Chekov seemed kind of ridiculously ambitious. Herzog looked like a serious book too. The Erdrich book I wasn’t too sure off. Out of Brevity I chose Goodbye, Columbus. I picked that book off the shelf because I read many Roth books, but not this one, his first one.
Roth definitely improved over five decades of writing, but this is a very good book and better than the average book. The intro sentence which tells of a pretty girl by the pool asking the narrator to hold her glasses draws the reader in. From my writers workshop I took a few weeks ago this Roth book has a good structure, uses sensory detail, and the characters are three dimensional. His setting of a Newark suburban rich family with a spoiled love interest that the narrator observes is interesting. This was published in 1959 and Roth is still writing quality books, which I think is amazing. The short stories in this collection are good too. I think that I need to read more short stories if I’m going to try to write a short story, and this was a good start. I’m sure they are good examples of how stories should work.
I finished this after in two days and had a big bulk of my vacation left. Buddenbrooks and Anton Chekov still felt like too much of a task. So I decided on Herzog by Saul Bellow. I picked a copy of this up because I think a good friend colleague of mine mentioned it in a conversation recently. He said it was one of his favorite books. I realized with the profession I’m in, and in general when someone says that a certain book is one of his or her favorites it can be quite good. From taking people suggestions seriously I’m glad I’ve read The Tin Drum, East of Eden, Notes from the Underground, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, A Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Manchild in the Promise Land, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Some of my friends’ favorite books have turned into my favorite books. Go figure.
Herzog was a challenge for me. I found it hard to care about a materialistic, womanizing, and pretentious academic type. Maybe that was the point, to make the reader skeptical or even hate the main character. Parts of it I really liked though. Basically the character is going through a mental breakdown and his second divorce. Throughout the novel he writes bizarre letters to an assortment of people it includes family members, colleagues, and famous people. I believe the little snippets of this letters are entertaining while showing a growing mania. For the first 100 pages I almost put this book down. On my way back to NYC I had a hell commute day. Birmingham to Atlanta was smooth. Atlanta to NYC was hell. I had a two hour layover anyway. We boarded the plane fine, but they said we were not authorized to take off because of weather on the east coast. So we waited on the plane for over an hour before taking off. As we approached NYC we had to circle NYC for a few hours. I was on the plane from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm and my day started at Birmingham at 10 in the morning. What did I do on this complete day of travel! I read Herzog and got into it and I finished it that night. What I thought was a rambling pointless portentous turned into something worth reading. I’m glad I have this one under my belt but I’m not sure if I can recommend it heartily. But I understand why my friend liked it so much.
Lastly I read a book I did not expect to at all. One evening my nephew who is five asked my to read Witches by Roald Dahl. This is a 200 page children’s classic which I never read before. So I said sure. That evening I read 40 pages to him, and I was real into the story. Over the next few days we read it, and at some points my niece, aged 8, and I would alternate reading chapters to my nephew. On the last evening we stopped with 30 pages left to read. I admit that that night I finished reading those 30 pages by myself. I think perhaps I’ll start checking out other Dahl books or children’s classics. I didn’t read much as a kid, and I think I missed out on some good ones.
I read a lot in a short time, and I now have a goal. Every night except for my blogging nights, I’m going to read. The goal is to average one book a week. I do feel rested from this vacation and invigorated to do several things in my life better.