How to Pack Books for a Vacation

Alright guys, you shan’t be hearing from me next week. I barely had time to pull something together this week because I am busy as a bee prepping for a good old fashioned road trip, a family vacation all the way up into the mythical land of Canada. What, exactly, is keeping me so busy packing for this magical maple syrup and pountine wonderland? Deciding what books to pack, of course. The whole family is looking forward to many, many hours of sitting still, trapped in close quarters with each other. To keep my sanity levels manageable, I’ve got to bring some highly engaging books to occupy myself, lest I mortally wound my family in a stir-crazy fit of rage, like a werewolf whose weakness is a compelling storyline instead of silver.

There is a certain art to packing books for a trip. I’m not just bringing one thing to read, no way. I need a text for every need or whim, and perhaps a dozen or so for back up reads.

I’ll be sharing with you the contents of my book-stuffed bags to show you what is needed to properly pack reading material for your next vacation. Note that any books I mention by name are books that I haven’t read yet, hence me taking them on a long-ass road trip with loads of reading time, so I’m not so much recommending these books to anyone, technically, as I am saying that these sound promising, to me.

1.The Big Read.

This has got to be something you really want to sink your teeth into. If you’re in for a really long travel, I’d say the thicker the book, the better, because who knows when you’ll be able to devote so much time to a single book again? Consider it your primary reading material, the one you’ll spend the most time with.

I’ve selected Susana Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for this bit, a very thick book about two guys named Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, (who could have guessed?!) and their quest to restore English magic. I would’ve read it much sooner if the thing wasn’t in the same weight class as the thicker Game of Thrones books, but finally some positive reviews of the BBC miniseries adaptation of this book made me brave enough to finally go out and try it.

2.The Light-Hearted One.

Taking a break from your Big Read can keep your head from stagnating. Maybe the big read book is getting too familiar, to dull even. Conversely, Maybe riding in a car with your family for upwards of eight hours is getting too intense and none of your other books can help you chillax quick enough to avoid throat punching your seat buddy for elbowing you the third time in the row. Light-Hearted reads are usually comedic and always enjoyable in nature.

In the past, I’ve chosen to read books by stand-up comedians for my light-hearted book, because often enough I can even read these aloud, since most comedians end up writing their books like a stand-up routine anyhow, and lighten everyone’s mood. Food, A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan, a comedian I really enjoy, has been waiting around on my to-read shelf for a bit, and so I decided to let that one take up residence in my suitcase.

3.The Back-Up.

For when you finish the first Big-Read. Of course, I don’t always finish my first big read, especially when it is as big as Strange and Norrell behemoth I’ve chosen to read on this vacation, but paranoia forces me to keep several extras on hand. I’ll just mention my primary Back-Up here, though.

My designated second for this trip will be Samantha Hunt’s The Invention of Everything Else, a historical fiction book about a young maid who became very close with the brilliant Nikola Tesla during his declining years. Historical fiction. Nikola Tesla. I would’ve made this book my first Big Read except for the fact that my copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is also historical fiction, and due back at the library far too soon.

4.The Re-Read.

If all else is failing, you’ll need something else to read entirely, a book you know is safe, one that can be your home away from home when you start to feel the cockroach ridden B&B you checked into just isn’t cutting it. If a terrible run of bad luck made you pick terrible reads for the first three categories, a comfortable old favorite may be the only thing you can rely on.

Through most of the trips I went on from middle school to high school Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was my go to Re-Read. However, both my copies of that book are near disintegration from frequent use, and  until I find a book restoration expert that deals in paperbacks less than a decade old, I have to make do with something else. I ultimately decided on Good Omens, a Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman collaboration I love very dearly but haven’t read in a while.

5. The New Vacation Book.

What kind of book lover goes on vacation without checking out a bookstore and getting a half dozen books or so as souvenirs? Not this one, that’s for certain. Yup, on top of all the other books I’m bringing along, now I’ve got to fit in time to read a bunch of random new babies yearning for my literary attention.

What will my New Vacation Books be? Hard to say, since I haven’t bought them yet. What kind of books do they sell in Canada? Maple syrup and pountine fusion recipe books? Star-crossed moose and Mounty romance novels? Something in Canadian French? All of them, I shall buy all those books and more! To Canada, O Canada!

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Why I Read Historical Fiction

I’ve been busy as a bee, or perhaps a bookworm, recently, stuffing as much reading time into my summer as possible while I can still control what I want to read. While I haven’t consciously focused on any type of book in particular, I have noticed that one genre has been taking up much of my time recently, one that I haven’t really enjoyed in a while; historical fiction.

When I was young, I loved to read books that took place in different times. In particular, I read the My America and Dear America series. These books were all written as diaries of kids, usually girls, that were thrown into the thick of the action during events as early as the settling of the United States and the revolutionary war and go all the way through to World War II and the Vietnam War. I loved feeling like I was right in the middle of those historic moments. I probably learned more about the Civil War from all those escaped slaves and soldiers’ daughters diaries than I ever did from a textbook at school, at least until I hit AP US History.

Sadly, I read so many of those books and that I read myself flat out of that series and historical fiction in general by middle school. I didn’t read a whole lot of history books after that, especially American history, with exceptions for must reads and big hits like Devil in the White City.

Recently, though, I got into a ridiculous trend of reading five or more historical, (fiction and non-fiction) books at a time, without quite realizing what I was doing at first.  I started with interesting looking reads and books I got recommended to me, like the books of Geraldine Brooks, who wrote some fantastic historical books like Caleb’s Crossing and Year of Wonders. Some of the other odds and end I can recommend are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and some other such sundries. I’ve read some bad ones too, books, I cannot recommend or name in good company, but reading those too made me realize just what I once found so compelling in historical fiction, and what I’m probably ready to fall in love with again.

With a well-researched historical book, one that doesn’t just throw on some petticoats for aesthetics, you can be transported to a wholly other world something kind of parallel to a fully fleshed out sci-fi or fantasy world.  Like good sci-fi or fantasy, historical fiction put the reader in a unfamiliar place, or at least one that differs greatly enough from their everyday life, but leaves enough recognizable hints and shades from the reader’s world that they can feel this setting’s connection to what’s there when they put the book down.

The themes and messages carried from a foreign place stick that much harder in my head, maybe because I could never see them quite so clearly in everyday life. The cycle of life and loss in A Year of Wonders, the strange bonds of the Western nuclear family in the Poisonwood Bible, the sometimes painful but always unbreakable connection between mother and daughter in the Joy Luck Club, that stuff sticks with me, along with each writer’s brilliantly rendered image of this or that time and place.

Even in the less inspiring reads, though, historical fiction brings forth an extra advantage unique to this borderline non-fiction genre. If nothing else, you can learn something new from them. It’s kind of odd, really, but I’ve noticed that, whereas a shoddy sci-fi or fantasy story will have a shoddy, unformed setting, plenty of historical fiction authors put such ridiculous effort into researching their books that, I find myself presented with a pretty complete picture of, say, Regency era England, no matter how bad some Jane Austen wannabe mucks it up with a sadly predictable romance. Whether it’s a labor of love, or these writers feel more accountable when writing about a time and place that actually happened, this attention to detail has pulled me through a number of more poorly written storylines in a way a bad sci-fi book just could not. Maybe that’s just my inner nerd showing through there, but I enjoy learning something new, if it doesn’t feel too much like learning. (My inner nerd is a bit lazy.)

I urge you too to check out the historical fiction genre. If you find the recommendations I just made above too much like stuff your grandma reads in her book club, fear not because I have a father that won’t read much of anything if it hasn’t got WWII or some guys in chainmail and armor in it. Conn Iggulden’s Genghis Khan series or anything by Bernard Cornwall should be plenty edgy and violent for you, my more masculine. I have those on my to-read list.

Did I miss anything? Let me know if you’ve got a historical series I should sink my teeth into, now that I’ve finally got the taste for them once again.

Waiting for the Perfect Book

We do live in a wonderful modern age, one where we can get pretty much anything we want, whenever we want, what with the internet and all that. Books, especially, are easier than ever to get your hands on, what with digital, print, and audio formats available.  Even if you get most of your books in the archaic old paper form, like me, you’re still likely to get them very quickly with a quick drive over to the bookstore or library. I knew I’d entered the modern age when Amazon delivered my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to my house on the same day it was released.

Sometimes, though, even in this fast paced world, you have to wait, wait for books only a total monster would deny you if they could see how desperately you’re squirming for that read on the inside. Perhaps your favorite book has yet to be released. Perhaps you might have ordered a copy from your bookstore of choice and are waiting for delivery. Perhaps you, like me, are at the ridiculously long end of a waiting list at your local library for a book because you’re just too financially impaired, (or cheap, as some people who were apparently sent off to college with gold bricks in their pants, like to call me) to just go out and buy the book.

Right now, I’m on the waiting list for several books that I fancied reading and ordered from any library that could promise delivery of less than an eon and a loan time longer than enough time to smell the cover and hand it over to the next person in line. That’s the sort of problem you can face with new releases and hot items. It’s a tense time, and I’m hoping to distract myself for a few of these agonizing hours by giving you some advice and support for any future encounter you might have with unbearable waits for books and release date.

1. Distract Yourself. Go for a jog. Do some chores. Finish your latest watercolor landscape. Learn Portuguese. Do something, anything, to remind you of the world outside of your comfiest chair and the nearby bookshelf. The sun, it is most painfully bright, I know, but go slap some SPF on and befriend it until you’re positive your books simply must’ve arrived.

2. Read Something Else. Okay, you’ve killed, like, five minutes. No books. Now what? Well, look at that big pile of books in the corner, the ones you really should’ve read by now. Carefully, pick one out that you can probably finish right as the new book you actually want to read arrives. If you don’t finish it before the new book comes in, toss it back into the pile of shame and let it stare at you with hurt and pain in its eyes while you read your new book.

3. Share the Grief. Perhaps you could start up a book blog and spend all the time you could be reading prattling away to a small cluster of very kind and patient book nerds. In their own tender eyes you can see their pain and agony over part twos and debuts yet released. Woe is us, book nerds, woe is us!

Poo, it didn’t work. My books aren’t here yet. Oh well. Next week, how to deal with reading fifty different books you ordered weeks apart that managed to all show up at the same time anyhow!

Growing Pains: How to Tell if You’ve Outgrown a Book

Growing up is just a part of life, just like books are definitely a part of mine. I’ve grown up reading a wide variety of books, and I’ve left many behind, just from having to grow up. There was my reading level, of course. An eager academic beaver such as me is always ready to push her reading and comprehension skills higher and higher. So naturally, I don’t find my kindergarten favorite Benny’s Big Bubble quite as riveting as I used to. Other times, I mature emotionally and feel like certain elements of a series I once loved seemed flat or silly.

The whole business can be rather heart breaking, especially when you have to talk about book series. Like many kids starting to become not kids, there were times I felt I had to distance myself from things I’d liked when I was younger.

Once, post Benny’s Big Bubble era, I loved to read the historical American Girl Doll books, because I’d gotten great depression Kit Kittredge doll and book for Christmas, but I also liked my sister’s Victorian era Samantha doll and book too. I devoured all those books. I was almost in danger of running out of them when puberty hit, and stopped reading the books. They weren’t cool peaks into the past anymore, they were a ridiculous commercial ploy to get me to buy more stuff for my doll, which I was too big for anyhow.  I then set off to prove I wasn’t a simple little girl with no brain at all by falling in love with the Twilight Saga. And then, of course, being the sensible adult person that I am, I spent as much time as possible pretending I definitely never read Twilight in the first place, no, not at all.

The point is, this whole business of outgrowing books is natural, and I’ve come to be more accepting of it on the whole. I respect the American Girl Doll industry for giving me books I loved, even if it was just so I would want to buy Kit’s hobo outfit from Kit Saves the Day. I’ve even publicly admitted, on this blog, twice that I was a Twi-hard. See? I’m coming to terms with most of it. I suppose I won’t outgrow books so quickly now that I’ve made it past the rapid growth of childhood and adolescent. Still, though, I’m ready for it, and I want you to be too. Here are some things I noticed, am still noticing really, that indicate a book might not be for you anymore.

1. Basic Reading.

Probably the easiest one to identify here. When you learn more words and stuff, reading gets easier. When reading gets easier, books get easier, and some get so dull with their basic language that you just can’t handle it anymore. Yes Benny, I know your bubble is big. Is it really just big, though, Benny, or is it vast, bulbous, tumescent? You can do better than that, Benny.

You don’t even bulk up your reading skills in schools only either. Just reading often enough will help you develop to the point where you “level up” in the lit-world, so to speak.This isn’t to say you should only read the hardest books you can get through of course, just that you’ll probably be bored by simpler books, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, or ashamed that you used to struggle through the basic prose of, say, Twilight.

2. The Feels.

Oh, the feels! Like I said, maturing as a reader can make emotional conflicts in some books seem flat and silly. Just what do I mean? Well, after I read the fourteenth or fifteenth young adult novel where a strong young girl had to stop the apocalypse or start the rebellion or end the dystopia, but was distracted by her love for her childhood sweetheart versus some new sexy face who urged her to accept her fate as the chosen whatever, I started to get a bit nauseous.

What used to seem like charged romance seemed quite silly to me now. It wasn’t just repetitive: it was maddening. The kids acted stupid, the dialogue seemed flat, the romance a forced subplot threatening to take over the actually interesting action. I had thought this was just a result of reading so many books of the same or similar structure. However, when I started to read adult books, which certainly still had plenty of apocalypses and dystopias, plenty of chosen ones meant to save the world, I found the conflicts, the romance seemed less hollow to me, even when there were obvious tropes like the old versus new love triangle, I still felt the stuff was better written.

3. The Fandom.

As much as I don’t like letting who reads what drive my reading choices, I do have to admit that looking at the fandom community surrounding a book helped me decide whether or not I wanted to keep reading a series.  One of the main things that drove me out of Twilight for example, was how rabid I felt the fans were getting. I won’t say I saw anyone get shanked over an Edward-Jacob issue at a movie or book release, but it came close. The more I thought about it, the more I felt annoyed at how divided and simplistic the communal view on the story had become. Either Edward was a total dreamboat and Jacob was a smelly flea bag or Jacob was a shiny hunk of burning love and Edward was a creepy old vampire that was no good for Bella. I wanted romance with more shades of gray in it. Yes, even more than fifty shades of gray. I wanted a more realistic, complex story.

Keep these three markers in mind and I hope you’ll have an easier time deciding whether you should break up with a longtime book beau or not. Remember though, Outgrowing a young adult book or kids book doesn’t mean outgrowing all of that reading level forever. Plenty of young adult books are fully realized, beautiful stories and an especially well done children’s book can still make you, or me anyhow, burst into tears.

3 Steps to Easy Breezy Summer Reading

You expect something different from your summer reading than you do from the books you read during the rest of the year. Whether you’re a student trying to decompress over summer vacation, or just want a lighter book to go with the brighter weather, you usually want a more relaxing book to enjoy once it gets sunny outside. How, then, do you pick the perfect summer read? As far as I can tell, “easy” or “light” summer reading is a relative term. I, for example, enjoy many books during the summer that other people might cow away from because its been featured in too many college or high school English class curriculms.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a fun romp of a book in the summer, just look at my many sci-fi and steam-punk books I’ve gushed over. Not all of my summer reads are cerebral, scholarly explorations of man and machine’s relations. Sometimes they’re just about robots chasing people and blowing stuff up, and I enjoy that. Still, though, I’ve spent many summers intrigued by classic books and writers you wouldn’t associate with paperback beach reads, like my “Mopey Women of American Poetry” Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath craze last summer. (Don’t worry. I’m fine.) My mission, then, is not to point out popular summer reads, but help you find what good, comfortable summer reading is for you with these starting steps.

1. Look at your to-read pile.

Yes, I’ve mentioned before that summer is a great time to catch up on your reading, but be careful about which books you pick. I, for example, am much more likely to start in on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, than I am to start in on English major must-reads like Infinite Jest and Gravity’s Rainbow. Chances are you already have the perfect summer reading book waiting on your to-read shelf, but make sure it’s the type of book that’ll make you smile eagerly. No, it doesn’t have to be a laugh riot, but it should be something you’ve been waiting to enjoy. For me, that might be another one of the many Discworld book’s I’ve got piled on my shelf. For my dad, it’s a lengthy series about WWII. It takes all types, you see.

2. Look at the style.

Sampling a book before you read it is just good sense. Sampling for an easy-breezy summer read, though, means looking at a book with slightly different expectations than normal. For the best sort of summer reading, the type that’ll restore your tired grey matter, look for books with language and style that you can easily, even quickly, read through. I didn’t just get into Plath and Dickinson because I wanted to be a moody teenager all fixated on the inevitability of death and all that. I read those poets because their style feels especially beautiful and rhythmic to me. A good poetic meter always pulls me through a book. That’s why I pick up the level of poetry I read during the summer. A decent poem pulls you through itself quite easily and lends itself to thorough, quiet contemplation on a beach somewhere. That’s a personal preference of mine, of course, but even if poetry isn’t your bag and you won’t be making it to any beaches this summer, make sure your summer reading list is full of books that hook you with their language and pull you speeding through an elegant ocean of style and voice.

3. Look at your interests.

What’s summer for if not exploring new interests, new ideas? I, like many other students, am now able read about topics new or exciting to me without filling out an independent study form. This summer, so far, is looking to be a summer of historical fiction for me, a genre I haven’t really read and enjoyed since childhood. My sister’s current obsession with tigers means she’ll by anything with the animal’s face on it, and that includes books. My dad, in a crazy turn of events, has veered away from in depth realistic books about World War Two Battles and is shaking it up with some books that take a realistic, in depth look at Medieval Age battles. My mother, the librarian, is a slave to whatever must-reads are coming out so she can discuss and recommend them to her patrons, but still, everyone likes to try something refreshing and exciting in the summer.

There you have it, your first steps to building a summer reading list you actually want to read. More than anything, I feel summer is a time to explore what you want to read for yourself. That could full well mean grabbing a book from your local library or bookstore’s top summer read shelf, but I also want people to remember that reading what you find the most lighthearted and enjoyable can mean going off the beaten “summer reading” path. I’ve ventured into territories seldom seen outside a high school or college required reading list, and came out pretty happy, because of my own personal tastes. Just remember, finding your own perfect summer read is all about following your bliss, wherever it takes you.