A few blogs on my reader have been recommending books that are great to read while lounging at the beach or on vacation. I am taking notes on those suggestions and the suggestions of my friends and family and compiling a list in my Crackberry for our upcoming trip to Australia (it is creeping up on us!). With a 15 hour flight there and back and lots of time on my own while the husband is working, I am going to need to hit the library and bookstore to load up on some good reading material.
Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
Recommended by Jessica
There is a curious thing that happens to nearly all of us in the haze of our post-college years, and that is this: we anticipate the prospect of becoming honest-to-God adults with both heady excitement and unfathomable dread. Dread because we know, wisely, that once we cross this threshold, we cannot go back; there is no sleeping in past eleven, no immature antics that can still be written off to childhood, no phoning our parents when the checkbook hits zero. Excitement because it is such a relief to evolve into something bigger than we were before, to embrace the world as ready, steady grown-ups. And J. Courtney Sullivan, via her debut novel, Commencement, explores these very complexities and growing pains of leaving behind our adolescences and surrendering to adulthood.
Slow Love by Dominique Browning
Recommended by several of the design blogs I read
Browning's 13-year-job as editor-in-chief of House & Garden fulfillingly defined her days and her identity; when the magazine folded two years ago, she was shaken to the core of her being. Having maintained her Westchester house, family of two grown sons, extensive garden, and frequent dining out, her life and general sense of self was radically shaken over the next year, and in this enchanting, funny, deeply gracious memoir, Browning, many years divorced, recounts how she found enlightenment at the other end. Writing was one way to absorb the panic; she went on a muffin-baking binge and gained 15 pounds; lost track of days, remaining comfortingly in her pjs and yearning perilously to reconnect to a former lover she calls Stroller, who was deemed wrong for her by everyone she knew. A few small decisions had enormous impact, such as when insomnia compelled her to tackle Bach's Goldberg Variations on the piano, and poignantly she refocused on her artistic nature. There is such feeling and care on each page of Browning's well-honed memoir—her rediscovery of nature, her avowal to let love find her rather than seek it, tapping satisfying work at her own keyboard—that the reader is swept along in a pleasant mood of transcendence.
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Recommended by my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob
I haven't seen the movie yet and since my aunt and uncle gave it such praise, I want to read it and then rent the film.
This clever and inventive tale works on three levels: as an intriguing science fiction concept, a realistic character study and a touching love story. Henry De Tamble is a Chicago librarian with "Chrono Displacement" disorder; at random times, he suddenly disappears without warning and finds himself in the past or future, usually at a time or place of importance in his life. This leads to some wonderful paradoxes. From his point of view, he first met his wife, Clare, when he was 28 and she was 20. She ran up to him exclaiming that she'd known him all her life. He, however, had never seen her before. But when he reaches his 40s, already married to Clare, he suddenly finds himself time travelling to Clare's childhood and meeting her as a 6-year-old.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Recommended by Aunt Nancy
Ford's strained debut concerns Henry Lee, a Chinese-American in Seattle who, in 1986, has just lost his wife to cancer. After Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the narrative shuttles between 1986 and the 1940s in a predictable story that chronicles the losses of old age and the bewilderment of youth. Henry recalls the difficulties of life in America during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American school friend, Keiko, wandered through wartime Seattle. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry, horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria, is further conflicted because of his Chinese father's anti-Japanese sentiment. Henry's adult life in 1986 is rather mechanically rendered, and Ford clumsily contrasts Henry's difficulty in communicating with his college-age son, Marty, with Henry's own alienation from his father, who was determined to Americanize him. The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the flatness of the narrative and Ford's reliance on numerous cultural cliches make for a disappointing read.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Recommended by Penny
The publishers of Chris Cleave's new novel "don't want to spoil" the story by revealing too much about it, and there's good reason not to tell too much about the plot's pivot point. All you should know going in to Little Bee is that what happens on the beach is brutal, and that it braids the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple--journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday--who should have stayed behind their resort's walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn't explain to the girls from her village because they'd have no context for its abundance and calm. But she shows us the infinite rifts in a globalized world, where any distance can be crossed in a day--with the right papers--and "no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2." Where you have to give up the safety you'd assumed as your birthright if you decide to save the girl gazing at you through razor wire, left to the wolves of a failing state.
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman
Recommended by Sarah Silverman when I saw her on the view on Monday
Demonstrating that her penchant for swearing began at an early age, comedian Silverman begins her hilarious memoir by describing how, at age three, she gleefully responded to her grandmother's offer of brownies with shove 'em up your ass. Growing up in New Hampshire (where cows are well done and Jews are rare), Silverman naturally gravitated toward performing and moved to New York, where she attended and eventually dropped out of New York University to pursue a standup comedy career. Mixing show business moments (she wrote for Saturday Night Live for one season, but none of her sketches made it past dress rehearsal) with stories of her childhood and adolescence (punctuated by a persistent bedwetting problem), Silverman never shies away from poking fun at her own expense. Though she's best known for sexually explicit jokes, Silverman is able to address more serious subjects in the book without losing her edge, particularly her teenage struggle with depression and that her often abrasive public persona allowed her to say what I didn't mean, even preach the opposite of what I believed.... It was a funny way of being sincere.
Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott
Recommended by my overstuffed bookshelf - I've had this book for years and never read it
One of the few progressive Christian writers with a national voice, Anne Lamott's work (Bird by Bird, Operating Instructions) ranges from the meditative to the hilarious. Blue Shoe falls somewhere in the middle of that range. A slow, thoughtful novel, rooted in the domestic routines of child-raising, Blue Shoe follows the newly separated Mattie Ryder as she moves back into her childhood home, recently vacated by her elderly mother, and undertakes the renovation of her entire life. Her best friend Angela has left the San Francisco Bay area to move in with her new lover, Julie. Mattie's ex-husband, Nicky, has settled so quickly into a steady relationship with a young woman named Lee that it is clear they were involved during his marriage to Mattie. Nicky and Mattie's two children are displaying signs of emotional disturbance (Lamott is at her best in describing the quietly weird behavior of young children). And to add to the mix, Mattie's mother is falling into a senile dementia characterized by pleading phone calls and wacky assertions of independence. All Mattie wants is a little more money, a decent boyfriend, and for her philandering father to rise from his grave and solve all her problems. Is that so much to ask? Some of the action in this novel could have been compressed, and the major subplot involving Mattie's father fails to excite, but the strengths of Blue Shoe--humor, unflinching characterization, and keen observation--more than compensate for its weaknesses.
When I come back, I'll let you know what I thought of these - that is, if I ever actually read all of them.
Do you have any good book recommendations?