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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh
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September 18
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JUNE 23, 2009 12:50AM

I need help: Great vacation books!

Rate: 41 Flag

So I'm taking a semi-spontaneous vacation. What happened is, I looked at the Salon summer calendar and realized pretty much every week was taken by someone in editorial who, well, I just can't be gone when they are. Yikes!

It's fine, it's fun, it's spontaneous -- but I have NO books with me, the night before my trip. Every unread book in my bedroom (where books line the walls) is unread for a reason. I'm not gonna pretend and play serendipity: I've tried with all these books before. I don't want to!

What's the best serious novel you're read recently? What's the best detective beach read? Best non-fiction? Best "future of media?" Best self-help but not written that way? Best psychology?

I have two hours in the SF airport tomorrow because Nora has to drop me off early before work, and it has one of the best airport bookstores I've ever found. Bring 'em on -- books that is! And I'll be back in touch June 30 or so. Have a great week!

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The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Enjoy your break, Joan. You surely deserve it. Stevi sends his best to Nora...
Best nonfiction I've read is Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, a real page-turner, funny, sad and so interesting. I'm reading short stories by Edna O'Brien now, but they're kind of sad, but good. Have fun!
Peter Mattheissen's "Shadow Country," which is a rewrite and melding of his three novels (three novels for the price of one) centering on the notorious E.J. Watson.

For good detective/suspense fun, I come back to the Travis McGee stories by John D. MacDonald. I'd be surprised if you find one in an airport bookstore.

Have a good vacation.
I don't read alot of fiction and when I find something I like, it's usually more than a few years old. But, I highly recommend anything by Terry Pratchett fictionwise. They're quick reads, engaging, fun and there's usually a cadre of inept wizards running around. Soul Music and Sourcery are my two favorites.

Non-fiction wise I just started reading Douglas Rushkoff's "Life, Inc" which is absolutely fantastic. I recently finished "Coming of Age at the End of History," which I think is a great analysis of how dissent and rebellion have been co-opted, repackaged, and sold as entertainment. But, that's probably not really great beach reading. Enjoy your vacation!
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson: best detective beach read.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Best non-fiction.

Happy reading!
Dear Joan,

Oh my goodness, how can I resist a request for book recommendations? And just as I was about to collapse from OS-induced exhaustion (I need help! You never warned us newcomers about the addictive nature of OS!).

Because I’m exhausted, however, I’m also going to be lazy and just paste in a response I submitted to Jenlillith’s post about summer reading a few weeks ago. Hope this will serve your purposes for this emergency request.

Happy reading, Joan—and looking forward to your book report :-)


Original post to Jenlillith:

As an English major, I used to look forward to summer every year so I would get to read the books I wanted to read. Not that I wasn’t reading great books in my classes, but I had hundreds more on my list and not enough time left on this earth to savor them all. Now, I’m lucky if I can sit down and read one physical book a year. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading—I have a voracious appetite for audiobooks, getting my lit fix while simultaneously accomplishing something else, usually cooking.

Summers of my past are each associated with different books, most of them favorites. There was the summer when Michael and I read all of Salinger, including rare specimens like “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which we copied out of the library’s New Yorker archives. Our favorite is still Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters, and Seymour, an Introduction although we haven’t read Salinger for aeons so might feel differently now. Other summer read-alouds: The Giant’s House, Charms for the Easy Life, Saint Maybe, Cat’s Cradle, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Dancing at Lughnasa, and everything by David Sedaris, our favorite still being Naked.

And then there are those books I would sneak off with to some tree-shaded part of campus during lunch breaks from my summer library job: Animal Dreams, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, The Brothers Karamazov, The Solace of Open Spaces, Standing by Words, The End of the Affair, Confederacy of Dunces, and Do the Windows Open?

Not to mention more greats I did happen to read in my classes: Invisible Man, The Color Purple, Catch-22, At Swim-Two-Birds, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Go Down, Moses.

The first book I read after graduating from college was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life—which should be required reading for everyone at OS, at least everyone who wants to read genuine insights into the writing process while nearly dying of laughter.

Here’s one I think you will especially appreciate. It’s a book of essays by Irish poet Eavan Boland (who still holds the title of my favorite poet after a dozen years): Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Times. If you want to read some of her poetry, too, Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980–1990 is a good place to start.

This is probably way more than anyone can read in a single summer, but it’s hard for me to single out just one when it comes to books. Thanks for inspiring this nostalgic trip through some of my favorite summer reads.

Yikes! I rushed to italicize too quickly and missed a closing tag. Sorry for all that typographical yelling.

Psychology - A General Theory of Love - Lewis, et al.
The best serious novel I've read recently and ever is Mark Helprin's Soldier of The Great War. Don't get turned off by the name. It is one of the most gorgeous books I've ever read. A book that took my breathe away page by page. It's long--600 pages, but it's a book you never want to end. It is a novel about living life to the fullest as told through the eyes of an elder Italian man. BTW, I love that bookstore at SFO...I always buy a book there, whether I need one or not. Good for you for taking a spontaneous vacation...have a wonderful time.
Dectives: Semi-hardboiled - Ian Rankin's Detective Rebus / Quirky, amusing, fringed by darkness - Martha Grimes Richard Jury mysteries (but don't start at the end)
Oh I second Mary T. Kelley's suggestion. A Soldier of the Great War sits in my mental shelf of best books ever.

It is actually a great vacation read, it is transporting, and you will not want it to end. It is about great love and beauty, death, and life and grace.

It is transformative and when you have reluctantly turned the last page you will feel transfused with a sense of hope.

A Winter's Tale and Refiner's Fire are excellent works by Mark Helprin as well, but A Soldier of the Great War is in another league.
If you haven't read "Pillars of the Earth" or "World Without End" by Ken Follet.....well..they are pretty spiffy. And by spiffy I mean amazing.

The best spooky novel I have read in years is STILL "Perfume" by Suskind.

I am a non fiction reader, usually..but vacations call for fiction, no?
For a detective yarn, anything in the Dave Robicheaux series by James Burke is good. His latest is about Katrina. It's called the Tin Roof Blow Down.
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly


Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell (if you've read her earlier books)
Carl Hiaasen's "Sick Puppy" is hilarious.
I just started reading "Disquiet, Please!: More Humor Writing From the New Yorker."

If you haven't read the first New Yorker humor anthology: "Fierce Pajamas," I you should check that out as well. Everything from E.B White and Robert Benchley to Steve Martin and Jack Handy.
Fun and witty reading for a vacation.

I'd also recommend "Does My Head Look Big in This?" by Randa Abdel-Fattah. It's geared toward adolescents, but I really enjoyed the book. It's a tender and often humorous story about a 16 year old Australian-Palestinian girl who is dealing with social and religious issues on top of being a typical adolescent. A worthwhile read--highly recommended. Here's the link to Amazon:

Enjoy your vacation!
I know that neither of these is exactly new to the market so you may have already read them even though I've just gotten around to reading and recommending them myself:

Nonfiction: A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman

Serious Novel: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Still can't believe Nabokov was ESL! Worth reading, if you haven't, to finally figure out what all the fuss was about)
anything by Mary Roach- the one out in SF airport (or was a month ago) was Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
She's my favorite non fiction writer and makes me laugh almost every paragraph, and all while she is teaching you new information. She's awesome.

"From Publishers Weekly
Roach is not like other science writers. She doesn't write about genes or black holes or Schrödinger's cat. Instead, she ventures out to the fringes of science, where the oddballs ponder how cadavers decay (in her debut, Stiff) and whether you can weigh a person's soul (in Spook). Now she explores the sexiest subject of all: sex, and such questions as, what is an orgasm? How is it possible for paraplegics to have them? What does woman want, and can a man give it to her if her clitoris is too far from her vagina? At times the narrative feels insubstantial and digressive (how much do you need to know about inseminating sows?), but Roach's ever-present eye and ear for the absurd and her loopy sense of humor make her a delectable guide through this unesteemed scientific outback. The payoff comes with subjects like female orgasm (yes, it's complicated), and characters like Ahmed Shafik, who defies Cairo's religious repressiveness to conduct his sex research. Roach's forays offer fascinating evidence of the full range of human weirdness, the nonsense that has often passed for medical science and, more poignantly, the extreme lengths to which people will go to find sexual satisfaction. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* The New Yorker dubbed Roach “the funniest science writer in the country.” OK, maybe there’s not a lot of competition. But even if there were thousands of science-humor writers, she would be the sidesplitting favorite. Of course, she chooses good subjects: cadavers in Stiff (2003), ghosts in Spook (2005), and now a genuinely fertile topic in Bonk. As Roach points out, scientists studying sex are often treated with disdain, as though there is something inherently suspicious about the enterprise. Yet through understanding the anatomy, physiology, and psychology of sexual response, scientists can help us toward greater marital and nonmarital happiness. Such altruistic intentions, which the book shares, aren’t the wellspring of its appeal, however. That lies in the breezy tone in which Roach describes erectile dysfunction among polygamists, penis cameras, relative organ sizes and enhancement devices, and dozens of other titillating subjects. Not to be missed: the martial art of yin diao gung (“genitals hanging kung fu”), monkey sex athletes, and the licensing of porn stars’ genitals for blow-up reproductions. To stay on the ethical side of human-subjects experimentation, Roach offers herself as research subject several times, resulting in some of her best writing. --Patricia Monaghan"
Best serious novel is The Local News by Miriam Gershow. I will admit to knowing Miriam (we work together), but I will also say that the book is lovely, heartbreaking, and really very tight. You should read it.
Loving Frank.... About Frank Lloyd Wright and his 2nd wife, their travels, the homes he built and her murder - one of my top 5 all time books, along with Pillars of the Earth.

King Leopold's Ghost - about the slave trade in West Africa

The Art of Seduction - psychology
Have a great time!

These probably won't help much this trip, but for future reference: (Warning: Nothing here is current, and my tastes are decidedly middlebrow.)

Home Country, by Ernie Pyle
The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce
(Anything by Andy Rooney)

Detective/Beach read:
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler

Self-Help That Doesn't Read That Way:
How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie - seriously. Look for the out-of-print original rather than the modern updated.
Jane Brody's Nutrition Book, Jane Brody

Serious novels:

How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn
Ordinary People, Judith Guest
Accidental Tourist, et al, Anne Tyler
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerny
Marjorie Morningstar, Herman Wouk
Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman

Children's Books That Hardly Qualify As Such:

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
The Sneetches and Other Stories, Dr. Suess

(Almost anything by Robert Benchley)

Bon voyage,

If you haven't read them already, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books are a great summer read. I *loved* Steve Martin's autobiography, and Terri Gross' All I Did Was Ask is a a good read too. (If you can rent a movie where you're going, get Tell No One. The *perfect* summer mystery/thriller/romance.) Have fun, and pick up a straw hat! ;)
So many books; so little time.

Michael Lewis' brand new book on fatherhood is a fast read, but SO well-written and hysterically funny.

One of my all-time favorite books is A Yellow Raft on Blue Water by Michael Dorrit, a story of three generations of Native American women. Dorrit was a splendid writer; this "first person" fiction has the women's voices, even though written by a man.
If you still have time for another recommendation after all these wonderful interventions then I'd choose any of these:
Best serious novel: 'The Secret Scripture', Sebastian Barry - the life-story of a 99-year-old psychiatric patient, committed to the hospital as a young woman. It sounds melancholy but it is redemptive and quite extraordinary.
Best detective: Ian Rankin's Rebus, of course, followed closely by the novels of Lee Child and Harlan Coben.
Best media: Dan Gardner's 'Risk', a treatise on the propagation of fear/anxiety in modern society, what the Guardian called 'an invaluable resource for anyone who aspires to think clearly'.
Best psychology: 'The New Black' by Darian Leader, as Hanif Kureishi wrote in the New Statesman: "An engrossing and wise book, The New Black ... convinces us that this level of intelligence and ideas is essential today, otherwise the general public is left with only the feeblest guides to life, self-help books, "cheer-up" manuals and the fatuous notion that our conflicts are caused by something we can only describe as brain chemistry."
Best 'future of media': my suggestion is 'The Disappearance of Childhood' by Neil Postman, a distillation of psychology, sociology, communications thepry and common sense.
Best non-fiction: for me this is work, so, instead may I recommend some essays by Renata Salecl or Adam Phillips, both contemporary and excellent. Finally, may I recommend two standby collections of short stories for pure entertainment: Frank O'Connor's 'My Oedipus Complex and other Stories' and Neil Gaiman's 'Smoke and Mirrors'. Don't forget sunscreen and - surely - a new hat?!
The Seance by John Harwood.
An old-fashioned gothic novel complete with mediums, women who know too much and men who threaten to put them in insane asylums. Exceedingly well done. Perfect summer read.

Have a great trip! And tell us about it when you get back.
Best non-fiction: HERE IF YOU NEED ME by Kate Braestrup. Braestrup's memoir is about how her world changed when her Maine state trooper husband was killed in the line of duty. He had intended to become a chaplain. Kate decides to go to chaplain school in his stead. The book is joyful.
Looks like you have plenty of suggestions already but I'll throw in one more...Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams is an elegant reflection of the mother/daughter relationship.
I'm reading Jeff in Venice Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer, brilliant funny British travel/philosophical writing. Perfect summer reading. I read his Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It on my last spontaneous vacation, and it was perfect. Next on the list is Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan, about four feminists from a liberal arts college and the decisions they have to make in early adulthood, like a modern day The Group. Both of these just came out, so they might be in your airport.

I can never seem to go too wrong with George Pelecanos for summer noir. If you can get a hold of Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, it's some of the most rich and rivetting science writing I've read in a long time. Also the Brain that Changes itself by Norman Doidge has some pretty trippy stuff about neuroscience.

For thinking person's self-help: The Happiness Trap by Australian cognitive scientist Russ Harris. And for food issues The End Of Overeating by David Kessler. Former FDA head just wrote a fascinating look at the neuroscience behind food addiction.
The OS Book Club is picking a new book this week. You should join in!
Don't think I've finished a book sinCe I became a member of OS. I've been wanting to thank you for that one, Joan. Thanks a lot! ;-)
Also, I haven't read King Leopold's Ghost about the Congo slave trade (Freaky's suggestion) But my mother's reading it right now and won't shut up about how great it is. It does sound really good.
I'm way outta line here because you didn't ask for poetry, but some collections read like novels or non-fiction books. And they're very easy to start and stop, to pick up and put down.

I recommend Stephen Dunn's "The Insistence of Beauty" or "Different Hours" .

Enjoy the trip.
duh, check out the summer reading list on my blog
Hey Joan
A few good recent reads:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction)

Enjoy your time off!
Books? You mean, printed books? Are those still available? (Have a great vacation).
I'm currently reading In Search of Buddy Bolden: The First Man of Jazz. Bolden was born in the late 1870's in New Orleans, took up the cornet as a child, and then was perhaps the first true jazz musician. In 1905 he was institutionalized for alcohol-induced insanity. In addition to being an informative biography, it's also a fascinating look at a time and place that is long gone.
Thrillers: Any of the 13 Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. Start with the first, "Killing Ground" if you can. The freshest hero & best-writter books of their over-crowded genre.

Non-fiction: "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll. What we did in Afghanistan then & what we'd better not do now.

Future of Journalism: "The Press" by A. J. Liebling. He was writing about the future 50 years ago, and no one has done it better since.
'Tea Time for the Traditionally Built' - the last in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. You must have read the others...totally addictive and great fun
I agree with Stellaa (and we have PMed about it): The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. It won some French awards and was a Times bestseller. It has nothing to do with hedgehogs. Everyone I have recommended this book to has adored it. You will too, I just know. A great read with philosphical undertones.
right now, i'm very much enjoying outliers. by malcolm gladwell. him smart. him use big brain.
Well, I can't say these are the best books but they are good, easy summer reading that I grabbed from my old-ass library that has the same books in it since I was a child:

Patti Boyd's "Wonderful Tonight" (she's the muse of George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Songs "Layla" and "Something" were about her. Chronicles her years with The Beatles, etc. Not as glam as you'd think.)

Ben Sherwood's The Survivor's Club (a really amazing book about some wild survival stories and what makes one person fall apart in the face of adversity and another shine.)

And by the way, kudos, woman, for your appearance. I sent some good, protective and grounding energy your way.
How about Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner? It's wonderfully written, including the women, and has parallel story lines in present and past. One of my favorites.

I must have a thing for novels about the southwest, because another favorite is Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. Very early history of the invasion of the southwest by white men, told episodically...

Anything by Edith Wharton.

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, beginning with The Eyre Affair. Very entertaining, and just enough of the CorporateBigBrother to make you feel right at home, even though these books take place a decade or two ago.

Alexander McCall Smith's other series, beginning with The Sunday Philosophy Club. They feature Isabel Dalhousie, a resident of Edinburgh, and editor of an academic journal on Ethics, who constantly finds herself involved in dilemmas of one sort or another. She always navigates her way through them...
Lush Life by Richard Price.

Thank me after you've enjoyed it.
"Every unread book in my bedroom (where books line the walls) is unread for a reason. "

Can't give you meaningful recs at this hour, but lord, does that line resonate. :-)
I have two children 3 and under so I don't have a whole lot of reading time or energy and I put books down unfinished a LOT. So I know what you're talking about with those shelves. My vote is for:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

It held me from beginning to end and that's saying a lot. It is the story of a family in Northen Wisconsin who raise dogs and it is a re-telling of Hamlet (with Ophelia as a dog!) but it is more than both of those things. It is deeply true and complex and written with amazing skill especially for a first-time novelist. It gives me hope that I might have a novel in me yet (he wrote this later in his life)

For Detective fiction- I've read some of the Dexter series and found it fun to compare the tv show to the books. The humor is so dark and twisted - it's great fun.
What the Dead Know

by Laura Lippman

Just beautifully written, a great story, and I literally could not put it down.
This is light reading, an escape, the perfect vacation novel.
"Pontoon" by Garrison Keillor. I'm reading it now. It's a perfect summer book with zany characters and a weird plot. I laugh a lot reading it.

"Appreciating the Simple, Volumes I and II by Gary Czerwinski also make for great summer reading. Great essays that make you laugh, cry, think.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good read and an interesting look into Sweden's culture. I liked in God's We Trust by Scott Atran but it isn't exactly a beach read. John Burdett's crime series set in Bangkok is a good read also.

Have a good vacation.
What a great list, thanks everybody! I can keep reading after my vacation is over. I'll bring you the book reports later. I've read a lot of books on this list, and loved them, so I think I got lucky here! I'm going to TRY to stay off line, but you might see me lurking...
The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber.

I picked this up by accident at one of those Barnes and Noble tables and couldn't believe how wonderful it is. This is a book-lovers book and not just because of the author's ability to use densely rich language to construct a thriller that moves convincingly between the 17th and the 21st century. He writes about books - about book-binding, about rare manuscripts, about bookstores and the value of words. It's a mystery and a fantastic view into the process that used to go into putting together a book. I love thrillers but everything I've read since has been a letdown.

Reviews: "An intricately crafted and literate work (that) should give the (thriller) genre a good shake. A rich cast of characters who are difficult to leave when the final pages are turned."

Or this: "Breathlessly engaging...brilliant...few [thrillers] will surpass THE BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOWS when it comes to energetic writing, compellingly flawed characters, literary scholarship, and mathematical conundrums. AIR AND SHADOWS is also incredibly smart....unpredictable..."

I realize we're somewhere into The Summer of 2014 at this point, but how about an entertaining biography? Several years ago I picked up Napoleon & Josephine, An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce in an airport bookstore. I chose it mainly because of its 500+ pages (it's a long flight from Gatwick Airport to Denver) rather than its subject since I'm reasonably familiar with the life stories of the two main characters. It was a pleasant surprise to find it a very well-written book with lots of information that I hadn't read before. There's just enough commentary to add human interest but not enough to distort the facts.

Apparently this was Mrs. Bruce's only book before her death in 1995, which is a great shame.
Seconding MauiMom... A Yellow Raft in Blue Water was a great read.
I like reading kids's books when I'm on vacation - they move fast, humor is good and the plots are interesting and they have nothing to do with my MA Exam.

These are all in a first in a series:
The Fairy Tale Detectives, Gregor the Overlander, Mister Monday, Uglies, Magyk, Trickster's Choice, The Lightning Thief, The Thief, The Magician, Artemis Fowl

In the adult dept: The Girl w/the Dragon Tattoo, anything by Terry Prachett (you don't have to worry about order), Agatha Raisin Mystery
May be too late to the discussions, however, am reading a wonderful non-fiction book passed on by a friend, titled, "Other Colors," Esays and storys by Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize winner. It illuminates his life, his city, his work and the example of other writers. Am just getting into it and loving every page.

Have a wonderful vacation!
Start the Reacher series by Lee Child! It's addictive. Or for some insanity in your "crime" series, start Tim Dorsey's series featuring Serge Storms--they're all hilarious, manic and totally fun reads
Any of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mystery novels, if you haven't. They're told in the first person and she does a delightful job of aping Austen's style. The dialogue is almost as cutting at times as Austen's own. Much fun.

But my own favorite beach reading is Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian Wars, so what do I know.
"I Know This Much is True" by Wally Lamb.

"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller
Well, heck, if you like long family sagas with lots of drama, there's always my Adelsverein Trilogy - about the founding of the German settlements in Texas. It probably won't be at the airport bookshop, since it's turning out to be pretty much a regional hit in Texas - but it is available through Amazon, and on Kindle. If you have a Kindle reader, you could download them in just a few minutes.
Perfection, Julie Metz

Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, Kenji Yoshino

The Mirror in the Well, Three Apples Fell From Heaven, Draining the Sea, Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Walking Through Walls: A Memoir, Philip Smith

Bon Voyage!
Jayne Anne Phillips -- Lark & Termite. Just finished it a couple of days ago, involving & moving -- lovely writing. (Hmmm...actually it kind of depressed me because I'll never be able to write like that.)
Best non-fiction for me is "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," by Peter Mattheissen.

Best fiction, I'd pick "Reservation Blues," by Sherman Alexie.
Have you read Armistead Maupin's SF love stories, "Tales of the City" and the sequels? Reading them is so much fun, it's like watching good, lazy tv.
The Road Cormac McCarthy, but only if you're going some place sunny &/or green.

Measuring the World Daniel Kehlmann was definitely readable, and much more on the lighter side.

Non-fiction, I betray my own interests here, but see if you can pick up any of Open Court's "Popular Culture and Philosophy" series. I actually contributed to Bruce Springsteen and Philosophy: Darkness on the Edge of Truth, but that shouldn't discourage you from reading it.

Luck and fun!
This list is already lousy with great reads but I'll play anyway. "Water For Elephants", "Eat, Pray, Love". Corny, but total beach reads. I love the idea of literature but I really rarely enjoy it. Embarrassing, but true. I do love Dickens of course, and Austen, and all those soap opera Victorians.
Back in touch?
For vacation, with all if it's distractions and interruptions, I reccommend two things that don't tax the mind:

Any beloved oldie that you haven't read in years.

Anything by James Patterson.
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. A great book about a swindler who dupes the sinking upper classes of Britain circa 1875. Amazing how much relevance it has for 2009.

I second the re-read beloved favorites as a bridge to a new engrossing find. I'm relieved to know that the "ready to read" book shelf in my sun room that I mostly avoid because I don't want to read them syndrome is not just me! In the Tambo airport in South Africa I bought a super fiction novel with historical setting and two time periods - The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie. Wonderfully creative, inventive. Another airport gripper was Sepulcre by Kate Mosse.

When you are wondering about books, try where the devoted reader catalogs and reviews books owned and read, a great resource.

Bon Voyage!
...and don't get any sand in your Kindle.
Re: "...and don't get any sand in your Kindle."

Oh, is THAT what the kids are calling it these days? ?;]

Also re: "Books? You mean, printed books? Are those still available?"

My question exactly! *L*
Joan...if you take the time to read all of these wont have time left to read any books : )
So You Think You Know English--A Guide to English for Those Who Think They Don't Need One Don't forget to sign the guest book. Available in the fall through Borders, Amazon, and others.

Of course, Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative is always instructive.

Have a nice break.
Best serious novel? Cockroaches of Staymore by Don Harington but it is not recent - not ancient but not recent. I wrote about but I'm not trying to promote it. Just an honest answer. You would like it.
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
The Thing About Life Is One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields, a brilliant memoir about life, death and everything in between. Uplifting and powerful and hard to put down.
And the ONLY detective beach reads are anything by Lee Child or Michael Connelly but don't get so into them that you forget to reapply your sunscreen.
It's probably too late, but I can't say enough about "In the Woods" and "The Likeness" by Tana French (Laura named "The Likeness" one of her favorite fiction books last year). Read "In the Woods" first because one of the detectives from that one is the main character in "The Likeness" and refers to the earlier case often. They're both literary murder mystery/police procedurals, thoroughly engaging, wonderfully written.
"Liberty and Tyranny" by Mark Levine
that was Mark Levin's not Levine but then I know you knew that...

Great book for every American...Conservative or otherwise.
Have you ever read "Wifey" by Judy Blume... hilarious.

We expect book reports upon your return!!
The Believers, by Zoe Heller - great read. Also like anything by Michael Connelly, especially A Darkness More Than Night. And for the beach thriller, what about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stig Larssen? but be careful if the tide is coming in...!
OK but I like heavy reading on vacation:
Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
Orphan Pamuk: Memories of a City
Jose Saramago: Death with Interruptions
Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road (he writes better than the movie)
Pema Chodrun: Start Where You are
Ayya Khema: Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.
That's a start!
Happy Reading!
PS Agree with Stim about Shadow Country--it's excellent and compelling. Anything by Cormac McCarthy--The Road is stellar.
I'd pick up Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez as good beach non-fiction (or so she says).
Either of these will make you the ultimate wallflower on any vacation as you will not be able to put them down.

Absolute Power by David Baldacci;
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Gesture Life by Chang Rae Lee
Damage by Josephine Hart
West With The Night by Beryl Markham
A Fairy Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch
Elegy for Irish by John Bayley
I'm going to reveal myself here....I read Hilary Norman novels. They are typically period, murder, insanity...they're a fabulous escape read. I kinda have a crush on her. And she's British....and and and. Have a great, spontaneous, time!
MY book, a collection of five stories titled Red Poppies: Tales of Envy and Revenge by S.P. Miskowski available via Amazon. Witty and mean. Short of that... Grab a Tom Ripley novel (there are five) by Patricia Highsmith. They're all fast, wicked, and fascinating.
Almost any book by bell hooks is a good read. I really like Sisters of the Yam and The Will to Change, but her other books are interesting as well.
I don't know if you like anthropology or not, but a very fascinating book "1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" is awesome. It describes some incredible discoveries about Native America and their achievements
I thought Cousin Bette by De Balzac was an underated masterpiece. Early superrealism. Another masterpiece is Mark Leyners, "Et Tu, Babe" or "Tooth Imprints on a Corndog."

When I took the train to New York commuting I would buy Dean Koontz supernatural thrillers because they were light but compulsive reading. At least the earlier ones. The later ones lost a bit of steam. The Lives of the Monster Dogs is another very weird one by some woman whos name I forget. But a kind of modern Frankenstein. Any early book by Robert Fulgham is interesting because they are short true stories that are kind of inspirational. Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" are also inspriational. Like he will tell you stories of some failure at life that winds up writing Amazing Grace, starting KFC, etc. So you read about some loser that turns things around at the end. So my last suggestions are lighter reading but compact for a vacation.
World War Z Max Brooks
You probably have more book suggestions than you can handle, but the OS Book Club is reading Tinkers by Paul Harding. Not only will it be a great book, but you'll have a whole slew of amazing people to discuss it with!
"Dreamers of the Day" by Maria Doria Russell (novel)
"In the Wake of the Plague" by Norman Cantor (non-fiction, history)
"Good to Great" by Jim Collins (book about business management)
"American Gods" by Niel Gaiman (author of our OS Book Club read)
Peace Like a River by Leif Engel (gorgeous prose)

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett (thriller about a killer in a book club/writing class. Easy, fun, and surprisingly well written.)
Joan, my publisher would kill me if I didn't share my book with you. It's title is The Offsite: A Leadership Challenge Fable. It has been reviewed as one of the best self-help (not written that way), business, beach books of its time (came out last year from Wiley/Jossey Bass). It's a short read and you'll love the exploits of the various characters. It even has a romantic twist to it. Let me know what you think. Cheers.
While this will reach you too late for your vacation (and have a lovely time), I strongly recommend "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son" by Tim Wise.
from Amazon product description:
Using stories from his own life, Tim Wise shows that racism not only burdens people of color, but also benefits those who are "white like him" — whether or not they’re actively racist. Using stories instead of ... statistics, Wise weaves a compelling narrative that assesses the magnitude of racial privilege and is at once readable and scholarly, analytical yet accessible.
Walter Mosely. The mysteries, not the sci fi. Start with "Devil in a Blue Dress."
Here are some worthwhile reads to AVOID while on vacation. Unless you're a masochist. In which case this is moot, because you've already decided to reread TOPPING FROM BELOW.

THE GREAT INFLUENZA. Don't even touch the book jacket. You're in an airport!

Joan Didion's eloquent, merciless THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING is around in paperback. Put it down. Don't look back.

With that out of the way, here are a few fun beach reads that might be new enough for an airport book store:

Lisa Unger's BLACKOUT. Nobody twists a plot better. If you can see where she's taking this one, I hate you.



Best vacation book, impossible to find: Spaulding Grey's IMPOSSIBLE VACATION. Now that we know how all of his stories were meant to end, this one begs to be reread.

Have fun. Travel safely.
One book that fits almost all categories:

"THREE CUPS OF TEA" by Greg Mortenson
- It's a Non-Fiction that reads like an adventure story, it is thrilling, entrepreneurially motivating, heart stopping, sensitive and touching, and will re-invigorate you much like a self-help book.

It's about young man living in the back of his car who uses his money to climb mountains, and has no focus, after almost dying he is saved and by mountain villagers and promises to come back one day and build them a school. But he's broke and living in a car. Somehow through events he has gone on to build hundreds of schools throughout Afghanistan and the middle east and single handedly educated boys and girls and given them hope and belief in themselves, which in turn has kept them from joining the Taliban and other terrorist groups because. He is amazing and the story is like an adventure novel.

If you haven't read it, I guarantee you'll love it. Anyone else reading this...get the book!
sorry about the typos, it's the middle of the night. Happy travels!
Hi Joan,
I would definitely recommend "The Falls" by Joyce Carol Oates, it simultaneous, the facts are sketchy. Life is strange, but what happens to the main characters here define a new life for all involved. There is something here for everyone, from the male perspective, to the female to children caught in the middel and edegy relatives that come along for the deal. I really admired this fast moving novel, like Carol Oates herself, she represents a quarter sense intelligence, a lot of old fashioned odd ideas about things that matter. Hence her relationships are always somewhat twisted into a perspective of "no, now what" would you do, and she gladly tells you in her twisted sorbid way as only she could.
In interest of blatant self-promotion, I demurely suggest you try my novel. It's funny, moving, and other people besides me think so: Plan Z by Leslie Kove.
Twittered this a few days ago: Two words: Stephanie Kallos. (Broken for You ... new one just out)
People of the Deer by Farley Mowat. It describes his time among the Ihalmiut, or the Inland Eskimos, a nearly mythical race inhabiting some of the most Godforsaken land on earth.

Mowat is best known for writing Never Cry Wolf, which actually was a re-telling of the same events he described in People of the Deer several years earlier. But while Never Cry Wolf is noted for its hilarious humor, People of the Deer was a much darker story, an incredibly sad elegy to a dying people.

Almost nobody has read People of the Deer. Never Cry Wolf was an international best seller and is still in print fifty years later. Go figure.
I can't believe no one has listed the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich!!! You can't beat them for hysterical beach reading. Am almost done with Finger-Lickin' Fifteen (the latest one). Not the best of the bunch, but still relaxing. Enjoy!
Joan, they are doing untoward things while you are gone.
People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck may shed some light on the spiritual psychodynamics of getting into debates with Bill O'Reilly. ;-)
Comanches, by Fehrenbach, is a really good read.
Hi Joan! I wrote a post a little while back asking for the same. In the interest of saving time, I won't type all the really great suggestions here (and there were a lot that sounded like great ones). I'll put this link and you can check it out at your leisure. I'm going to take the list with me to Barnes and Noble and do some serious stimulation of the economy. :)

PS I'm currently reading another Jane Green novel--such fluff--but really fun, fast, beach-worthy reads. This one is called "Dune Road." USA called it "A total bon-bon", People says, "Green's writing is deliciously witty." USA Today says, "Think the Big Chill with logs of tea and posher accents." I think it's just fun--it will give your brain a vacation anyway. Have fun!
Anything by James Kelman. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino.
I just finished a memoir that reads like a novel:
"Loose Girl: a memoir of promiscuity," by Kerry Cohen. A well-written page-turner that brings the sensuality and pain of promiscuity to light, and to enlightenment.
Barney's Version, by Mordecai Richler. Read it before the movie directed by Richard J. Lewis comes out in 2010 (Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, which is promising).

Personally, I think it contains one of the funniest domestic scenes in modern literature but that's not all there is to recommend it.
Looks like I'm too late to help, Joan. But if you like SF, I would recommend most Neal Stephenson (except the Baroque Cycle, which I found to be tedious). I am also a big fan of Dan Simmons--he does both horror and SF.
The Physicks Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe - completely entertaining! And for your NEXT vacation, my own new novel, Sugar Time, will be available on amazon AND Kindle on July 20!
"As I Lay Dying" by Faulkner amazed me, and opened up my writing a bit.

"Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson is a short, easy read, but tremendously gratifying.

same for "Jesus' Son" by Denis Johnson. you can read it in a few hours, but it will stick with you for years. (and despite the narrator being a recovering drug addict / alcoholic in every story, it's not the least bit depressing. i didn't even find it dark (but i think some people might). it made me feel quite alive.
Sorry for the uproar, if you are even aware of it. I hardly am....

Anyway...try "confederacy of dunces ' recommened by angelique simonette, a talented new poet & psychologist & all around, lady.

its about the coarsed, most slovenly, erudite, funny, mom-attached,
great guy
who has adventures of banality & comes thru em with wit & anxiety intact. by kennedy poole, won a pulitzer. funny stuff. tho the author suicided. as you may know.

James Emmerling
The System of the World, Neal Stephenson
Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia, just out in paperback. Le Guin creates a good summer read about the king's daughter from The Aeneid.
This comment will be late for your trip, but perhaps you may have the chance to take another (one can hope!)
Anyway, this one is really heavy. 800+ pages and another maybe 200 of documentation. "Legacy of Secrecy" by Lamar Waldron & Tom Hartmann. It is about what the keeping of secrets relative to the Kennedy assassination has done to us and all the following events it influenced. Powerful stuff, but I took it to Costa Rica in June and sat on a beach for 8 days and devoured it.
A little lighter? You can find this in any airport I'm sure. "The Animal Dialouges." Craig Childs. Each chapter is a separate essay which can be read alone and in any order. Some of the most delicious use of language I've come across in a long time.
Happy reading!
Maybe you're back from vacation by now. My advice: Ignore all those books on your shelves crying out to to be read, guilting you. To paraphrase the book/movie -- you're just not into them. Ignore their cries for attention!
I had some snapdragons in my front yard whose color was, well, atrocious. It took me days to put aside my scruples -- and yank the homely things out.
You can read all about their fate at my blog, if you have the stomach for snapdragon homicide. Everyone keeps going on and on about The Shack, "I laughed, I cried, I laughed..." so I'm going to read it. Maybe you should too.
Anything by Anita Brookner.
"The wind is my mother" ( by bear heart) (Self help without preaching one of the best books to be found ;eva)

"The dancing healers" (Hammerslag; self help without the preach)

"God on a harley" (If you ever had a broken heart)

oldie, but great read for women with difficult relationships with men
"women who run with wolves"

Anything written by kahil gibran (for inspiration) Especially the prophet or broken wings

A woman's worth (marianne williamson) (passionate writer)

The right words at the right time (marlo thomas)

reason for hope (Jane Goodall who should be head of our DEP)

Spirit of Crazy horse (amazing read)

Letters to a young poet (Rilke)

A course in love (decent not as good as the above listed but fun if a person is looking for their soulmate)

A sad book but deeply engaging is "Women at Ground Zero"

Hope these help! Have a great vaca- Create
We are of like mind, and I always enjoying seeing you on MSNBC. I have to tell you, I love it when you put Chris Matthews in his place.

I hardily reccommend "The Chosen Few", not because I wrote it but because it is based on an actual discovery (of monumental proportions) made over thirty years ago. The book is a novel, based on the what is known of the discovery. If this discovery hadn't been keep under wraps by big pharma, a million american lives a year could have been saved. I co-authored the book with Roy Eaton. We our both in our sixties and are not looking for fame or fortune, but hopefully to expose the unconscionable greed and lack of commitment to the social welfare of the general public.

We have done considerable research and would love to have an opportunity to expose these opportunistic corporatists.

Anyway, I believe you would enjoy the book simply as a novel. It is available at, Barnes and, etc.

Enjoy your vacation.

Joseph DiLalla
This is such a great post.... every time I want to find a new book I come looking for this blog!!

So, Joan... what did you end up reading?
The Summer of Katya by Trevanian.
Extremely light escapism reading, but you'll cry at the end about 'Amigo' the coyote...'Pilot Down, Presumed Dead' by the late, great Marjorie Phleger.

Okay...we published the new illustrated edition. So I'm kind of slanted on that book. (laughs)
Im late I know but Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was one of the best books Ive read in a while. Im late with the comment but I thought it was worth mentioning.
A little late but check out the Illuminati books by Robert Willson.

My Website have a look please:
Zooper Tango
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