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A reading vacation is nirvana in an easy chair
As I write these words, I am on the cusp of starting an extended vacation. I’d call it a “well-deserved” vacation, but I don’t know if the available evidence would support that claim. Continuing an ancient and time-honored tradition that I started last year, I went to Eagle Harbor Book Co. the other day to pick out a little vacation reading material. I already have in my possession an unopened copy of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which I received as a birthday gift from the woman who is my wife, which gives me a big head start on my holiday reading list.
That turned out to be a very good thing because, when I got to Eagle Harbor, among the people I didn’t run into while I was there was my friend Paul Zuckerman. Paul was instrumental in helping me pick out my vacation reading last year. Without Paul’s astute guidance to rely on (and to blame if the books had turned out to be lousy, which they didn’t), I was on my own.
My first selection was “Baghdad Without A Map” by Tony Horwitz, an account of one man’s travels though the Arabic Middle East. Baghdad seemed both timely and entertaining, two of the four things I always look when picking out reading material. The other two things I look for are good value (as in “on sale”) and the possibility of gratuitous nudity. Of my four criteria, the one I’m most likely to sacrifice is timeliness, followed in order by value and entertainment. As in most other human endeavors, gratuitous nudity trumps just about everything.
I also picked up “The Tender Bar,” a highly acclaimed memoir about growing up in or around a bar by J.R. Moehringer. A book about a bar in New York seemed like a good counterpoint to the book about travels in Arab world. I also selected a novel called “The Monk Downstairs,” which appears to be a romance about a former monk and his divorced, single-mom landlord. I know, it sounds like the plot of a bad ‘70s sitcom, but you never know from what sources one might pick up a few tips in the romance department. Finally, I bought a book called “Secrets in the Dark” by Frederick Beuchner, a writer, theologian and former priest. Subtitled “A Life in Sermons,” it is a collection of some of Mr. Beuchner’s many sermons over his long and varied career. Beuchner is a good writer who scores high on the entertaining meter, which balances out the fact that the book scores a big fat zero on the gratuitous nudity index.
I’ll read about Oscar Wao first since I got that book first, and, as everyone knows, it’s both dangerous and karmically unhealthy to read books out of the order in which you purchased or received them. The other four I can read in any order because I bought them all at the same time. (And yes, I’d read them in the order I picked them off the shelf if only I could actually remember the order in which I picked them off the shelf. This is a good example of the war my obsessive-compulsive tendencies are fighting with my failing memory, a war in which neither side takes any prisoners, at least not that I can recall.)
Besides reading my new books, I have lots of other big and exciting plans for my vacation. A soccer tournament in Bellingham. A quick run out to Spokane to drop off at college the future engineer who is my son. Some time spent letting the dog take me for walks. Catching up on some movies with the film critic and popcorn aficionado who is my wife. A little quality time spent on the business end of a shovel and hoe. A kayak outing or two. I may even try to work in time for my annual game of golf.
But most of my vacation this year will consist mainly of me and my family and my little stack of books with a comfortable chair and an appropriate hot or cold beverage close at hand. A guy could do worse. And Paul, if you’re reading this and have a recommendation or two for another book, feel free to drop me a note. It’s never too late for good literature. If I’m not home, you can leave it on the hammock.
Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.