Kait’s Vacation Reads

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I’m going on vacation soon, which pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to in the past month knows. I’m that excited. I’ve taken one day off work in all of 2018–and it was a “use it or lose it” carryover vacation day from last year. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to some quality time away from New York and my work email.

That has me thinking about what I’m going to read. I’m headed to Hawaii, which screams “BEACH” even if I’m not exactly a beach gal. I like the water, but I hate sand on wet feet. I have never tanned in my life, but I burn exceptionally well.

Vacation, for me, means time to get swept up in a good story: sometimes it’s the real one right in front of me, and sometimes it’s many miles or centuries away.

And that makes me think about “beach reads.” I’m not a fan of the moniker, which is a demeaning term meant to belittle women’s stories and their reading habits simultaneous. It conjures froth and frivolity–a breezy read with little substance. But who cares? Sometimes I like a light read, something to lift my mood. I believe that reading–no matter what the genre–should be fun. I read for entertainment and edification. Every book I’ve read has taught me something. Books without substance rarely get published.

But I also rail against the concept of a “beach read.” I don’t always love a fast, quick read on vacation. I want something immersive. Men read at the beach, too, and no one has ever referred to my dad’s military history books as “beach reads.” And this year, the books I plan to bring on vacation don’t strike most people as “beach reads.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles- I’ve written (and spoken) extensively about how much I loved Rules of Civility, and I’ve been saving his sophomore bestseller for the right time. Days (in a hotel) overlooking the ocean feels like the right time.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind- Obsession? Murder? Historical setting? Sign me up!

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami- I am deeply embarrassed to have never read any Murakami, so I’m looking to fix that.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer- The most recent Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner! And the rare comic novel to win. Plus, travel is essential to the plot and structure of the book, so it seems like a perfect travel read.

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway- My mom and I will be taking part in a book club in Maui, and this is our read. It’s fascinating and engrossing so far.

The last time I visited Maui, I brought only four books with me, and I finished them all before the long plane ride home. I won’t be making the same mistake this time! My iPad with Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and Dana Schwartz’s Choose Your Own Disaster will be coming with me. (I’ve always said I had eclectic taste.)

Books for a Long Plane Ride

An old friend texted me out of the blue a few weeks ago. We live in different cities, so we don’t see each other often, but last summer we were both in New York for several months, and I lent her some of my favorite recent reads. A month ago, she was traveling and had several long plane rides. She liked my recommendations last summer, did I have any more for her?

I tried to keep my reads within the last year (with an exception for a series). And two books that I recently read and wanted to recommend aren’t yet out, but are listed below.

EDUCATED by Tara Westover- This memoir had been on my radar for a while before it was released in February, and I’d heard from a number of readers I trust that it was a gripping read. The general premise is almost hard to believe–a young woman from a survivalist family in Idaho, whose homeschooled education has been largely ignored, teaches herself enough math, science, and English to take the SAT and get into BYU. From there, she goes on to get graduate degrees from Harvard and Cambridge while struggling to reconcile her new intellectual life with her upbringing. I found the latter half–her (fraught) assimilation into higher education–most interesting, but Westover’s writing about the rural landscape around her and the complicated dynamics of her family is worth the read alone.

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin- I read this over my holiday break–another book that had been on my radar for a long time. Another startling premise (this one fictional): four siblings visit a fortune teller on the Lower East Side and learn the dates they will die, with huge implications for how they live their lives. I fell hard for the Golds. Simon and Klara, the youngest siblings, move to San Francisco in the ’80s and find work as a dancer and magician, respectively. The elder two siblings, Daniel and Varya, finds respectable jobs in science. I was most drawn to Simon and Klara, younger and more vivid in the novel itself, but I wonder if that’s more a symptom of my age and experience than anything else. This is a spellbinding novel about fate, purpose, and how to live a meaningful, engaged life, whether or not you know exactly how much time you have.

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman- The joy in this novel is in how it all unfolds for the reader. I have to confess to have mixed feelings about this one; I loved it all the way until the end, when one twist made me throw the book across the room. But the read was good enough to make it on here. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving much away; Eleanor Oliphant lives a very ordinary, solitary life (with the exception of phone calls from her “mummy”), that is never better than “fine,” until she falls in love with a musician who doesn’t know she exists and meets a new friend from IT. The plot doesn’t sound like a page-turner until you realize that the real story is Eleanor’s mysterious past. I had some doubts until I got about 40 pages in, and it slowly dawned on me–oh, this is going to be messed* up.

*Fine, I used a different term, but my parents read this blog

CRAZY RICH ASIANS Series by Kevin Kwan- My CRAZY RICH ASIANS (and CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND and RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS) obsession has been well documented on this blog. These books are perfect plane fare: funny, smart, jet-setting. They’re not slim tomes, so one volume might last you one cross-country flight, but if you’re headed to Asia, I’d go ahead and bring the whole set.

BONUS: The two books I wanted to recommend but are not yet out:

THE LOST QUEEN by Signe Pike (pub date: Sept. 4, 2018): Full disclosure, I work on this one, and when I describe it to people I always start out the same way: Did you know that Merlin of Arthurian legend had a twin sister? This is historical fiction set in sixth century Scotland–I time I’ll admit I’m not particularly passionate about, except here–about Languoreth, the twin sister of the man who served as the historical inspiration for Merlin. The children of a powerful chieftain, Languoreth went on to become a powerful queen in her own life, but has gone mostly unnoticed in history.

SOCIAL CREATURE by Tara Isabella Burton (pub date: June 5, 2018): I’ve been recommending this book to almost everyone in New York. Pitched as a Mr. Ripley for the digital age, it delivers exactly that. It’s effervescent, beguiling, almost aspirational until it isn’t. The New York references (some lightly disguised) make you feel like you’re in on some inside joke. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read recently.