I was a book snob and I have been shown the error of my ways.
Well, sort of - I still can't imagine reading any old favorites on my Kindle. Now that I've used it for a week, I know to reserve it for fiction; I interact with non-fiction differently and really do need solid pages in which to intensely scribble notes. (I desperately wanted a paperback edition of the second book I mention below because it so deserved proper marginalia! The electronic highlighting that you can do on a Kindle wasn't satisfying and didn't do my thoughts - or the author's - justice.) However, the Kindle was perfect for our trip. I have the Paperwhite and it was so easy to use no matter the lighting. Plus, of course, it made packing a lot easier!
I downloaded seven books to my Kindle for our trip. I didn't make it to Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and actually read the first book I list below before we'd left, but I'm quite satisfied with my picks. Yes, I know, I have a strange definition of "beach reads." I just don't like fluff! There's a time and a place for it, sure, but I'd rather sink into something more substantial especially on vacation. So here's what I chose and what I thought of them:
Honestly, I had no desire to read this book. I caved to the hype, though, and powered through the whole thing in a few hours. I thought maybe that I'd understand what everyone loved about this book if I totally immersed myself in it, but I didn't think the writing wasn't anything special and I didn't enjoy the story at all. This is worth a much longer blog post about how and why I read young adult fiction - a post that Nana's been asking me to write for months now - but here's a teaser from that forthcoming ramble: if you liked Divergent, read The Giver by Lois Lowry. You're welcome.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood - Rachel Held Evans
I actually downloaded this more than a year ago when I was first discovering evangelical blogs (which, perhaps not so strangely, was where I ended up after making my way through some Mormon blogs) and wanted modern insight into biblical literalism. You know me, dear readers, and you know this sort of study is right up my alley:
Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.The topic is incredibly serious and, though the author was accused of mocking both the Bible and those who claim to live it to the letter, she tackles it with dignity and respect. I was especially taken by her exploration of how Christians through the centuries have interpreted the Bible, and seeing the names of theologians that I'd studied for my MA helped me connect with a concept that, as a Jewpiscopalian, is totally foreign to me in any sense other than the academic. I loved Rachel's approach and her writing - it's a testament to her style that she's Rachel to me, don't you think? The pages are laced with humor and humility, and I teared up at the end of the book, when she and her husband celebrate Rosh Hashannah and observe Taschlich. I came away with a greater understanding of the Bible, of evangelical Christianity, and even of Jewish spirituality. If you're interested at all in the role that religion plays in modern American life, I wholeheartedly recommend A Year of Biblical Womanhood!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has been one of my favorite authors for years. Terry Pratchett was the gateway drug; after reading all of the Discworld books, I discovered Gaiman with Good Omens, which they wrote together. Since then, I've returned to American Gods, Stardust, and Neverwhere over and over again. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman's first novel for adults in eight years, is more of the enchanting same:
Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman's magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended... the result is a captivating tale that is equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky.It took me a while before I allowed myself to be bewitched by this story and by the obvious delight Gaiman takes in telling it, but I was submerged in the magic almost as soon as I stopped fighting against it and, at the end, I felt like I came up gasping for air. It was so enthralling! Do read this if you love brilliantly imaginative fantasy and truly creative writing.
Benjamin Franklin's Bastard - Sally Cabot
Of course I downloaded this when I saw it on the Kindle deals page - historical fiction, transatlanticism, and scandal? This novel, based on the true story of Benjamin Franklin and his illigitimate son, who became the Loyalist governor of New Jersey just before the American Revolution, reeled me in as soon as I read the synopsis, and I was so excited to learn more about such an intense period of history from this unique angle. Unfortunately, though, the author focuses almost entirely on Franklin and the two women in his life, which means that we get a thorough lesson in the daily realities of Philadelphia in the mid-18th century but very little on the political or economic sparks that became the fire of the War of Independence. Benjamin Franklin's Bastard is well written and you will like this book if you're more interested in the small pieces of life in another time, but I was disappointed not to find more insights into the big picture of the era.
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
This one doesn't need a synopsis, does it? You probably know that it starts with the disappearance of a woman on her fifth wedding anniversary and unravels from there, but the only way I can do justice to the sharp nuances of Flynn's story is to tell you to read this yourself and then to beg you to dissect it with me. The writing is addicting - you get drawn into the humanity of the main characters to an almost unbearable degree, and you have no choice but to examine your own relationships in light of theirs. (For what it's worth, I thought the ending was perfect. A lot of people were frustrated by it, weren't they?) I actually had nightmares about Gone Girl when I went to sleep after finishing the first part of the book, and woke Jon up in the middle of the night so I could hear him tell me he loved me. He's going to read it next and I can't wait to hear his take on it!
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling
As my sister pointed out when I told her I was reading this, humor writing isn't really my thing. I couldn't actually finish How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, I found Tina Fey's memoir only intermittently funny, and I liked Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea but couldn't be bothered to read any of Chelsea Handler's other books. Mindy Kaling was brought along as my fluffy beach read because I did feel like I had to have one thing that qualified, and I have to admit I'm enjoying it so far. I haven't watched any of her TV shows, but it sounds like I'm not the only one totally disarmed by her unassuming hilarity! It's an easy book to pick up casually, so I have no idea how long it'll take me to finish, but I'll definitely keep it in rotation.