Monday, May 01, 2006

BOOKS: Oh, Reading Vacations, How I Miss Thee

Maybe it's because I haven't had one in so long, and the outlook is dim as to when I'll enjoy one again -- probably not soon! -- but I've been thinking about reading vacations a lot lately.

You know what a reading vacation is, right? You go on a trip -- maybe for months, maybe for just a weekend -- and you bring along a book (or most likely, more books than clothes) and over the course of your vacation you find yourself not so much reading your book as breathing it in and absorbing it through your pores and follicles and various orifices until the book becomes a/the defining element of your trip. And even when the holiday is over and the book has long been reshelved, you can never again think of that book without thinking of that trip, and vice versa.

Sigh. I love(d) reading vacations.

Since it could be years before I can dive into a book as if it were a bathwater-warm ocean, I've been mentally reliving some of my favourite book-and-trip combos.

The Lord of the Rings
I'd never really felt a hankering to read this trilogy, but it meant a lot to Rusty that I try. I postponed and prevaricated, but I finally caved when he got nice little paperback copies of each book to bring with us on a six-week trip to Thailand. No doubt the complete absence of distractions at the isolated beach guesthouse we stayed at helped, but I inhaled these books in just a few days.

One of my favourite memories of our trip is of us hunkering beneath the mosquito netting over our bed each evening (all the electricity in the whole area was shut off at 11 pm sharp, so if you wanted to read, you had to hit the sheets early) and reading to each other. It had been decades since I'd fallen asleep while someone read to me. Bliss.

Anna Karenina
You'll be as shocked to learn this as I am to recollect it, but for a period of time in my twenties I was rather hardcore. I ran. I bicycled. I ran and bicycled great distances, often solo. On one cycling expedition, I took a ferry to BC's Sunshine Coast, then biked for several hours up the coast. My destination: a tiny one-room fully-catered cabin I'd booked for the Thanksgiving long weekend, while Rusty was flying to Ontario to visit his family. (I know. Clever me. I'm not just a pretty face, you know.)

For three days, I ate, slept, and literally read my ass off. (That's right, literally. I read so much, my ass actually fell off. And it was worth it.) I read Anna Karenina in one sitting... well, more specifically, one lying, since I was prone on a gargantuan sleigh bed the entire time. I may have paused for catnaps and bathroom breaks and to gobble down the delicacies that were regularly brought to me on a VICTORIAN TEA TABLE, my friends... but that was it. And man oh man, what a fantastic way to read that particular novel. I've been pining to read Anna again, but I fear that it can't live up to my original reading experience.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
This was another "big" novel that had eluded me, but I was determined to not just read One Hundred Years, but also to enjoy it. I knew I had to pick my time and place wisely. I waited years, but finally a two-week trip to Cuba helped crack the code. Not only did I love it -- particularly the ending, which so took my breath away that I had to re-read the last few pages over and over -- but not once did I even need to refer to the genealogy map at the front of the book in order to keep all the Aurelianos straight. I am awesome!

I Know This Much Is True
A few years ago, Rusty and I packed up Dobbs and took a road trip through BC and Alberta. As we passed through the Rockies, we spent a few days camping in Banff Provincial Park and doing some fairly rugged hiking up and down mountains and whatnot. (I know. Again with the hardcore. Get a load of us.)

The weather was a bit unpredictable, and at one point we got caught on a mountain during a rainstorm, which then turned into a hailstorm. We waited it out, then headed down the trail, artfully weaving our way through treacherously slippery muck and mire. Until we were on the last leg of the trail, practically in view of the truck, when I misstepped, planted my foot on a slimy tree root, fell, and broke my ass. (I lied earlier when I said it fell off due to over-reading. Sorry. Sometimes I exaggerate. But seriously, I broke my ass during this fall. Broke it right in two.)

So I sit in the truck on one cheek for the ride back to our campsite. We get there. Our tent and its contents are soaked. Rusty gallantly suggests that we leave everything there and go rent a cabin. Hurrah for Rusty! The cabin turns out to be all awesomely renovated turn-of-the-century with a huge clawfoot tub and a big comfy bed. I soaked. I availed myself of the bed. But my broken ass was sending out a beacon of pain that wouldn't let me sleep, so I perched gingerly on my side and devoured Wally Lamb's novel I Know This Much Is True in one go. Seriously, people, I don't know when I've ever been so enthralled by a story. I could not stop turning the pages.

I know a lot of people who loathed Lamb's other novel, She's Come Undone, and while I liked it fine myself I can see their issues with it, but I Know This Much Is True was so utterly compelling, I'd hate to think that people missed out on it because of their hate-on for Undone. Come on, give it a try.

Babel Tower
And then there was this other trip where I combined cycling and camping and took myself on a two-week solo tour of BC's Gulf Islands (which are lovely and charming and which everyone should see if they get the chance). At one point, I found myself the only camper in an entire isolated provincial park. I pitched my tent on a small bluff directly overlooking the ocean. Every night, at around 2 or 3 am, I'd wake up to hear the risen tide whooshing away a mere couple of feet away from the door of my tent. Whoosh, whoosh... it makes me feel alive just thinking about it!

Anyway, one night the skies ripped themselves apart for the sole purpose of dumping several cubic metres of water right inside my tent. Based on this experience, I have a little morsel of information about the human experience I can pass along to you: when people are alone and have been alone for long-ish periods of time, we stop processing extreme emotions such as misery and joy. We turn into the animals that we are and merely subsist. I know this because if I'd undergone this experience with another person, I wouldn't have survived. Because they would have killed me in order to end my ceaseless whining. As it was, though I was soaked and miserable in a primordial sense, I just curled into a ball and shut down until morning. It's actually a pleasant surprise to learn that I have survival mechanisms. And if I have them, you probably do, too. Yay!

Anyway. Back on topic. Books. Though I am beginning to wonder why I still persist in going camping...

I dried out myself and my gear and decided to push this solitude experiment further by seeing how long I could go without seeing another person. I'd already been at the park for three days. My biggest problem was that I was running out of reading material. Oh, and also food.

Folks, you have NEVER seen anyone nurse a book the way I nursed my last novel, A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower. I read slowly. I cherished every word. Every sentence was an epic poem. I paused. I reflected. And yet I could only make it last two days. My food, however, ran out after just one day, which made for a fun (read: not fun) low-blood-sugar adventure on the long ride back to civilization. Still, five days absolutely alone with nothing but books for company... I highly recommend it. It wasn't always fun, but it was definitely interesting.

Not all reading vacations are life-affirming idylls, though. Sometimes they turn on you:

As long as I'm passing along my hard-earned wisdom, here's a situation you might want to avoid:
  • Going to Whistler with a bunch of friends to stay in someone's uncle's posh chalet.
  • Staying up most of the night partying.
  • Going to bed with a head full of chemicals.
  • Realizing that sleep ain't coming.
  • Cracking the spine on the only book you brought for the weekend: Lynda Barry's Cruddy. It's good and all -- because come on, it's Lynda Barry, so how could it not be good? -- but it's a tad... depressing, shall we say. I read it in one sitting and was absolutely ravaged by the end. Fortunately, I had the bleak, flat, cold, blue-ish light of early dawn to perk me up.
So yes, avoid this scenario if you can. Doppelganger: she makes mistakes so you don't have to!

The Nanny Diaries
You know that feeling where the only book you have at hand is an unmitigated piece of crap, but there literally isn't another book around for miles, so even though you're tearing rapidly through the pages, you're seething with resentment the entire time? That's the feeling I had about The Nanny Diaries.

Scene from inside a tent:
Rusty: How's your book?
Rusty: Then why are you still reading it?
Me: I don't want to talk about it!
If you value words, books, paper, and linear time, do not ever read this book. Do not let it come into your home. Do not make a pretence of politely accepting it from some well-meaning person who loans it to you, because if you do, you WILL find yourself someday confronted with this book as your only source of literary amusement.

(I'm very sorry if you liked this book. May God have mercy on your soul.)

So what are your best and worst reading vacations? Let me live vicariously through you. It's all I have.


Anonymous said...

I am a fan of a little light hearted reading from time to time, but I also loathed the Nanny Diaries. Not one to let a book get the best of me, I plowed on through, hoping that it would somehow redeem itself in the end. Needless to say it DID NOT and I was so pissed that I wasted my time with it. The back cover promised me revenge! There was no revenge! There was...nothing. I gladly threw the book at the wall.

spinky said...

The only reading vacation I can remember is a road trip through the West reading A Tale of Two Cities. We stayed in KOA cabins in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, with 14 year old me plowing through Dickens all the way. Quite the odd setting in which to read about the French Revolution!

Sarah said...

I'm so glad to hear other people who hated the Nanny Diaries, too. It is one of maybe four books I just could not get through. Awful! Awful!

landismom said...

Huh. And here I've been avoiding camping because of the great difficulty in reading. Had I only read this in my 20s!

Lady M said...

I picked up Nanny Diaries from a used bookstore, and it went back the next week, mostly unread. Ick! Glad to hear your comments on it too.

I also have a warm vacation memory for The Lord of the Rings. In grade school, my family took a holiday overseas to visit my mother's family, and I could only bring a few books to tie me over for four weeks! I chose LOTR, and it kept me happily occupied.

Anonymous said...

Hm. The closest thing I have to this is recently having an unexpected four-day weekend, and spending most of those four days reading the first five Harry Potter books (I don't have the sixth yet!). I did nothing but read, and sometimes eat.

It was slothful and I really enjoyed it.

Sara said...

best - the time travellers wife by audrey niffenegger. read under a tarp in a 2 day rainstorm while camping.
worst - elle by douglas glover. read last summer in the rowdiest campground i've ever seen. i hated this book more than i hated the nanny diaries.

Anonymous said...

Oh man - Cruddy - an excellent book but yes, very depressing. It's hard to get others to read this when your nutshell review is: It's great... and terrible. It's all there in the title. You will feel Cruddy. But man, will you feel it.

As for The Nanny Diaries - a friend loaned it to me - and I read it. But I think I was blocking it out as I went because I have no real memory beyond turning the pages. (And I certainly don't mean that in the sense that it was a "page-turner". I mean it in the "in one eyeball out the other with no lasting impression made" way. Which to my mind, is the worst way a book can fail.)

Anonymous said...

The summer after second grade, I spent at my grandparents vacation home in Maine with no television. My great grandfather had been an educational book salesman, so there were all sorts of the complete works of ... floating around. I spent the summer reading the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe. The summer ended before I could make a significant dent in the c. 1939 Compton's Encyclopedia set.

lumenatrix said...

When I spent three weeks in Europe I bought the first "Wheel of Time" book as it was the thickest paperback I could find that would still fit in my book pocket in my backpack. That book and that trip are forever linked. Too bad the series has gone to crap...

As for the Nanny Diaries, it was mostly just meh for me. I almost wish I had hated it, at least that's a real emotion. The one from the same genre that I feel is the worst form of crap? The Devil Wears Prada. I can't believe trees died to produce that crap.

--Deb said...

I also gave Nanny Diaries a try and thought it was just horrible. My mother, on the other hand, loved it. Same with the Devil Wears Prada, although there are some similarly-genre'd books that I've enjoyed for their light fluffiness.

But--vacation reading? My Mom and I still go on vacations together every year, and in addition to whatever reading material we're bringing for ourselves, bring a "trip" book--one that we take turns reading to each other, in the car, in the hotel, wherever. It's so much nicer than just sitting in front of the tv (blech), and yet, gives us something share. The only tricky part? Finding books that are the right length--not too long, not too short--for the duration of the trip!

(Although, this next trip's book has been decided since last July--Harry Potter #6, which otherwise she wouldn't read at all--can't have that!)

Anonymous said...

Once, on a camping family reunion in Southern Idaho (just west of Yellowstone Park), a great aunt not only loaned, but gave me her copy of 100 Years of Solitude when I stepped into her camper and mentioned I'd heard of the book in a low-level Spanish class.

For the rest of the week and the whole car trip home (14 hours?), I was that book's bitch.

Now, I can't stop collecting and recommending all things Garcia-Marquez.

Unknown said...

In the beginning of April this year, I went to Chicago for four days to check out the U of Chicago campus, where I'll be going to grad school next year. I took two books with me: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro and The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett. I was almost halfway done with Hateship by the time I got on the plane, so I got through it quickly. I had a truly "You are there" reading experience with The Wright 3, since it takes place in Hyde Park on the U of C campus and concerns Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House which I saw for the first time, so that was awesome, but it was a kid's book and a quick read. The best part of the trip was when I had finished both of my books, was stuck on a plane, and had to borrow my mother's book, Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck, while she slept. I have never been so grateful for reading material in my life as I was at that moment, tens of thousands of miles above ground and three hours from California. I still haven't finished Imperial Woman, but I will when I can get it back from my mother. Thank you, Pearl S. Buck!


Tammy said...

"Now, I can't stop collecting and recommending all things Garcia-Marquez."

I know! I'm exactly the same way. I knew that I'd eventually find a way into One Hundred Years because I'd already read and LOVED Love in the Time of Cholera. At this point, I could read Marquez's grocery list and love it.

I am not at all shocked that so many of you share my loathing of The Nanny Diaries. I am shocked, however, that so many of us have read it. Did we all lose a bet or something?

Anonymous said...

my favorite reading vacation was seven weeks in northern india with my sister. i read mostly books from/ about india and they all added to the rich tapestry of a land i was experiencing with all my senses (and even helped me make sense of a thing or two). i read A Day in Shadow (Nayantara Sahgal); May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons (Elisabeth Bumiller); Gandhi's autobiography; A Passage to India (E.M. Forester); Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie); Seven Years in Tibet (Heinrich Harrer) and my personal trip favorite A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry).

Paul said...

My most recent vacation memories of a trip to central Mexico will allways be wound together with reading Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth."

And another trip to Las Vegas with my (then) boyfriend who was playing in a chess tournament for endless hours is full of memories of "Love in the time of Cholera." Yum.

It's funny that you mention Anna Karenina - I just started it today.

Anonymous said...

Next time you read Anna Karenina consider reading the latest translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, which (gag) Oprah recently endorsed. I haven't actually read this version myself (I read Russian), but I have looked at Pevear and Volokhonsky's translations of Dostoevsky and they are simply the best available in English. I would imagine that the same would be true of their Karenina. I'm currently reading Tolstoy like a maniac at the moment but, funnily enough, I've been avoiding that particular novel, focussing mainly upon his work of the 1850s and 60s. If you can't get the latest translation, read the Louise and Aylmer Maude one. Tolstoy gave that one the thumbs up himself before he died. Do NOT read anything by Constance Garnett. She brought Russian lit to post-Victorian English readers, and for that she must be acknowledged, but she simply lacks the same skills as a translator.

Anonymous said...

When I was about seven or eight years old, I went with my family to Quebec. We stayed in the Chateau Frontinac and had a generally fabulous time- from what little I can remember- but what I can recall the most is sitting in a chair overlooking the St. Lawrence river and reading "Caddie Woodlawn." And I loved it so much.

I just read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in September and absolutely loved it. It inspired me to pick up "Love in the Time of Cholera," also by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and it was wonderful.

Rebecca said...

Best - Having the house to myself one long weekend, and reading Tanya Huff's Keeper Chronicles series. Those books, that weekend, and the Sam Roberts CD I listened to will always be linked together.

Worst - Being stuck on a train back and forth to Toronto from my parent's place, with nothing but The Devil Wears Prada. Hate, hate, HATE! But I had to read it because it was for book club.

Sami said...

When I was a kid (and by that I mean single-digit age, but I can't remember precisely what that age was) my family went to Dunsborough, Western Australia for a week. I rained all but two days.

I hadn't brought a book (I was young!) but there were some in the house we were staying in. I ended up reading the entirety of the Selby Speaks series.

When I was twelve, we went to South Africa. The book I remember is one that came out there while we were there: Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. I was a big fan of the Pern series and devoured it. My mother also likes the series but let me read the book first, which was a shame, since she got spoilt a bit on the ending when she had to comfort me, as I was bawling my eyes out.

Other than that, no reading vactions in my life history. I have had reading being-sicks, though. My wisdom teeth removal is also, for me, a memory of Polgara the Sorceress, and then I had a bad dose of flu and read the first 3 1/2 Harry Potter books in one day. (Then, oddly, took over a year to pick one up again.)

Dave said...

I'm currently back in Toronto for a week (where I used to work before relocating to Ottawa), and I guess this is as close as I get to a reading vacation. I commute in from my parents place by train, which takes about an hour. Undeniably, this sucks, but it also gives me two hours a day of dedicated reading time (which does not suck). I'm working on Possesion right now. Also: digging it.

Anonymous said...

We spent all last summer and fall (hurray, sabbaticals!) in a rented farmhouse in Devon, England. Read lots of nice books over the course of those months, but my fondest memory was of driving to the nearest village at 11:45 PM on July 16 to get in line for Harry Potter 6 at the tiny local bookshop. Stood with a group of costumed teenagers and sleepy tots dragged in by their way-too-excited parents. Drove back to the farmhouse, put the kettle on the Aga, and stayed up till 3 reading about 1/3 of the book. Worst book/vacation? A weekend in a posh Santa Barbara resort with my soon-to-be-ex-husband (the trip had been planned months before he decided to bag the marriage) reading The Silence of the Lambs. Great book, but WAY too similar to the emotional atmosphere. Funny now, but then? Brrrr.

BadYogi said...

It wasn't so much a reading vacation, but on a recent four-and-a-half-day trip to London (England, not Ontario), I brought along a copy of The Polysyllabic Spree, mostly because out of the 15-plus books on my reading pile, that's the one that fit best in my backpack (no checked luggage on such a short trip, that's my rule and I'm sticking to it).

I didn't really expect to have much reading time on this trip, and neither did the friend I went with (who never reads anyhow so he didn't even bring a book - I know, but we've known each other too long for me to really hold that against him, ok?) As it turns out, this friend has a bloody heart condition that flared up, which of course meant a night and day in the hospital, and oh boy, was my friend ever glad that I'd brought along such a smart, funny, easy read to take his mind off the eternal beeping of the heart monitor while I tried not to have a complete breakdown. (I was exhausted, since the friend we were staying with had had me take him into hospital the morning before with kidney stones, so I hadn't slept since the night before we flew over. I think my next "vacation" might just be a week on the sofa or maybe on a beach with all my reading pile. No people. Just books.)

Anonymous said...

I think I've only read my Hitchhiker's Guide collection only once while not riding in a car. Perhaps I've finsihed it up a few times not in a car, but I always pick it up for long gcar trips. Maybe it's because the randomness combats the monotony of riding in a car for hours, but I think it's more because it takes a long car trip to inspire me to pick up a paperback that contains five novels (and a short story). I should really invest in individual copies...

Mike said...

Ostro is mad to smacktalk Constance Garnett. The Pevear/Volokhonsky/Oprah translation of Anna Karenina isn't any better than the Garnett; and in many ways, the Constance Garnett trumps it, because she did it first and she did it better. Plus, if you read this kickass Mona Simpson essay about the novel.

Anonymous said...

I was visiting family in Hamburg, and my aunt had a copy of Desiree and I read that and didn't explore Hamburg very much at all. Not unhappy about that, since seeing the Reeperbahn is enough, but really, thanks to that book I'll always have a soft spot for the Swedish monarchy.

Can't think of any bad reading vacations, only books that have stolen my soul. Which, sadly, does not include The Nanny Diaries. But then I have no soul, so there you go.

Tammy said...

First, tuckova, I WANT A CABIN, TOO. Seriously, Rusty and I have been hunting for YEARS and have had absolutely no luck. We were thisclose to buying some land on a nearby island last year, but then we got scooped. Goddammit.

And Madeline, you're the only other person I've ever heard from who's also read Caddie Woodlawn! I bought a new copy a couple of years ago, and it's every bit as good as I remembered it as a kid. You should hunt down a copy and re-read it.

And ooh, tough call on the Tolstoy translations. This is going to weigh on me, because my copy of Anna Karenina was, er, "liberated" from me a couple of years ago, so I need to replace it. And I do have a soft spot for Constance. She did me a solid with her work on Chekhov's short stories. Hmm...

Mike said...

I'll buy you a copy of the Constance Garnett translation with the Mona Simpson essay. And then we'll be the best of friends forever because it's just. that. good. (I know we're already friends and all; it's just we'll be the best of friends, and all because of Connie. We'll show up on the "Books" part of C-SPAN and we'll laugh and then we'll ride ponies.

Tammy said...

Woo! You had me with the book, but you brought it home with the pony. Well, played, Mike Bevel, British Adventuress. Well played, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, Mike. I've never heard anyone speak so fondly of any of Garnett's translations. Perhaps I'm missing something. Doppelganger, I would highly suggest reading either the Maude or the Pervear/Volokhonsky. That's my two cents (and I am pursuing a Phd in Russian language and literature with a diss. proposal on Tolstoy)

Mike said...

Garnett gets quite a smackdown from Nabakov -- calling her incompetent. This would be fine, if Nabakov was any better at translating; however, his Eugene Onegin is basically unreadable.

That's sort of a straw man argument, though. The thing is, I just like Garnett better than I like Maude and it might be because I read the Garnett first. I prefer Connie's Anna and War & Peace over Aylmer's. (I like Rosemary Edmond's translation of Resurrection, though.)

And maybe what I like so much about Connie is her Victorianism. Lord knows, if it's got a bustle, an underbutler, and a mistaken identity that leads to either love or murder -- well, (a) it's probably by Wilkie Collins; and (b) I've probably read it and loved it.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading Douglas Adams and whatever other sci-fi my older cousin would bring along on our annual trips to visit the grandparents that lived fourteen hours away.

Unfortunately, the grandparents retired to Branson, MO and another road trip forced me to finish "Memoirs of a Geisha" much too quickly. The only book available at Walmart that I thought I would be able to stand for the insufferable and cramped drive back was "The Notebook." That miserable waste of a good tree only kept me going for 90 minutes.
P.S. "Caddie Woodlawn" was assigned reading in my 5th grade English class, along with "A Wrinkle in Time." While enjoyable, they both make me think of vocabulary tests and reading comprehension homework.

spacepotatoes said...

The only two reading vacations come to mind right now, most of the best books I've read were read at home. Clearly, I'm not hardcore enough :)

The first - A book called Titanic during a 1 week trip to the Dominican Republic. I can't really remember much of it, it was a novel with a story similar to the movie but not quite the same. It came out just after the DiCaprio movie and since I was a dopey teenage fangirl at the time, I picked it up. It was pretty much dreck but when I think of that book, I remember the sun, sand, and ocean right next to me and that makes it all worth while.

The second was a trip to Cuba two years ago. I read Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Ultimatum, sitting by the pool all week. I absolutely love the entire Bourne trilogy, though I was a bit disappointed by the second book (The Bourne Supremacy). This third one was a nice return to the original Identity, and I was completely caught up in it the whole week.

This is an interesting list, I loved One Hundred Years of Solitude myself, though it was my first experience with magical realism and so it took a bit of getting used to. I'd like to reread that this year. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Anna Karenina are both on my list for this summer, I've already got them on the shelf waiting. I actually loved She's Come Undone and call me crazy, but I really enjoyed The Nanny Diaries! You win some, you lose some, I guess :)

lisal said...

I'm late to the party, but I have to chime in my love for -I Know This Much is True- by Wally Lamb. I read it many years ago and since then have purchased it as a gift for several people. I read it before reading -She's Come Undone- so I went into it untainted. I read She's Come Undone expecting it to be as good, and while I didn't hate that book, I really didn't like it either. There was just something about that bothered me, and I can't quite pinpoint what it is.

As for reading vacations, that is something I'll have to try. I am constantly reading a book, be it trashy and common, or deep and meaningful, but it seems that while on vacation I don't read nearly enough.

What I need to do is compile a list of books that I need to read or re-read and get started on that.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wait. We were supposed to write about reading vacations?! I guess the fact that I haven't had a vacation since 2000 made me ignore that little detail. Since I take so few vacations, I find that I end up associating summers with books. So bear with me.

I will never forget how Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion absolutely charmed me. It made me see Toronto in an entirely new light.

Last summer I read the latest translation of Don Quixote (well only the first part, but I'll get to the second this summer)

Once, I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic and I was reading more Tolstoy - Khadji Murad.

Once I was on a train in northern Russia reading Moby Dick. My friends thought I was nuts: they were right.

Mike, I never trust a word Nabokov says - he says that all of German culture is "poshly" пошлый(trans. smug, kitchsh), including Faust (!). He is such a slippery guy. While his translation of Onegin is unusual, his commentary on it is among the best. I only recently reread it and was in awe ... for a day. Then I started mistrusting him again.

Em said...

Note that I made none of my judgements on actual literary merit. Rather I judged the books on my entire reading experience.
Best: I usually get way into non-fiction when I'm on holiday. Last Christmas my grandmother gave me a 1979 second-hand copy of something called "Dorie: The Girl Nobody Loved" by Doris Van Stone. (Thanks, Gramma.) I managed to contain my "is this some kind of hint that will shatter my life?" face until I got home, then I read it from cover to cover out of morbid curiosity. And it made me feel so much better about my life, because the author's family life sucked so badly I could hardly feel sympathy most of the time, and was guilt-free in doing so. I'm still not sure what the point was (I think it was "Jesus loves you!" but wouldn't that be a direct contradiction of the title? I mean, unless someone's agnostic...)
In any case, the chapter titles are just as campy as the title, including such gems as "Sir, Are You My Father?" and "Here Come the GI's!"
I don't know why this experience cracks me up so easily. Part of me feels awful because this is a real person and I can't connect with their character at all. It's not really a "good book." But damn if I didn't have fun reading it last Christmas.
Then, a couple of summers ago I read "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife" by Linda Berdoll for the first time. I ended up buying a copy of it because I still can't decide if I hate it or I love it because it makes me laugh in all the wrong places. Ms. Berdoll has clearly left the door open for a sequel to her first novel (which I hear is based on the '95 miniseries,) what with there being faked deaths and oodles of loose threads not tied up. But if and when the time comes when I am face-to-face with that sequel, I'm not entirely sure whether I'd laugh or cry.
Worst: I tried getting a "Regency" romance out of the library without even looking too closely at the cover-art, which later turned out to be a major issue. Within three sentances I'd slammed it shut, taken a deep breath, then flipped through to see if there were any possible reprieves. There weren't. The chronology is all over the place, with the date clearly stated at the beginning, then clearly ignored for the rest of the book. The clutching couple on the front is either in a dress 50 years too early for Regency or looks like Ricky Martin in breeches. (Did Colonel Fitzwilliam ever have bleached highlights in his slightly toned-down Flock-of-Seagulls-meets-mowhawk hair? Did he, really?) The only thing that kept me from destroying it in a merry bonfire ritual cleansing was the fact that it was a library loan and damn if I'm going to pay for ruining it. I settled for heaving it across the room.

Andi said...

The Nanny Diaries bit cracked me up. I've read it, and thought as much of it as you did.

While I would probably never read it again, my most memorable reading vacation was in a mountain cabin with Frank Peretti's _The Oath_. I was young, I was in the woods, and I didn't move from my chair for 2 days. Very creep-tastic!