I want to write about my latest vacation to St. Croix because it was wonderful, but who wants to see other people’s beach pictures? Hey, guess what I was doing while you were at work? Oh what’s that, you’re laid off due to a bad economy and have no paid vacation days? Aww, I’m sorry……. but look, the water is so clear you can see my feet!
No, no, I didn’t want to do that (this time). So instead, I will recount my vacation through the literature I read while away. Having time to devote myself fully to a good book is one of life’s greatest pleasures (for me) and is surely a way I restore balance.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
I actually read this leading up to my vacation, and it’s a good thing, because even though it is a quick read, it is not exactly what I would consider beach reading.
I’m usually hesitant to read or watch Holocaust-related books and movies, especially when it focuses on the youngest victims. True to form, I had a troubled sleep every night while reading this book. Sarah’s Key is fiction, but centers on the real event of the massive round-up of French Jews in Paris, largely women and children, in July 1942. Most involved in the arrest were ultimately sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.
I had resisted reading it despite recommendations, but I was lent a copy and with that guilty accountability you feel when you borrow a book and you know the next time you see that person they will ask you if you have read it, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t put it down for three days.
Sarah’s Key follows the story of a little girl and her family involved in the round-up, juxtaposed with a current-day story about a journalist in Paris investigating that horrific event. To remind you that this is fiction, there are conventional plot twists and some all-too-convenient coincidences linking the two stories, but nevertheless, I found it to be engaging, emotional and educational (I was previously not familiar with the Vel’ d’ Hiv’ round-up).
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
At just 166 pages, I started and finished this book on the flights to St. Croix. McEwan is the author to one of my favorite books, Atonement. (Yes, the Keira Knightley movie, but the book is much better, as per usual.) Atonement had a tentative start, but it’s build-up, twists and ultimate pay-offs have made it a book I like to go back and read the last few pages of every so often.
McEwan showcases the same refined writing style in On Chesil Beach, along with the “what could have been” agony that characterizes Atonement. I picture the author writing this book in one sitting on a rainy afternoon. As he hits “send” to his editor and shuts down the computer, I hear him saying to himself, “Well that was easy.” That’s kind of how I felt reading it too. I was never very attached to the two characters in this book, Edward and Florence, or their predicament — consummating their marriage on their wedding night.
Most of the book takes place on this night in their hotel room. In the end, it’s much more about communication, confronting fears, and sharing them with those you love than any physical act. And I found these emotionally damaged partners and their loosening grips on their relationship very interesting. I just needed a little more. As my flight touched down in St. Croix and I closed the book, Edward and Florence were already far behind me.
Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn
At least the last book had the word “beach” in the title. I can’t find any reason why this book should be read on vacation, but it was actually the one I read anytime I was out by the pool or relaxing on our patio (I’m not really into sand or sea life so I keep my distance from the actual beach).
I’m not a Bonnie and Clyde aficionado or anything, but it was a selection of my (now former) employer’s staff book club and I thought it would be an interesting read. I was right. The author delved into the life of robberies, fast getaways and family dedication of these young criminals with rich details and, from what I can tell from reading the sources, a whole lot of fact-checking.
Besides his driving ability, Clyde was a pretty mediocre thief. They rarely had glamorous bank robberies or a posh life on the road as presented in the Warren Beatty movie. They were just poor West Dallas kids who every now and then had money to buy some nice clothes. I’m not sympathizing with them by any means; they had a death count, mainly of law enforcement, to be sure. But it’s amazing how we romanticized these and other legendary outlaws.
I’m not sure I would be as interested in this book if I wasn’t from Dallas, but reading about familiar locations added a certain feeling of insider knowledge. If you’re local and/or a history buff, you might enjoy this work.
In reviewing this blog, it’s clear I read a lot of depressing sh*t. If you were looking for suggestions about how to begin and end your upcoming vacation with books about death, I hope you found this post helpful.
If you want some actual “beach read” recommendations, check here and here. And if you have your own suggestions, please share in the comments!