The Reader

4462498519_881da2f560In our sky-high tower by the sea, there was a vacuum. It was a vacuum void of my own computer, and it was glorious. Sure, I checked my email via someone’s iPhone about three times during the week, only emptying the junk and checking for real correspondence, of which there was little. In this void, this newly acquired open space in my heart and mind, I read. I might as well have put these books on plates and gotten out my knife and fork; I was ravenous for words. I devoured them.

There was one particularly cloudy, drizzly day when I woke early, hit the little magic button on the coffee pot, lit a candle and cued the low music and got back in my hide-a-bed next to the sliding glass door (I have to be near the waves when I sleep) with an extra pillow. My co-travelers drifted forth from bedrooms, wrapped in blankets and with their respective books, garnered the all-important morningtime nectar from the kitchen and joined me in the cushy confines of our cozy living room. We settled in, spoke our morning greetings, then fell into the most delicious, deep, enveloping quiet. Noses in books, we stayed this way until it was lunch time. When that rolled around, we got out some really good leftovers, popped the cork on a bottle of pink champagne, ate at a leisurely pace, talked about our books, then went right back to reading them. After several hours, I supposed I might need to go ahead and get in the kitchen to begin work on the evening meal. This. This is what vacation means.

4463272666_c639376ed8I read five selections while at the beach, and here they are (in order of consumption):

1. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl. A short, bittersweet tale of how Ruth got to know her certifiably insane mother. After she was gone. It was a decidedly burdensome relationship for most of her life, and a simple box of her mother’s letters unearthed in the basement turned the tide in her heart and shifted the understanding of how her mother’s gears cranked in a world she could hardly bear. Poignant.

2. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner. Well, this book blew my mind. I’d quote one of my many underlined passages for you but my sister is borrowing (and loving) it and then brother is taking his turn, I think. I’ll get back to you on this one — it might warrant its very own post.

3. The World to Come by Dara Horn. Uh, seriously? I chose this book for the cover. Thought it’d look smart on the coffee table. Yep. It was just a bonus that it involved a mystery surrounding a stolen Chagall painting and was based loosely on historic events including that of the Holocaust. An interesting read but not delivering the wrap-up I was waiting for. Still worth reading. Got great reviews from all of those other smart readers in all them big cities.

4. A Million Miles In a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. I know this man probably has thousands of women writing him letters and sending him photographs like he’s holed up in Folsom, but isn’t there some way I could get him to notice and perhaps marry me? This is the fourth of his books that I’ve read, and it did not disappoint. He nearly simultaneously invokes instantaneous gasps of realization and opportunities for giggle fits. I don’t know how he does it, but I love him. No, you don’t understand. Like, I love him. Really. The fact that I’ve never met him matters not. Okay, my love fest notwithstanding, this book quietly nudged me in a good direction. I needed what he told me and I don’t know how he knew, but I needed it at this particular time in life. Miller talks of the stories we live and how we can change/impact our own stories with small acts of bravery and a little palm’s worth of faith. That’s a ridiculously thin, lackluster explanation of what these pages offer to the reader. I think I might read it again tomorrow.

5. Endless Feasts, essays from Gourmet compiled by Ruth Reichl. A man spends a harvest time evening with a family in Taos, New Mexico. A couple tell me about a tiny place called the Farmer’s Inn in South Dakota where the pancakes are at once lacy and fluffy and all the food is made by co-opping farm-sustained families and couples. Madhur Jaffrey talks about the Indian picnics her family would enjoy when she was a girl and they spent their summers in the Himalayas. A woman tells about how the perfect roast chicken and Katharine Hepburn’s perfect, one-bowl brownies are still perfectly attainable even after the birth of her third child. I learn about the birthplace of Vichysoisse from the man who created it. Writings from my beloved Gourmet from as far back as 1946 fill this compilation. It’s what kept me warm on the drive back north on a rainy, chilly I-65.

Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye is lingering patiently on my bedside table. I am determined not to wait for another vacation to tear into more stories. Methinks that the vacation might well lie inside the pages.

(Note: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is now available in the Rabbit Room Store.)