What I Read on my Summer Vacation

What I Read on my Summer Vacation
The funny thing is, I bet I haven’t finished a physical book in over a year. Yet on this trip, I ploughed through more than half a dozen of them.

  • Solar by Ian McEwan. I’d put this on my “To Read” pile months ago when I noticed several bloggers mentioning it. I’d previously read (and loved) McEwan’s Atonement, so I was hoping for something good here. It was… interesting. I think I was expecting something more “sci-fi” from the title. It was very readable, but it took me a long time to figure out that this semi-comic story of a fat scientist that I didn’t much like was pretty much all the story I was going to get. Definitely nowhere near as good as Atonement, and one that I doubt I’ll revisit in the future.
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’d read this before, but I wanted to refresh my memory before our trip to the House on the Rock (since it was our main inspiration for going). It was just as good as I remembered. It’s a myth (full of myths) that speaks so much to the American experience that it’s still a wonder to me that an Englishman wrote it. It’s also the perfect companion to a long road-trip through the Midwest.
  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. My Mom had borrowed this from her library and saved it for me to read. It’s been all over the running blogosphere for the past year. The science part – about the advantages of barefoot and minimalist running – wasn’t a surprise to me, but the fun story of the race through the desert with the Tarahumara was. Recommended for runners, definitely.
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. Another one that Mom lent me, suggesting that I’d find it really funny. I resisted, mostly because the cover made it look like “chick lit” and I suspected some secret religious indoctrination. Luckily, it’s not really either. It’s a breezy little memoir of a middle-aged woman whose marriage fails and who goes home to recuperate with her Mennonite parents. We have a lot of Mennonites (and Amish, who are a splinter sect of them) in Indiana, so I could relate to a lot of what she was talking about. I didn’t, like, burst out loud laughing at any point, but it was fun to read it while I was home visiting.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. We watched the movie with my little brother Joey, and he and I found it pretty entertaining. I went to Meijer and bought us both the paperback of the first book, thinking we could have a little family book club! I finished my copy quickly, and I was thrilled to hear from Mom that he’s been obsessed with his as well. The movie changed quite a few things from the book, even going so far as to change the villain (which looks to be the setup for the whole series, so I’m not sure how the filmmakers are going to deal with that). Yeah, it’s an obvious attempt to cash in on the Harry Potter craze, but it’s not like Rowling invented the myth of a young man finding out his secret destiny and going off to have adventures in a new world. (Hello! That was George Lucas, right?) Plus it probably helps that I was a huge Greek mythology nerd in middle school, so I like that aspect too. The books are funny and action-packed, and I found them compelling enough to keep reading. I’ll get the next one. (I can’t wait to get Joey’s review!)
  • Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. The Snook and I were eager to read this one, as we’d both enjoyed Bourdain’s previous Kitchen Confidential. This follow-up is an enjoyable grab-bag of essays about all sorts of things: apologies to people he pissed off in the first book, ruminations on selling out, odes to cooking heroes, rants about the Food Network, his attempt to brainwash his toddler into hating McDonald’s. The latter is the funniest chapter in the whole book, but it’s also the one I read pretty much all of online a few weeks ago. I also liked his piece on tasting menus and why they suck. (I’m kinda over that too.) All in all, a must-read for the foodies.
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot. I downloaded this free book to my iPhone mostly out of curiosity, as I had vague memories of enjoying it in junior high. I also wanted to revisit the source of one of my favorite literary quotes: “Eppie in the coal hole!” It was a surprisingly fun read, and I went through it pretty quickly. The baddies get punished; the goodies get rewarded; and an old weaver gets redeemed by God and his community through the love of a little girl. What’s not to like?
  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Okay, I’m not totally finished with this one yet. I’m about 2/3 of the way through. I picked this up at a library sale while visiting my sister, mostly because I remember enjoying the miniseries a few years ago. The book is a great read, and all the scandal and melodrama is there. (Man, that Livia is a real bitch, right?) Claudius/Graves even does a decent job of helping the reader keep all the similar-sounding names straight, which is helpful when a book has, like, fourteen characters all named with different versions of “Agrippa”. I’m just now getting to the end of Tiberius’s reign, so I’ve got Caligula to look forward to…

Phew. Now that that’s out of the way, I can start uploading all my photos for you guys! (Yes, I did more than just read on the trip…)


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  1. I’m impressed with how much you got through on holiday. I always have best intentions and then end up catching up on sleep instead of reading. Will check a few of those out myself.

  2. i was just about to download a sample of “american gods” when i read the summary. i, uhh, don’t read books with characters named “shadow” and “wednesday.” 😉

  3. I don’t know if you’d like it, Aim. You might. It’s pretty dark and weird. I remember feeling kinda dumb when I read it the first time, because there are a lot of characters that the Snook recognised (like from mythology) but that I didn’t. Sure, I know who Johnny Appleseed is. But the various Egyptian gods? Kinda out of my league. Still, you don’t really need to have a huge background in mythology to enjoy the story. That’s all just extra. The story itself is still good.

  4. Hi Kris. Welcome back. Graves is one of my all-time favourite authors. You’ll have to track down a copy of the sequel too: “Claudius the God”.

  5. oh some good stuff there! very appropriate you should read AG again. im so jealous you were actually THERE. did you get to go backstage?!

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