Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My Vacation Reading

As I settled into a sofa in our office lounge to read for a bit during my lunch break one day last week, a colleague asked me if I was attacking my "summer reading" book... I laughed and said, "Well, one of my summer reading books, but I've got a long list -- you ain't seen nothing yet!"

In fact, I will probably never make it through the whole list, but there are so many books I want to read right now, I can't help but bring along more on vacation than I will certainly end up finishing... I can just see myself choosing to leave ONE behind and deciding once I arrive that it's precisely that one that I want to read. Granted, this pile is a bit ambitious, to say the least. I'm still wondering how I'm going to fit these all in my suitcase -- after all, I was hoping to travel light, especially since I'm going to be in a beach setting and really don't need to bring all that much with me anyway. I may have to narrow this down... I want to be able to choose between a good selection of books in both English and French, depending on my mood, and I've been putting together these titles for a while now, for various reasons. I like to have a nice balance of light, fluffy reading along with heavier, meatier stuff for when I feel like I can settle in and spend a good three or four hours reading non-stop. Which is obvious from the photo above, as I've managed to combine both Nick Hornby and Murakami in the same mix... Suspense and romance are also both good to have on hand en vacances, at least if you ask me!

(And I'm actually still in the middle of Katherine Pancol's Les Yeux jaunes des crocodiles, which is quite good -- I hope to finish this by Friday, two days into my vacation...)

Thanks to Lauren for loaning me Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, as well as inspiring me to continue reading Nancy Huston. And thanks also to Meredith for the inspiration to write this post! She shared her summer reading selection with us months ago...

Most of the English titles in the photo above I managed to either buy used or to borrow, whereas I'm embarrassed to say that I bought all the French books. And some of these have been sitting on my shelves, patiently waiting to be read, for months, namely Duong Thu Huong's Myosotis.
Which will I read first? That's a good question... Again, it all depends on how the mood hits me. But I have a feeling it will be something lighter, so A Long Way Down may make its way back up to the top of the pile... Then again, it's not the book I've been the most impatient to read, so it may very well have to wait. Decisions, decisions...

********

I've been reading more and more for pleasure in recent years, probably as my own ideal form of escapism, and I can't seem to get enough these days. In a sense, I almost miss reading for my studies, having to analyze a text and discuss it in a classroom setting. This experience often brought out so much more for me, in spite of the stress I might have experienced in writing my own essays and analyses. I vividly remember studying Kate Chopin's The Awakening in a sociology class my senior year of college and wanting to discuss its themes for hours on end, feeling like I could peel away the layers of its depth and never reach the bottom of its literary potential.

My mind has opened up to more and more types of literature over the years, out of pure curiosity or perhaps even a subconscious yearning to broaden myself, my mind and my interests. Before moving to France, I used to read countless books about French culture and novels set in France or French-speaking countries, so when I picked up a book in a shop and it spoke to me somehow in this vein, I would more than likely bring it home with me, as was the case with Claire Messud's The Last Life. More recently, I've become fascinated with Japanese culture, and modern Japanese authors, most especially Haruki Murakami and Yoko Ogawa.
Interestingly enough, though, I've always remained faithful to my love of novels rather than essays or non-fiction. Perhaps it's just this constant need for escapism that resurfaces at every turn, or a recognition of myself or some of my own neuroses and quirks in the characters. I imagine this is a universal trait, that we all yearn for this somehow, and we all look for ourselves in one form or another in our reading.

But the funny thing is that certain stages of my life took me away from the pleasures of plunging into a good book, and I've only found my way back again in the last four years or so. And what a rediscovery! In that absence, I didn't realize all the wonder and stimulation I was missing.
Even today I surprise myself with my constantly evolving passion for reading -- obviously I'm not alone, but it's as if I can't read fast enough some days, trying to soak up so much in such a short time. Then again, I often like to sit back and take my time, savor the pages, like I so often did with Milan Kundera. As I dig my way through one novel, I'm already thinking about what I will read next, anticipating the exhilaration of discovering new characters and new worlds. (Perhaps my boyfriend has solved this dilemma by reading several books at the same time, even in different languages, each one peeking out of a jacket pocket, but I can't seem to do this -- to split my attention that way -- as it distracts me from the story at hand. I need to focus on one imaginary world at a time.)

I do feel quite strongly that the appeal of certain books, or certain kinds of books, is very singular and unique, and that one's interests in books is very subjective. A book that a mass of people might enjoy sometimes just doesn't do anything for me, and I can't necessarly get into it or grasp why it is so popular. Whereas some other subjects or styles pull me in every time, but may not appeal to others at all. And that's okay! I've made peace with this fact, knowing it's all a part of who I am, and my own search for identity.

But like so many others, I'm sometimes overwhelmed by all the wonderful books there are to be read, and I know my thirst will continue unquenched for years to come. I just hope I'll never lose this passion for the written word, because it's one of the things that keeps me going from one day to the next.

27 comments:

jchevais said...

Fabulous post!

I distinctly remember, going to the library when I was a teenager and thinking to myself, "Oh dear... there are so many books. How will I get through them all?..."

Sigh.

I'm with you 100% on this: I can't get enough of reading (and if I don't have a book in my hot little hands, I'm cranky).

The last book that really blew my mind was an Irving one: A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was extraordinary. Highly recommended.

Wendz said...

Oh you'll find when you get older that reading starts to take a back seat.

I used to read as voraciously as you and could never have imagined not being utterly mad about books. But things do change.

Enjoy it.

And I must say I am impressed with your book list...I can't be bothered with books that make me think. I have enough to think about in life, and read only for escapism and sheer entertainment. My book choices are cotton candy for the mind.

Linda said...

Reading is my thing. There is nothing I 'd rather do more than read. I read lots of mysteries and am also reading alot of books by people who have moved to another country, usually France. I love travel books. My husband looks at my mountain of books by the side of my bed and those stuffed in my closet and can't believe it. It's kind of an addiction, I guess, but harmless, right?

The Late Bloomer said...

Yes, Linda, the best kind of addiction to have, if you ask me! Fully agreed. Of course, a nice glass of red wine in hand while reading isn't too bad either...

I know you mentioned some good books to me last weekend, Jenn, namely the Time Traveler's Wife -- I'll have to add that to my list as well, for future reference. I've read some John Irving in the past, but it's been a long time. I think it was A Widow for One Year...

Oh Wendy, I love me some light romantic reading too, trust me! It really depends... Some of these choices may not be the best for the beach, but we'll see... I have my summer 2004 reads still imprinted on my brain, and those included some Paul Auster and William Boyd -- really engrossing! Whereas I read Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces last summer, and that was FAR too heavy; I trudged my way through it. We'll see how productive I turn out to be this year!

Farfallina - Roam 2 Rome said...

I love this! :)

Aren't books great?

You're right... a reading list is very personal! Like you said: "some styles pull me in every time, but may not appeal to others at all. And that's okay! I've made peace with this fact, knowing it's all a part of who I am, and my own search for identity." (that's simply beautiful!)

For the past few years I've loved the meaty, make-you-think, international kind :)

Yes, many of us can identify with your curious artistic personality, and books nurture this thirst inside us :)

I've seen many people who have a life long passion for reading, and I hope I'll always have this thirst as well...

mcewen said...

I always bank on the summer to do catch up - funnily it never works out that way.
Cheers

Loulou said...

I have a list by my bedside that keeps growing thanks to a friend who regularly adds to her collection and lends books to me!
I've tagged you for a meme...in French. Hope you join in!

Emily said...

I love reading! Have a great vacation. :)

DestinationMetz said...

I really liked this post. It made me want to get back into reading more. Since I started my degree I basically stopped reading anything other than the light stuff (bridget jones, harry potter, life in france kinda books). I think reading is really, really important, it helps us better express ourselves verbally and in written form, generates ideas, and is a major source of catharsis. You've inspired me to search out some good fiction again.

Run Around Paris said...

There are times when I can go quite a while, reading nothing but magazines, but there are other times like this summer when all I want to do is read and get on to the next one. Insatiable! I actually keep a running list of books I've read on my blog...I like to watch it grow and change with my current moods/choice of books.

Betty C. said...

I read every word of this post. I have just been getting my passion for reading back after a 10-year hiatus. I never really stopped reading, but just didn't feel quite so motivated to do so. This has coincided with the time when my kids have been 4-14/6-16 years old. Strangely I read a lot more when they were very small. I guess I wasn't taxiing around so much!

It's interesting that you read in both French and English. I can read in French with no problems but have usually done most of my novel-reading in English. I think I've needed to keep in touch with my own language that way. I read a lot of magazine articles in French, though.

Anyway, I guess this is long enough for a comment! I'll have to do my own post...

Yansor said...

Hello ! I loved "the Night Watch "! :) will write more about it as soon as I wade thru 546 pending emails...
a bientot !
TR :)

Dumdad said...

Reading is one of life's great pleasures.

Logan Pearsall Smith said:
"People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading."

My son and daughter are avid readers as are my wife and I. Sometimes the only sound in the house is the one of turning pages. Bliss.

Aralena said...

Lovely, thoughtful post, Alice.

So true about the escapism of reading - I've tried other means and none are as long-lasting, enriching, or legal! ;) And there are definitely moments when you've found that addictive read, you'd do anything to be alone with your book and the alternate universe it's taken you to.

It's interesting that you miss the analytical reading of the lit class. Could the Sorbonne be calling your name?

There was a time after university when I went on a reading hiatus; I felt like my brain wasn't able to relax and simply read for pleasure. Now I want to read everything out there, and now!

little fugitive said...

With all this rain it has been a great summer for reading!

I hope you have(had?) a wonderful vacation.

I have to stop the blogging for now and buckle down here...but I will really miss your blog. (Though I must admit in weak moments I will break down and read what you're up to/thinking about).

My email is amrigby@gmail.com if you wouldn't mind sending me yours (somehow the one listed on your page isn't working for me). Thanks!

maitresse said...

hey, did you get to read "the night watch" yet? now tatiana has me all anxious to read it! but it'll have to wait til I see you in January, as I definitely won't have time before then...

this was a wonderful post. though I hope wendz is wrong about reading taking a back seat (to... what? children? gout?). True people of the book, I think, don't regard reading as a separate activity that comes and goes but something as natural as breathing. And no matter what's happening in your life, you never stop breathing!

jchevais said...

I agree Maitresse. I could not possibly give up reading.

Why, believe it or not, I was reading Ayn Rand on the delivery table.

Fountainhead was probably not the wisest post partum read, but whatever.


Today, being the 23 August, I'm ONE DAY LATE in wishing Alice a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

I hope you had a wonderful day.

Big kiss.

J

Imaginair' said...

Nice idea to mix french and english litterature.
I try to do the same too.
But adding south american litterature (like amado, cortazar) or chinese (La Joueuse de go de Shan Sa).
Trying to write, and trying to smell and see the landscape of Brittany.
I live in Paris, France.
www.flickr.com/photos.imaginair

adam said...

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Zazazu said...

Hello,

I'm new to your blog and am delighted to have found it. What an amazing life you lead! I'm definitely somewhat envious. France... ah...

I share in your love of reading and also find that I have so very much on my to-be-read list. I often find it overwhelming and have to make lists of ten to focus on before I move on. I have books all around me and am always yearning to read something else, one more thing. It is wonderful and torture at the same time.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy your current read.

Amazing blog you have here.

Cheers,

Zazazu

Destination Metz said...

by pure coincidence a friend bought me that same Haruki Murakami book for the plane ride, we'll have to compare notes :)

Misplaced said...

"A Long Way Down" is worth the read. Enjoy

lottie said...

I read The Night Watch on holiday this summer and didn't put it down until I'd finished it. I hate that reading seems to take a back seat to other more transient pleasures as we grow older. I've vowed to make more time to read...

l'embrouillamini said...

I love having a nice stack of books next to my bed, reminding me that I have I not yet broken even on the buying books/reading books scale.

An old lady in a town quite near to me was on the news a couple of weeks back as she had read ALL of the books in her library over 45 years.

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/search/display.var.1518248.0.edna_turning_over_a_new_leaf_after_21_000_books_borrowed.php

Badaude said...

I've just returned from vacances. I took de Maupassant, freres Goncourt, Fred Vargas, Darcy O'Brian, and Mavis Gallant. I mostly read... French Elle magazine.
PS - thanks for linking to my blog, Badaude. But if you're a late bloomer, I hate to think what that makes me...

The Late Bloomer said...

D. Metz, still haven't read the Murakami! I promise I'll get to it soon... Have you read it yet? What do you think of it, as compared to his ther books?


I have to admit that I didn't love Hornby's Long Way Down, but maybe it's just not my style... It was all right, just not the kind of book that gripped me or held my attention 'til the end. I finished it, because I don't like to stop in the middle of a book if I can avoid it, but I was impatient to start my next read!

Lottie, I'm working on Night Watch right now, and it really is beautifully written -- the detailed descriptions sometimes tear at my heartstrings, just how accurate they are, how precise and on-the-mark Waters is when it comes to describing emotions and moments that we share as human beings, and in our relationships. Or the changing of feelings, the falling in and out of live. Truly exquisite!

L'embrouillamini, I'll have to check out that article... Sounds intriguing.

Badaude, I guess it depends on one's perspective or point of view: I guess I sometimes feel like, compared to many of my friends and acquaintances, I'm blooming far later in the game. But then I guess it's all relative! I know we can also bloom much later in our lives, or at many different stages/phases of our lives. In any case, you seem to have had a great path and you have kept track of things by gathering sketches in your Moleskine notebooks -- how I wish I could do the same!

Amy H said...

What a great post! I am adding the books that I haven't yet read to my "to read" list, which I plan to finish sometime in the next ten years. (And it's not that long.) I'm so jealous you have reading time. Maybe when my baby's sleeping nights I will too.

Hope you had a fabulous vacation, and thanks for all of your sweet notes. I'm definitely up for a coffee (or something harder) next time I'm in your neck of the woods.