Before basking in the glow of Costa Rican sunshine I must admit that I frequently sat in the glow of our Samsung TV. I can be a serial junkie – when I find my show du jour I will watch it until I’ve exhausted the final episode. Akin to drugs (ahem, not that I know) it leaves you feeling empty at the end and wanting more. Take Downton Abbey for instance: a British period drama whose writing captivated me from the start. I got sucked into the social dilemmas of servants and the somewhat laissez-faire attitude of the family they served. I like to think that I was a little more about the culture and history but really, like most good stories, it was the salacious nature that kept me watching. Would Edith really give up her sister to the press? Did they really just kill off so-and-so? (I don’t want to reveal in case this inspires you to get thee to Netflix and watch). I cried at the last episode. Whether because it was the last until the new season or because of its tragic nature, I’ll never let on.
When I was leaving for Costa Rica I picked out a few books at the local book trade I like to haunt (because it pains me to pay full price for books) and was stoked to find the Jeanette Walls ‘prequel’ to Glass Castle and a autobiography of Ruth Riechl. I also downloaded what I like to call a vacation book for the iPad in the event that I exhausted the others. Some of my travel mates were downloading movies to occupy themselves but I had decided that I needed more old fashioned entertainment.
I approach books with the same enthusiastic adrenaline that fuels my TV addiction. I’ll find an author I like and exhaust their line up, spending every spare minute with an open book. Once I’m done I typically languish in a period of slight depression that I have nothing new to read and will be forced to find a new author. I’m not sure why I do this to myself. Amazon has been helpful since their algorithms recommend books based on ones that you like or that other people have bought. I would like to believe that my interests are more than a fancy formula but darn if they don’t make some good suggestions!
I suppose this is coming to light because as you may have guessed… I’ve been on a book jag. I read Jeannette Walls’ ‘Half Broke Horses’ the whole flight to Costa Rica. It was like a piece of cake that I wanted to savor but instead kept thrusting forkfuls into my mouth until it was gone. The book was that good. It’s a ‘rather’ true biography of her grandmother growing up in rural America. I say ‘rather’ because she admits she fudges some details because she learned most of the stories orally and well, what story isn’t better embellished?
So I’m 5 hours into vacation and book 1 is exhausted. I decided to stay on the biographical slant and opened the Ruth Riechl tome, Tender to the Bone. Ruth was the editor in chief at Gourmet magazine and sometimes makes appearances on Top Chef. She loves food so I was hooked. Funny, funny lady. Her mother was loony and would concoct meals from all sorts of haphazard ingredients. She infamously food poisoned her son’s entire family-in-law at his engagement party. It was a bit of a wonder that Ruth became as enamored of food as she did.
I suppose this is what draws me to reading though: the inside and intimate look. My brother-in-law and I have discussed book characters and we both feel like they become friends. You can spend hours with them and come back to visit them if you’d like. You know them and get drawn into their lives and then at the end it’s a bit of a let down. You feel that wistfulness of wishing it wasn’t so.
It took 3 days to finish Ruth’s book and then I was left with my ‘vacation’ book. I enjoy non-fiction and fiction but my expectation for fiction is pretty high. I enjoy strange authors like Tim Robbins of ‘Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas’ fame or lighthearted fare like what Emily Giffin puts out. (She was unfortunately responsible for writing the book linked to the movie ‘Something Borrowed’. The book was good, one of those you can read in a day and not feel guilty about. But it should not have become a movie and I believe critics and fans agree.)
But I digress. My vacation book was “Beautiful Ruins‘ by Jess Walter. Vacation books are by nature trashy novels that have no merit as serious literature. I saw the cover – one of those Italian villages carved into a mountain with the sea slapping the cliffs below – and I knew I had to read it. Yes, I am that shallow that a book cover draws me in – but only for vacation books! Here’s the hallmark of a book I don’t like: it’s a painful ride that I break up into multiple sessions. I daydream while I read it and will go 20 pages and not remember what I read. Poor Jess. While I did manage to slug through and finish it almost a week after vacation ended, I will not be looking to see what else she wrote.
When I got back from vacation I decided that no TV was an excellent idea and have kept that going for the few weeks I’ve been back. I admit that it’s snuck itself on when Mad Men comes on Sunday evenings but other than that it’s been blissfully quiet in our house. I renewed my library card and signed up to digitally rent books to fuel my fire. In the meantime I took out 3 books last Saturday and churned through 2 already. David Sedaris’ “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” (skip it – not his best) and “Turn Right at Macchu Picchu” by Mark Adams. This was to set the mood for my July trip to Peru and it was throughly educating and entertaining. To the point that I looked up what other books he penned and decided that the only other one he wrote would have to be my next one.
And how could it not be? With a title like this it’s sure to be a good one: “Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet.” And after all, I need something to keep me busy until my willpower bends and Downton Abbey’s new season starts.
Claudia works at MOMs Central.