Vacation Reading

Read anything good on vacation?

We haven’t even decided where we’re going this year—Grand Tetons? Hawaii? Yosemite?  Stinson Beach?—and already I’m answering  the question.

You see, as soon as I start thinking about where, I start considering what books to bring.  I go away for a weekend and I bring a bag full of novels and a few months’ backlog of New Yorkers.  It’s not just a question of overestimating my time; it’s a question of what I’ll be in the mood for.  An Adam Gopnik essay?  A Donna Leon mystery?  Time to read up on the situation in Syria, I might think—but on vacation?  A friend recommends a book on menopause–but on vacation? Give me a movie review.  I like to keep myself open to serendipity, to what I may find on the bookshelves in the rental’s living room or hotel lobby.  Even a transcontinental flight triggers a similar quandary:  How can I know what I’ll be in the mood for if I’m not there yet?  Better bring along some options.  I’ll be in the air five hours, after all.

Often, remembering trips in the past, I think of what I was reading. Mention Maui, and I think of Jane Eyre and Danielle Steel, an unlikely combo but I was fifteen at the time.  Grand Canyon:  The Professor and the Madman.  Lake Tahoe:  Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  The Big Island: Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room. (I was seventeen and trying hard to be mature.) Rome:  Homer’s Odyssey.   Sea Ranch: discovering Ruth Rendell.

In other words, I associate places with what I was reading there, and vice-versa.  So that the thought of certain books takes me not only to the general location but the specific contours of the comfy chair in which I sat, the scratch of sand between my toes, the wind rustling the palm trees, the fountain in the courtyard of the convent where I stayed for 15,000 lira a night.  (For some reason I’ve never been able to piece together, The Exorcist recalls, vividly, the handball wall at the tennis club against which my friend Sallie and I practiced our backhand circa 1974.)

Once I’m carried to that level of specificity, I can practically see the type on the page.

We haven’t made a decision, or honed in on a time zone.  We’re still searching the web, scrutinizing photos on VRBO, researching flight prices.  The options are staggering, the offerings plentiful.  But there’s one thing I look for, in every photo—and thank god for the photos:  Where would I read?  Give me a windowseat or an Adirondack chair, the right slant of light and a place for my feet, and I’m halfway toward tapping in my VISA number.  The beach:  I love the beach, but ever since I left my twenties, I’ve gotten fussy about needing something to sit on.  Flat on a towel on the sand doesn’t cut it any more; I need a reclining chaise longue, and preferably an umbrella.  I don’t care how gorgeous the view of the mountains is: if those chairs (or, god forbid, picnic table) look stiff and uncomfortable, I move on.  Then, of course, there’s the question of the bedside lamp.

Never mind the fact that once we’re there, we may spend time hiking or bicycling, canoeing or walking.  Or sleeping.  How many times have I folded up my tray table, picked up my novel (or New Yorker), and tuned into the movie?  Of course we’ll get a lot of reading done, wherever we go; we’re readers.  But sometimes, the appeal is in the imagining.

What books do you forever associate with the place you read it?  What vacations stay in your mind largely for the reading you did?

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4 Responses to Vacation Reading

  1. calliefeyen says:

    I bring a few books and magazines along with me on vacation, but my habit has been to buy a book or two at a bookstore in the city/town we are staying. I bought Sahara Special and Under the Banner of Heaven in the City Lights bookstore, Beloved in a bookstore off Ocean Drive in Miami, and a Maeve Binchy book in a bookstore in Delft. It is completely out of character for me to not plan what I will do on vacation, including what I’ll read, so this practice of finding something new in a new place is a nice reminder for me when I go on vacation. It seems fitting to enter a new story in a place I’ve never been to before.

  2. Are you going on a spring break vacation or not until summer? Right now I’m reading The Paris Wife, which would be the perfect vacation book if I were going anywhere. I’m embarrassed to admit the books I’ve read on vacation in the past, though. In Europe, my husband and I shared a copy of The DaVinci code – sometimes lying side by side in a sleeper car reading the same page, sometimes trading it back and forth. Seventeen years ago when I was in India, I read The Secret History and LOVED it. Six years ago in Patagonia I read The Invisible Man and Victor Martinez’s Parrot in the Oven – both which were fantastic (and neither of which I’m ashamed to admit I read). I also read a story about a guy who hiked across Afghanistan with his dog on that trip, but I forget the title. There was a lot of time to read on buses and trains while we were traveling between Chile and Argentina. This post makes me want to go on vacation with some good books!

  3. Wow, Meghan, your memory takes the blue ribbon — Lots of great titles here, and I love the variety–from Ralph Ellison to Dan Brown. We’re not going away until August, so I’ll keep gathering potentials til the last minute!

  4. Pingback: Vacation Reading, Part 2 | Lindsey Crittenden

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