Ten Summer Beach Reads

Throughout the year, my wife and I spend several holidays with her parents in Florida. They live only a few minutes from the beach providing me with ample time to enjoy the sounds and smells of the ocean. Of course being the obsessive-compulsive reader that I am, I usually take way more books than is logical to finish in one short week. However, I firmly believe that one can never be too prepared for leaving one’s precious library for such a long period of time.

I try to adjust my reading tastes to match the tropical setting and calm atmosphere of the beach. Leave it to me to “color coordinate” my reading selections to match my temporary surroundings. So in the spirit of fun, here are my top ten holiday beach reads.

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1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Hands down one of my favorite books of 2016! I was introduced to this beautiful novel by my best friend/brother. Pat Conroy ingeniously blends family tragedy with a great sense of humor. If you think your family is crazy, wait until you meet this one! The settings are beautifully described from Rome to the gorgeous beaches of South Carolina. Conroy is an underrated master of the craft. He even took home both the ‘Newcomer Award’ as well as ‘Best Original Read’ for my Book Awards 2016.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is another genius, and this book has to be one of my all-time favorites. This one is perfect for the summer holidays because it jumps all over the world-as well as all over time. Here you will discover six stories separated by both continents and centuries only to find that they connect to each other in surprising ways.

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3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I would definitely put this one as the best classic to take to the beach. Stevenson’s tale of dastardly pirates and hidden treasure is a fun read. I’m looking forward to reading Andrew Motion’s sequel Silver (probably during another holiday trip). Sure, it’s a boy’s adventure book, but who doesn’t love pirates? Maybe treat yourself to a pirate cruise after you have read this classic!

4. Dune by Frank Herbert

The first book of one of the greatest science fiction series of all time. Dune is set on the desert planet of Arrakis, where water is scarce but the spice known as melange is plentiful. There are conspiracies, assassinations, betrayals, and the awesome gigantic sand worms! I’m currently reading this one and plan to check out more in the series. There have also been a couple of film adaptations.

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5. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the absurdly comical story of centenarian Allan Karlsson. On the day of the 100th birthday, he makes the spontaneous decision to run away from the nursing home that he is trapped in with no plans for the future. His subsequent decision to steal a suitcase from a mobster filled with a ton of money leads to connecting with several other downtrodden characters and one increasingly ridiculous misadventure after another. This is a fun read, as we are treated to Allan encountering one famous historical figure after another. If you want something light and ridiculous, give this one a shot.

6. Sandition by Jane Austen and ‘Another Lady’

If you are searching for something light, you can’t go wrong with Jane Austen. This unfinished work was completed by an anonymous author who does well in capturing Austen’s signature voice. Set in a resort village, it is full of the typical tropes that Austen fans can’t get enough of….love gone wrong, misunderstandings, and colorful characters. In order to get the full experience, one should read this on the beach with the sounds of the ocean washing over you. Apparently, there’s a modernization of this tale available online.

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7. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

This charming little memoir is part travelogue and part philosophy. The author Eric Weiner travels to various countries to learn each one’s definition of “happiness.” His pursuit of this elusive concept is quite charming and a great read to take to the beach.

8. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

Perhaps you are wanting something a tad more exhilarating for your day at the beach. This early thriller by the scribe of Little Women involves a deadly chase through Europe by the ultimate gentleman stalker. Alcott does a great job of rendering some truly memorable and haunting scenes.

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9. The Martian by Andy Weir

Here is another great science fiction read. The Martian tells the story of a botched space mission and an astronaut who must brave the harsh Martian landscape alone with only his intelligence and sense of humor to aid him. This page-turner is a must read as Weir does an incredible job of describing the cruel terrain of Mars.

10. What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler

This fantastic collection from Karen Joy Fowler contains some of the best short fiction I’ve read in a long time. The opening story, “The Pelican Bar,” sets the perfect tone. There are stories that take place over a wide range of locations all over the world.

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What are some of your favorite beach reads? Please comment below!

Lesser Known Works from Classic Authors

Recently I finished two novels from Louisa May Alcott. Believe it or not, the author of Little Women penned several Gothic thrillers before becoming a literary sensation. I’m looking forward to writing my reviews of both The Long Fatal Love Chase and The Inheritance. For now, here are some other lesser known works from the classic authors you know and love.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Everyone has read Lolita (except for me). My one journey into the mind of this great Russian author is a surreal ride that echoes Kafka. This tale about a man sentenced to die for a crime he doesn’t understand is filled with twists and metaphors on every page. I have it on my list for a reread because quite frankly I was unprepared the first time. The prose is typical of Nabokov who possessed a genius for beautiful lyrics that you practically need a doctorate to fully grasp. He was clearly an inspiration to one of my heroes, Haruki Murakami, and the art of magical realism.

Sandition by Jane Austen and “Another Lady”

Think you’ve read the entire Austen canon. Sandition was the novel she was working on which she unfortunately was taken from us. Although only a handful of chapters were completed, several authors have decided to finish these stories. This particular version finished by an anonymous author holds a special place in my heart. Set in a coastal town attempting to be the next vacation destination, I found it quite enjoyable while on one of my recent beach vacations. The collaborator manages to capture Austen’s voice and developed several humorous characters. If you are going to read Sandition, I must insist you only do it while relaxing on the beach. The sounds and smells of the water only enhance the experience. I have in my collection another “completed” Austen work called The Watsons. I’m hoping to give it a read sometime in the near future.

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Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Every serious reader has the same goal and that is to read more Dickens. Sadly, I have not read very many works by the man behind Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. One of his later works, Hard Times, is one of my favorites. Dickens manages to tell a great story about the conflict between being practical and being a dreamer set in an old coal mining town. Populated with several memorable characters, Dickens tackles themes ahead of his time, such as divorce and spousal abuse. I also recommend Hard Times if you are new to Dickens, as this is one of his shorter novels.

Chance by Joseph Conrad

Conrad is one of my favorite writers because he truly possessed the mind of a psychologist. Although he is best known for his works Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, I’ve always liked this later work that marks the first time Conrad made a female the lead of the story. Ironically, Chance is the novel that made Conrad money and yet is one of his most criticized. Together with Darkness and Jim, this books forms a loose trilogy and the final chapter for Conrad’s recurring character/narrator Charlie Marlow.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is known for her controversial short story “The Lottery” as well as the creepy The Haunting of Hill House. Castle ranks among my favorite books due both its supernatural themes and its deeper introspection into small town persecutions. I felt like the book is solidly embedded in the tradition of Gothic fantasy, without the more boring elements that often occur. Another Jackson book I’m dying to read is Hangsaman, one of her earlier and most unsettling works.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

I was determined to read more from John Steinbeck after loving his incredible classic Of Mice and Men. If there are two things that Steinbeck does incredibly well, it’s his great depiction of American landscape and an intense understanding of human emotions. Divided into four interlocked stories, The Red Pony is a work that can be enjoyed for each individual work while greatly appreciated as the sum of its parts. I’m amazed at how a writer can convey so much meaning in such a short work of under 100 pages!

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The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Shelley’s beloved classic Frankenstein is forever embedded into our culture. However, this science fiction novel was rejected upon its first release due to Shelley being ahead of her time. A devastating plague has wiped out the world with the exception of one final human determined to chronicle the events of this apocalypse. This one is a must read from one the pioneers of the genre.

From the Dust Remembered by Ray Bradbury

Sure, everyone’s read Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I have a strong affection for this little “novel” that is actually more of a collection of shorts brought together under one theme. This is a story of a boy who lives in a family of monsters. Everybody but him possesses a superhuman ability. Bradbury will always be one of my favorites because he is a dreamer who was able to blend the fantastic with ordinary human emotion.

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Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’ve been reading lots of short stories lately, and I was fortunate to find this great collection written throughout the life of a truly legendary author. Known more for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez penned many short stories that are nothing short of breath-taking. Another student in the art of magical realism, he manages to take the surreal and add a strong dose of humanity in the process.

Bartleby the Scriverner by Herman Melville

Until I read this, I thought Melville had only penned sea yarns.This story is narrated by a lawyer about a rather strange employee who worked for him for a very short time. Bartleby arrives one day in response to a job opening as a scrivener, someone who does writing and copying for legal offices. At first, Bartleby is quite helpful, but then becomes an enigma around the office. This little tale is full of both humor and tragedy. I highly recommend this one.

These are just a few of my favorites. I hope you discover a new favorite from my list or you select your next classic from it.

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Do you have a favorite “lesser known” classic or interested in reading a particular one? Comments are always welcome!

The Literary Road So Far

As I was scanning my bookshelves this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on how my choices in reading have changed over the years. Perhaps the word “evolved” is a better description as “changed” implies that I simply swapped out one type of reading material for another. If you were to visit my home (please give advance warning), you would find just about every genre lining every shelf and stuffed in every open space. However, this wasn’t always the case. I thought this topic would make for an interesting blog, not only for my readers but for myself as well.

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I wish I organized my books as neatly as this.

Early Years

In junior high, I was introduced to several of the popular horror writers. My best friend at the time shared books with me by authors like Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, and the incomparable Stephen King. I devoured books by King like there was no tomorrow and still remember reading under the covers when I should have been asleep. Whenever I took my first trip to a real grownup bookstore, I bought a boxed set of three King novels-Misery, It, and The Eyes of the Dragon. It was amazing to find this writer who was known as a horror master create such a powerful work of fantasy. My obsessions turned towards his epic series The Dark Tower, and the fantasy genre became a huge part of my life. My mother, in her wisdom, bought me my first classic, a young adult version of A Tale of Two Cities. However, at that time I was more into Lumley’s monstrous vampires and stories of gunslingers from another world. It would be a few more years before I would come to appreciate all that Mr. Dickens had to offer.

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Thank you Stephen King for starting me on this journey.

College Years

By the time I entered college, I was quite familiar with the categories of fiction and the differences between proper “literary” fiction and not-so-proper genre fiction. I took a few classes during my undergraduate years in English Literature, and my eyes were opened to the wonders of the classics. For one of my classes, we had to select from a list a book to write a final report. Even back then I loved a challenge, so I selected Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, simply because it was the longest book on the list. I fell in love with Heller’s twisted humor and great play on words. I needed some extra electives to finish my degree so I took a class on the works of Joseph Conrad. I use the term “class” lightly because it was a self-paced class that simply involved reading three of his novels and meeting with the professor over the course of the semester to discuss. This little course would alter my life in huge ways. Joseph Conrad is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I have read both Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim countless times. I feel a sort of kindred spirit with Conrad as we both have a rebellious side to us. This author receives a lot of criticism, but that just makes me want to read him more. Through reading Joseph Conrad and his deep insights into humanity, I saw that my loves of Psychology and English Literature can be connected.

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In college, classics started opening for me

Although I started rocking the classics, this isn’t to say that I abandoned my first love. I was still hitting fantasy and horror novels with a vengeance and proudly displayed them on my shelves. It was amazing to discover that epic and magical journeys could be found on the classics shelves too! For my Humanities class, I did an oral report on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. During breaks from homework, I went to Mordor with Frodo Baggins and journeyed down the mysterious rabbit hole with young Alice. The introductions to so many great works were coming so fast, it was hard to keep up with them all!

Adult Years

Although I still act like a child sometimes, my tastes have definitely matured into adulthood. I discovered many new grown-up authors that have changed the way I look at fiction. I loved Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and discovered a new sub-genre of fiction called “magical realism.” Through authors such as Murakami, Sherman Alexie, and Kelly Link, I’ve found fiction that combines both gritty realism and elements of fantasy.

Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle changed me forever!

 

In regards to straight up fantasy, I’m still a huge fan. During my adult years, I fell in love with the Newford tales of Canadian author Charles de Lint. This led to my discovery of another genre that became a favorite: urban fantasy. The blending of real life and fantasy was so awe-inspiring and contributed to my own writing efforts. This is not to say that I gave up on the more traditional fantasy books out there. Thanks to my best friend, I became a huge fan of Terry Brooks. His fantasy worlds are epic in scope.

As I get older, my purchases in the classic section of the bookstore continue to grow. Although classic literature can be more appreciated with life experience, it can be enjoyed by any age. I was slow getting to the party, but now that I’m here, I’m never leaving! Some of my favorites authors include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway.

2016/17

These past two years have led to some great discoveries. In 2016 and 2017, I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Martian by Andy Weir, and The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. I’ve also found some great female authors too, such as The Gap of Time and Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson along with The Accidental by Ali Smith. I feel like my reading tastes are at just the right balance between contemporary and classic. For this year, I signed up to take part in a classics reading challenge. I’m also considering a longer term project to motivate me to tackle even more of the old school writers.

When I started this project, my goal was simply to keep track of the books I read and share my bookish insights with the world. I can see that this little blog of mine turned into something so much grander. By writing about the books I read, I see that I’ve evolved with my reading tastes. I’ve been transformed into an open minded-reader who is willing to spend time with old friends as well as make lots of new ones.

It is my hope that this blog serves as some type of small inspiration to all the book lovers out there.Thank you for being a part of this journey and reading my words.

The journey continues….

 

Tell me about the books that built your road. I would love to read your comments!

 

 

 

 

Tracking Your Reading

Those of you that regularly follow my blog know that I track the books I read. This year started strong, but I’ve realized that I’ve hit a slow patch in accomplishing my reading goals. Lately, I’ve been asking myself whether or not tracking my reading and planning ahead are good for me.

I recently watched Ariel Bissett’s excellent video ‘Should We Always Track Our Reading’, in which she talked about keeping count of the books she reads and the pressure that book-tracking can put on us as readers. I have some thoughts on this topic.

Bissett talks about how there are things we read which cannot be tracked. My goal each year is to read at least 50 books. However, there are smaller things I read as well that don’t make the list, such as:

  • Short stories-I’ve been reading more individual short stories as a means of increasing my abilities as a writer. An isolated short story does not make the list. If I read a complete book of short stories, then I count that in my total.
  • Psychology texts-I often reference books in my profession in order to be a better therapist. I usually will just read a chapter or two that is of interest. However, I typically don’t track these.
  • Articles-I’m trying to be taken seriously as a writer and have contributed to websites dedicated to shows like Doctor Who and Arrow. I read several different articles to gain ideas and make comparisons to my own writing.

When I began this blog last year, I set an achievable goal of 50 books a year. On the one hand, this keeps me extremely motivated to read throughout the year. In addition, I’ve signed up for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge. I’ve also considered adding one or two other challenges in addition to my long term goal of reading every book from 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. After listening to Bissett talk about the anxiety of keeping track, it made me consider the possibilities that too many challenges can be a bad thing. Obviously, I want to keep my reading goals grounded in reality. I also don’t want to limit what I read as there are a lot of books that I buy that don’t belong on any list. I just want to read them because they sound interesting!

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This isn’t to say that there aren’t numerous rewards for keeping track. As Bissett mentions, reading has numerous rewards. I get a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing the list of books I read for a particular year. It also helps me remember something important that I was experiencing at the time. Obviously, I don’t want to stop doing that.

Is there a right way to keep your reading list organized? Dann Albright has some suggestions in his article How to Organize Your Out-of-Control Reading List Right Now. He mentions several different tools and strategies a reader can use in order to keep better track of your reading lists.

Although I have a page for listing the books I’m reading, I’ve been considering some options for additional methods of tracking. Starting with my next book, I plan to use my leather journal to keep a list of books I’m reading as well as ones I want to read. I think the journal approach will also allow me to take better notes of the books I”m reading so my blog posts turn out better.

Do you have certain methods for tracking your reading? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Literary Anxiety

My wife and I just returned from a vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida. We had an amazing time lounging on the beach and driving down to Disney World for a day. Of course a beach vacation for avid readers requires that perfect book for reading on the beach!

Despite the fun in the sun, there is a dark side to going on a long trip. Every bookaholic faces the stress of choosing which books to take. For me, it usually begins about a week before the vacation starts. What book(s) should I take? Unfortunately, this one seemingly meaningless questions spawns several more. How many books should I take? Should I bring several smaller ones or just one large book? What if it’s not enough? What if I hate what I’ve brought? What if I’m stranded miles away from my precious collection with second thoughts? It’s enough to drive even the calmest of book lovers to the brink of madness.

I don’t know what books to take!!!

I ended up taking four books, two I knew I could finish with two backups just in case I lose or someone steals the other two (don’t judge me!). Usually, two or three is the right number for me. I’m pleased to say I’m quite happy with the two books I selected, The Accidental by Ali Smith and the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Both were awesome in their own individual ways, and I look forward to reviewing both of them this week. My wife, the greatest photographer ever, took some great photos of each one on the beach. As a bonus, on the drive back I picked up a cool collection of fantasy short stories from a thrift store.

While contemplating my own book-related stress, I researched whether or not there is a name to this condition. While my desperate search yielded few answers, I did find this fascinating article on literary phobias and manias. This one comes closest to my own phobia:

Alogotransiphobia: the fear of being caught on public transport with nothing to read. 

I might actually have this one. I take a book with me wherever I go, and I usually keep one in the car in case I forget. The idea of being stranded somewhere with nothing to read sounds like a hellish nightmare. May it never happen. Here’s a couple of other funny literary phobias:

Erotographomania: an abnormal interest in erotic literature.

No problems there. I get that this is a genre that is quite popular. I’m wondering what the criteria is to consider it abnormal.

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My precious! Fifty Shades of Grey is my precious!

Bibliokleptomania: the abnormal desire to steal books. 

See! This proves my fear of someone stealing one of my books is legit. Validation!

Metromania: the compulsion to write poetry.

There’s a great chapter in The Accidental where one of the characters, an English professor, expresses all of his feelings in verse form. Wouldn’t it be awesome if for one day, we all just spontaneously burst out into poetry? I know. I have too much time on my hands to think of these questions.

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While my vacation was quite spectacular, it is great to be home!

What are some of your literary phobias? I would love to hear your thoughts!