Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten “Beach” Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the literary folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. A different topic is introduced each week and participants are charged with coming up with a top ten list. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Beach Reads (however YOU define a beach read)”. I’ve decided to define it as a book I’ve read during a vacation of any kind since I’m more of a mountains and canyons guy than a beachgoer. Another “requirement” for me would be a book read more for fun and entertainment than one read to learn something from its great literary merit.

I’ll start with a couple from my childhood and move on from there.

10. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

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This series was The Lord of the Rings of my youth. Great adventure and quite the page turners – all five of them.

9. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

First read for school (maybe 5th or 6th grade), I remember having this with my on summer vacation camping trips with my family, reading it multiple times. I had little choice than to read the same books. More than once – it wasn’t like we took a big library with us; space in the pop up camper and car was limited.

8. The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt

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Although you’ve likely never heard of this pulpish sci-fi novel, I have memories of reading this one multiple times during summer vacations during high school. It was a slim volume, which also made it easy to take along since it didn’t take up much space. I believe there were several “Null-A’ novels in Van Vogt’s oevre.  I’d like to do a nostalgic re-read some day…

7. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Probably the most ’edifying’ book on this list, it made quite an impression on me, and I’ve taken it with me on multiple trips – just like an old friend.

6. Lightning by Dean Koontz

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I have a friend who was a big Dean Koontz fan when I first met her. I remember being impressed that she had a list of all his books in her purse with the ones she had read marked off. She recommended this one and I took it with me on a trip in the early ’90s. Easy read,intriguing time-travel-ly plot.

5. Wonderboy by Simen Agdestein

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This is the story of the youngest Chess Grandmaster the world as of the time of its writing. I read it in 2004 when I travelled to Minneapolis for a “vacation” and to participate in the HP Global Chess Challenge (the biggest chess tournament in U.S. History). It was a great vacation, and this book was perfect reading during my down time during the event. Oh, and by the way, Magnus is now the highest rated chess player in the world and will challenge world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in a match this fall.

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I guess if you’re going to read ‘magical realism,’ a vacation is the right time to do it. I remember reading through this at the lodge at Hawks Nest State Park in West Virginia in 2010. Almost incomprehensible, the book was still somehow enjoyable to me.

(below: Hawk’s Nest Lodge and it’s cable cars descending down into the New River gorge)

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3. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I read this during a vacation in the nineties. The only problem I could find with it was that it ended too soon.

2. Insomnia by Stephen King

I have quite fond memories of reading this one in Utah’s Zion National Park in 2006, more than once throwing it in my backpack and, while cooling down after a hike, reading it on the lawn of the Lodge or in one of its comfy rocking chairs, soaking up the sun in that beautiful setting.

(below: Zion National Park Lodge – right where I read a lot of Insomnia)

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1. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

While I wouldn’t argue this book has great literary merit, it IS memorable to me for sentimental reasons. Practically my whole family read it during one of our annual “getaway weekends” – this one at Clifty Falls State Park. One nephew and I have lobbied to make a ’group read’ a tradition at subsequent years’ weekends, one time reading the same author’s novel, Deception Point, but he and I seem to be the only ones willing to continue to carry the banner. We were disappointed that this year’s annual “getaway” was just before Dan Brown’s latest novel, “Inferno,” came out.

(Below: view of the Ohio River from the grounds of Clifty Falls State Park Lodge.  I like sitting out there and watching the barges go up and down the river)

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Well that’s it for me. What about you? How did you define a “beach read” and what were your selections? Did we have any in common. I’m off to The Broke and theBookish to find out…

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One Hundred Years of Solitude

Ever since I read Love in the Time of Cholera, which my book club tackled in April of 2007, I’ve wanted to read this famous book.  It was not quite what I expected, however.  Unlike Love in the Time of Cholera, which has a comparatively straightforward story line – the unrequited love of Florentino for Fermina, One Hundred Years of Solitude doesn’t really have a story line in the traditional sense.

There is no main character, in fact many of the characters (of different generations of the Buendia family) have the same or very similar names(!)  This makes for difficult reading for the non-focused reader (or even the focused reader!). Perhaps the best way to describe the book would be to say that the town of Macondo, and the Buendia family are the main “characters.”

I liked the book anyway, in spite of this “confusion.”  Marquez’s writing style is so beautiful and unique, he could probably have written about anything and I would’ve enjoyed it.  This particular book is known as an example of “Magical Realism.”  Now, I was unfamiliar with this term before encountering this book, but wikipedia calls it “a style of writing in which the supernatural is presented as mundane, and the mundane as supernatural or extraordinary. The term was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925”

The magical, or supernatural, intertwines nearly seamlessly with the ‘normal’ in this book.  One of my favorite characters was the gypsy, Melquiades, who has an association with the Buendia family across many of its generations.  He was also responsible for bringing many magical and technological wonders to the town of Macondo, including fully functioning “Flying Carpets,” to cite one example. He is described in the opening pages of the book as having “an Asiatic look that seemed to know what there was on the other side of things.” At the end of the book, we learn that he had already written the history of the family (in Sanskrit!) before it has taken place, though many of the family’s members have spent years trying to decipher his writings and things he left behind.

There was a lot of symbolism in the book, much of which I didn’t “get” until I read a little more about the novel, but one of the more transparent (even to me, I mean) images to me was that of the town of Macondo as an “Eden” from which humans were eventually expelled, as the town continually devolved and was corrupted by the ‘outside world.’

There is also a lot of sex and passion in the book. In this respect it does not differ from Love in the Time of Cholera.  In One Hundred Years of Solitude, however, many of the relationships are borderline, sometimes blatantly, incestuous.  The characters don’t let that stop them, however.  The only one who seems to give this a lot of thought was the matriarch, Ursula, who has a constant fear that at some point a child will be born with a pig’s tail due to the intermarriage within the family.

One favorite passage of mine in this regard was when Aureliano Jose had fallen in love with his aunt, Amaranta, wanting to marry her and all that that implies.  She tells him, “ ‘You can’t do that to a poor aunt unless you have a special dispensation from the Pope.’ Aureliano Jose promised to go to Rome, he promised to go across Europe on his knees to kiss the sandals of the Pontiff just so that she would lower her drawbridge.”

Overall, the book was a bit too mystical (or maybe I should say mystifying) for me to get really gung ho about recommending.  Marquez has been quoted as saying that he himself did not completely understand the book’s success:

“Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.”

Thanks to Allie, over at A Literary Odyssey for making me finally read this book as a result of her hosting a read-along.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Finished a couple books…

I’ve just recently returned from vacation and been a little too busy to post, but did want to say That I finished One Hundred Years of Solitude (planning a saturday post on this) and also – FINALLY – finished the history book, The House Divides, about the years leading up to the US Civil War. I’ve moved on to Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier, which I am really enjoying; more later once I get caught up with things.