Reading Rainbow: Vacation Reads

Vacation us one of the few times of  year that I read as much as I used to. I’ve read five books since Tahoe in July: Olive Kittredge, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Farm City, Zeitoun, and My Life in France. (I also got about two-thirds of the way through Don DeLillo’s Falling Man but I’m not sure I’ll pick it back up. Although I loved the excerpt of Falling Man in The New Yorker, the book has mostly confirmed that I’m not a DeLillo fan.)

olive

My favorite was Olive Kittredge. I’m a sucker for interconnected stories, and I also have a real weakness for books that I think of as “quiet books”, books where the drama stems from elements of everyday life: a parent coping with a child that chooses a different life than they expected, maybe, or the confusion of finding oneself alone after many years of marriage.

Olive Kittredge doesn’t have to create drama through a traumatic event like a kidnapping, a drowning, or some sort of abuse, instead Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel makes normal life riveting. The stories that make up Olive Kittredge offer a  look at marriage, shown from many different perspectives and at many different stages. The book also focuses on the often-lonely lives of older people, people who are no longer defined by their roles as mother or wife, daughter or son. (Reading Olive Kittredge made me much more sympathetic to some of my older relatives.)

My other fiction choice, Oscar Wao, was ultimately disappointing. Those who haven’t read much Latin American/Caribbean fiction will probably enjoy it more than I did, but aside from the copious Eggers-style footnotes, I found much of the storyline similar to that of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, or Edwidge Danicat’s novels and stories.

zeitoun I thought I’d already heard every hell that Hurricane Katrina wrought — and then I read Zeitoun.

Zeitoun tells a story that the media missed: the story of one man, a pillar of the community, who stays in New Orleans despite the calls to evacuate because as a popular local contractor, he feels responsible for his home and the many homes in the area that he worked on. But what unfolds after the levees fall sends Zeitoun and his family on a totally different American journey.

Dave Eggers latest is nowhere near as brutal (or as moving) as What is the What, but it’s just as compelling a story. Worth reading.

farmcity As a farmer-obsessed reader, Farm City was an easy choice. I was charmed initially by how the first part of the book echoed moments of my own childhood. (Like author Novella Carpenter, my parents were novice farmers for a time. Like Novella as the book begins, we had a cardboard box of baby chicks under our kitchen table.) But Novella took her farm far beyond poultry: she harvests honey from her bees. She raises rabbits and eventually struggles to keep up with the appetite and the strength of two huge pigs. While my parents brought chickens to their rural one-acre “ranch-ette” as my grandfather called it, Novella’s farm is in Oakland — and her adventures as an urban farmer are entertaining and inspiring.

mylifeinfrance I love the idea that a perfect meal or a trip to a new place can change one’s life but I don’t often think of it as reality. Julia Child, though, had just this experience as she documents in My Life in France. Her life was changed by a meal (sole meuniere) and a place (France).

I felt a little strange about bringing it with me to Italy (shouldn’t I be reading something called My Life in Italy?) and I still cringe at buying a best seller (especially at a time when so many other best sellers are vampire books), but My Life in France turned out to be a perfect travel book because it celebrates all the things one hopes to find when traveling: new people, new foods, and, often, a new lease on life.

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One Response to “Reading Rainbow: Vacation Reads”

  1. Lurlene Puckett Says:

    It is virtually impossible to travel in Italy without discovering something historic – Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the planet, and there are plenty of things that UNESCO doesn’t bother listing that are likely more ancient than whatever you’ve seen before. This is a nation with history.

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