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.
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.
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.
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?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.
Me: IT SUCKS.
Rusty: Then why are you still reading it?
Me: I don't want to talk about it!
(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.