On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on beach books and how they can make even a bad vacation better. As I was reading it—and looking at their recommendations for this year’s beach reads—I wondered if a book had ever affected my vacation.
“The Key to a Successful Vacation? The Book You Bring Along”
by Nina Sovich
Beach Read by the Lake
One novel sprang immediately to mind. It happened when our kids were young and we were staying at a summer rental in Vermont. We went to the lake, spread out our blankets, and proceeded to relax. While the kids and my husband were splashing in the lake, I began to read the late Pat Conroy’s novel, “The Prince of Tides.”
My family came out of the water just as I got to the scene where a man comes home to his wife’s gourmet dinner and rejects it, demanding that she make him hash instead. I laughed as I read what followed and our daughter wanted to know what was funny. So, I read the scene out loud and everyone laughed, too.
The afternoon went on and I put the book down to play with the kids. When they got tired and flopped on their towels, I kept reading. I began laughing again at the sea turtle in the bed scene and they popped up off their towels. Once again, I read the section aloud to their great enjoyment.
A Shared Family Experience
This continued off and on during our vacation week because “The Prince of Tides” has many memorable—and quite funny—vignettes. While these scenes appear in a book that deals with adult issues and problems, when taken alone, they offer little jewels of childhood remembrance and humor.
I will always identify that book with our summer vacation because it created a shared family experience that went beyond lake water and mountain air. Years later, our daughter read the “The Prince of Tides” for herself. In fact, since then she has read it something like five times.
I settled for reading other novels by Pat Conroy and enjoyed them all until his final book, “South of Broad.” That one brought me up short. When it first came out, I ran to the bookstore so I would have my very own hardcover copy. To say I was disappointed doesn’t quite cover the experience. I never finished it.
Mount Everest in New Hampshire
When the kids were grown and out of the house, my husband and I stayed for a week at the Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire. I had brought Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” his nonfiction account of a massive storm that hit during the Mount Everest climbing season.
I don’t usually read nonfiction because so much of it is badly written, but Mr. Krakauer can write. Despite my misgivings, I found myself riveted. I learned more than I had ever thought to know about the world’s highest mountain, the people who are obsessed with climbing it, and what that attempt involves. The hotel, the golf course, the nearby peak (a measly 6,289 feet to Everest’s 29,035), the Cog Railway, and the rippling Dartmouth Brook all went away. I spent that vacation week in the Himalayas and never forgot it.
On the other side of the coin, I remember a different New Hampshire vacation where I tried to read John LeCarré’s “The Little Drummer Girl” and simply couldn’t get through it. Beach books don’t have to be easy reads or mindless fluff. “Into Thin Air” certainly doesn’t fit that description. But they do have to engage you and pull you into the story.
Portal Fantasy on the Rhine
This April I took “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine. From Switzerland to Holland, this lovely work of portal fantasy charmed and enchanted me.
If you are not familiar with the genre, it takes its characters through a portal of some kind (rabbit hole, wardrobe, grandfather clock, etc.) into another world altogether (Wonderland, Narnia, Fillory, the Territories, etc.) Ms. Harrow does a marvelous job of weaving the story, creating new worlds and making her protagonist, January Scaller, your friend. I found it a perfect vacation book to read while drifting down a river.
Oddly enough, the novel starts in Vermont, like a portal to an earlier vacation.
I Always Have a Book
Over the years and over many vacations, I have read books of many kinds. (Yes, I always take a book.) The Wall Street Journal’s article mentions that Americans are reading less and the number of avid readers is dropping. I think this has a lot to do with the decline of bookstores. I miss those wonderful places, where one could spend a relaxing hour or two just browsing, sampling, and discovering.
Without a book, you are trapped inside your body, your place, your time, and even your planet. With a book, you can transform into anybody, anywhere at any time. It broadens the mind. And it helps you relax on vacation.