Books for vacation

Jeanette Walls - Glass Castle
Jeanette Walls - Glass Castle
Holiday Reads

Reading should always be pleasurable. But reading on vacation/holiday should be doubly pleasurable. After all, one is on vacation/holiday. No one’s looking to read “War and Peace” while reclining on a beach chair. However, choosing the right paperback can prove challenging. Do you choose something current – a talking point which, upon your celebratory return, will make you look as well read as you are tanned? Or a charged bagful of thrillers, or do you finally decide to finish The Brothers Karamazov once and for all? The biggest risks is that you might take something you end up hating or, worse still, can’t finish it. If you’re only planning to read one solitary book, choosing is a terrible, almost unbearable pressure. This is the problem with holiday reads. You must be able to finish them while you are away. If it’s the right kind of holiday you might be able to get away with at least three books during that time.  So having said that, let me share with you two of my favorite holiday reads. As an expat from America (New York City to be exact), my recommendations reflect the American culture from two point of views. One, from an expat’s point of view and the other from a successful journalists experience’ traveling across America with “colourful” parents.


My first recommendation is titled: The Glass Castle, published in 2005. It is an award winning childhood memoir of Jeanette Walls and remained on the New York Times best sellers list for 100 weeks! The opening of the book grabbed me right away as I was browsing in a bookstore. The author, a successful journalist and writer, was in a taxi, all dressed up for an evening event in New York City. As she glanced out the window, she saw a homeless woman scavenging through a garbage bin. A closer look made her realize that it was her own mother. That was a very dramatic opening of a book. Not because the story begins in New York City (my home) but also knowing that it is the telling of a real-life story fascinated me all the more. That the author’s parents chose to be homeless rather than conform to a more conventional life enticed me to read on. While she lived in an apartment on Park avenue Jeanette Walls’ parents were living in the streets. I wanted to know why. Throughout the book, I was moved by the author’s capacity to forgive, to persevere, to hope, and to plan for a better future, not only for herself, but for all her siblings. I was  surprised the term “Dysfunctional” never occurred in my mind as I read the book. The Walls children were unyielding, resourceful, and confident. They were ardent readers and did well in school.  Even more, they were devoted to each other and loyal to the family. From an early age, they had to learn to handle an alcoholic father, a moody and depressed mother, and mediate their occasional fights and conflicts. The kids had to parent their own misfit mother and father. The urnalistic raw style makes for a chilling and touching  incredible testimony of childhood neglect. A real pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, American story.

My second recommendation is titled: The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America written by Bill Bryson. It was first published in 1989. Bill Bryson is an expatriate American from Iowa who has been living in England for more than ten years.  Bryson’s narration is a combination of reliving the backend  travels as a child and a general look at average life forms in America. The lost Continent is divided into two sections. In the first, Bryson travels through  the eastern, northeastern, and southern states. In the second, he explores the western and southwestern states. The purpose underlying Bryson’s adventure  was to find “Amalgam"– the perfect small town.  filled with tree-lined streets, a town square with pristine weed-free flower beds, strong neat little buildings, and friendly people who  stop to say hello to strangers. As his travels progressed, he soon realized this town doesn’t exist or may never have. Instead he discovered the mind-numbing sameness of strip malls, fast-food joints, and shallow simple-minded people, most of whom he describes as grossly overweight.  But along the way he develops a list or rules for living, one of them being, “Never eat in a restaurant attached to a bowling alley.” The book is written in a friendly and humorous manner, but at times can be slightly edgy. I think it is Bryson’s view of the American culture that caught my attention. He writes about his love of the American culture while simultaneously complaining about it to no end. It is precisely this love vs. hate relationship he has with the people and the culture that made the book so enjoyable to read. Overall, what made Bryson’s book such a pleasure to read was his general attitude toward the journey. Whether he was enjoying a relaxing dinner in a hotel or getting soaked in a rainstorm while waiting for a train, he always took away something memorable from the experience. By the end of his trip Bryson finally comes to the conclusion that he has become  a foreigner in his own country.

So, if you decide for my recommendations, you will experience life in America from two ifferent views. But regardless of which book you choose keep in mind: there is nothing worse than being on holiday with someone who can hardly tear themselves away from their book long enough to make conversation at lunch time.
Charles Anderson / institue4languages