One-Minute Book Reviews

July 1, 2008

July 2008 Meeting of the Ruthless Book Club — What Books Are You Taking on Vacation or Reading in a Hammock at Home?

Filed under: Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:48 pm
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Welcome to the second meeting of the Ruthless Book Club, the online book club with no required reading. All you have to do to join is to leave a comment on this post about a book you like (or want to warn others away from) on any day in July. The book doesn’t need to have been reviewed on this site, but it can’t be one you got for free from the author, publisher or anyone else connected to it. (That sex-education manual your parents gave you at the age of 9 is, of course, fine.) A new virtual meeting will begin August 1.

I promised that I’d get the conversation started each month. So here’s my question: How do you decide what books to take on vacation? I’ve spent hours – sometimes days – winnowing the options.

Last year I packed On Chesil Beach, but it turned out to be overrated and so lightweight I finished it on the train before I arrived at the shore. The only bookstore in my resort town sold mostly bestsellers, so I bought Lone Survivor. It had more to say than Ian McEwan’s novel but was partly a screed against journalists. Am I a masochist?

I probably had the least trouble with the vacation-reading dilemma the year I read all of the Jane Austen novels in a one-volume edition that Oxford University Press has, tragically, allowed to go out of print. I’d read a few of the novels before I left town, enough to know I’d probably like the others, and the book was compact enough to be easily portable.

So what are you taking with you this year?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Well, it doesn’t look like I’ll be going on vacation this year (my husband is not real crazy about traveling as it is, and the baggage mess with the airlines has really turned him off. However, we are definitely going on a cruise – out of a port we can drive to – in early April).

    But, if I were going on vacation, I’d take one of the paperback books I can’t seem to resist buying on $5-per-box day at the twice-a-year public library Friends’ book sale. I’d have a hard time deciding between books by authors who have written other books I like (for example, I have Mary Doria Russell’s “A Thread of Grace” which I picked up because I liked “The Sparrow” and “Children of God,”) and books that look like beach reads (Haywood Smith’s “Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch” has the most interesting title and cover of that group) that I MIGHT not mind leaving behind after I read it.

    On my last vacation (a cruise in November), I took books, but ended up reading my book club’s selection for that month (“Water for Elephants”) because the ship’s library had a copy! My husband borrowed lots of books from there, and they also had a place to swap paperback books.

    Someday in the future (maybe when I retire in another 11 years!), I’d consider taking a Kindle (or whatever is the new thing that’s cheaper at that point) and/or an MP3 player and loading it up with books. Then I’d have lots of choices for very little weight.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — July 1, 2008 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Janice –
    This year my options seem few because of time (with kids – I don’t have any!)so I’m taking along several short story collections – reading that doesn’t require attention for hours on end:

    Into the twilight Endlessy Grousing – Patrick F. McManus
    Collected Stories – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    The Early Stories 1953 to 1975 – Updike
    The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx

    I tried out ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ last year – but I got lost in the characters, to many names that sound alike…

    Anyhow – Maine here we come!

    Comment by P — July 1, 2008 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  3. Amanda: Don’t you love those Friends’ sales? I’ve gotten such good books at them.

    Recently I’ve been reading the 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels in the Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide series, and it says there’s another novel besides The Sparrow about Jesuits (or at least a Jesuit) in outer space. It’s James Blish’s A Case of Conscience (1958), and this one makes “100 Must-Read List.” (The Sparrow gets a passing mention.) So if the Jesuit aspect appealed to you, you might like A Case of Conscience, too.

    I met and introduced Mary Doria Russell (who is from Cleveland) at a book-and-author lunch when The Sparrow first appeared. At the lunch, a member of the audience explained to me why she thought the novel would be a big hit (which it was): “It makes perfect sense for Jesuits to colonize outer space. They’ve always put a high priority on missionary activities.”

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 1, 2008 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  4. P: Some critics would argue that Updike was never better than in those early stories (especially “The A&P,” one of the most anthologized of the 20th century). Not sure I’d go that far, because I also admire Updike’s early poetry and much of his literary criticism. But the best of those stories are worth many, many contemporary novels … what an inspired vacation choice!

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 1, 2008 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  5. Excellent Reading all … thank you

    Comment by cynthia31 — July 2, 2008 @ 1:42 am | Reply

  6. You’re very welcome, Cynthia. I also appreciated your comment on one of my quotes from William Logan (who, coincidentally, had the lead review in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday if you like his style).

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 2, 2008 @ 2:06 am | Reply

  7. We’re doing the staycation this year, getting to know our house and grounds, enjoying the place. And the weather! I stacked up the books I want to read and stuck them in my blog, but I don’t think there’s anything in the stack that will make someone say “oh, I want to read that!” Turns out mine are personal choices, I think, some sentimental (CELTIC QUEST), some pure escapism (RESISTANCE by Shreve and MURDER IN WASHINGTON SQUARE

    Comment by oh — July 2, 2008 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  8. oh good grief, hit the wrong button and didn’t finish the comment above…and I’m reading a good deal of essays on travel and grace and memoir. We do have a copy of THE SPARROW in the house that I haven’t picked up yet and am now tempted because of speedytexaslibrarian’s reference. I am delighted to see P is reading THE SHIPPING NEWS, an unaccountable favorite of mine and I agree with P on all the character “confusion” in 100 YEARSO F… Updike’s shorts? You got me looking at his poetry, Jan! Now, the short stories! And for a treat, I’m headed to Amazon to download your YEAR IN …(I have a gift certificate with an odd amount left on it and this will be perfect!)
    Now to get down to the business of reading – outdoors!

    Comment by oh — July 2, 2008 @ 10:13 am | Reply

  9. Luckily for anyone who wasn’t wild about “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Garcia Marquez also wrote the wonderful “Love in the Time of Cholera.” It is — to oversimplify greatly — an epic love story with little chance for that character confusion.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 2, 2008 @ 11:33 am | Reply

  10. Probably Nora Caron’s “Journey to the Heart,” William Young’s “The Shack,” and Mark Gerson’s “Moonquest.”

    “They” won’t let us pack as much as “they” used to when one’s going by air.


    Comment by knightofswords — July 3, 2008 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

  11. You know, I never thought about how the pay-per-bag change would affect readers until you said that. But I might hesitate now to throw my usual half dozen “insurance” books into a suitcase. For the extra baggage cost, you might be able to buy new books at your destination.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 3, 2008 @ 11:39 pm | Reply

  12. Or, Janice, you can send your clothes out to your destination via UPS and filled your carry-on bags with books.


    Comment by knightofswords — July 4, 2008 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  13. Malcolm, I have actually done that — not using UPS but FedEx or Global Priority Mail — when traveling overseas. You can always buy new clothes when you’re abroad, but you can’t always count on finding English-language books. Jan

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 5, 2008 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  14. Just got back in town from a short getaway at Vero Beach, and want to add:

    REPLAY by Ken Grimwood

    I’m guessing that I’m going to find it apropos at this point in my life!

    Comment by ggelliott — July 10, 2008 @ 9:46 pm | Reply

  15. Oh, and just picked up Jon Stewart’s AMERICA (the book) A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.

    For moments of poignancy and giggles…

    Comment by ggelliott — July 10, 2008 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

  16. Can you say a few more words about “Replay” for visitors who haven’t heard about it?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 10, 2008 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

  17. Jan,

    I happened to hear, on NPR this afternoon, author Brad Meltzer discussing the novel REPLAY by Ken Grimwood, and after hearing Brad’s passion for the work, especially his comment: “…you realize that this book isn’t a thriller. Rather, it’s an instruction manual: You should never live your life looking backward.”

    While it bears obvious similarities to the movie Groundhog Day, it was written earlier, and the premise is that a 53 year old man dies of a heart attack but awakens as himself at 18 – with the opportunity to live his life from that point differently while having the benefit of remembering everything from his first time around. This is repeated as he fails to get it right several times.

    Here’s a link to NPR’s You Must Read This, the Brad Meltzer piece on REPLAY.

    I’m looking forward to getting into this book!


    Comment by ggelliott — July 10, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  18. I just picked up The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It’s a true-crime murder mystery set in the English countryside in 1860. Apparently the real-life case sparked a craze in detective fiction at the time. The book looks fabulous.

    Regarding the Jane Austen collection, Penguin Classics recently came out with a new one-volume paperback edition if anyone’s interested.

    Comment by sarahsk — July 12, 2008 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

  19. Would love to hear more about “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” after you’ve read it. I like historical true-crime, too …

    The Penguin Classics Jane Austen may be the only one-volume edition of all the Austen novels that you can find easily in America right now, so I’m grateful for it. My one reservation about that one (which I don’t own but have been tempted to buy) is that the pages seem a bit large. They look as though they might not be as comfortable to hold as the out-of-print OUP edition. But the Penguin Classics edition is also more handsomely designed that the OUP.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 15, 2008 @ 1:59 am | Reply

  20. I finished “The Suspicious of Mr. Whicher” the other day and loved 3/4ths of it. Wonderfully researched and well-written. Towards the end, I found myself wishing that the author didn’t provide somewhat tangential information about relatively minor characters in such detail, though, and because the events in the book are all true, some of the main players were never vindicated, which was unsatisfying (that’s real life for ya…). While reading it I was completely absorbed and fascinated, and enjoyed the glimpse into the time period and its media. I loved that everyone in England was trying to solve the crime, and that amateur detectives concocted elaborate theories that they would publish themselves and/or send into Scotland Yard and all the newspapers. Great stuff.

    Comment by sarahsk — July 24, 2008 @ 7:42 pm | Reply

  21. Your comments and some others I have read have sold me on the need to read this one, and I’m hoping to get to it within the next few weeks. The book sounds a bit like Simon Winchester’s “The Professor and the Madman” — which I admired greatly — in its ability to blend period detail with a great story. Thanks for getting back to me.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 24, 2008 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

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