On my recent travels I brought with me four books I wanted to read for pleasure, and was not assigned to review…a luxury. They’re listed and explained here in the order read, not ranked in order of recommendation, for sadly the first is not one I would suggest. There’s always one disappointment in a basket of books, right?
The Road Home: A Novel By Rose Tremain
_I say read, but I really mean read half of. I started reading this on the flight from Los Angeles to Heathrow, and kept waiting, hoping, yearning for it to pick up pace, for Tremain to stop describing everything as if it had the same level of importance, and for me to start caring about the protagonist, who comes from an unnamed eastern European country, emigrates to London, and…struggles. But this never happened, and so I unapologetically left it in my hotel room unfinished.
Lark and Termite By Jayne Anne Phillips
_I’ve had this in my queue for a while, and was inspired to bring it along after reading a recent NYRB review. This meant I was prepared for the one significant road block in the otherwise thoughtful, precise and mesmerizing novel about two children and the mother who gave them up out of necessity and grief, and the father who died in the Korean War. That road block is the chapters written from the point of view of Termite, who is mentally and physically challenged, which only seem novel and interesting if you’ve never read The Sound and the Fury. And if you haven’t read The Sound and the Fury, shame on you.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao By Junot Diaz
_I’m late to the party in reading this book, but it’s rare that I have the mental space to read a book for pleasure when I am writing and reviewing. This book was by far my favorite, a truly great book written in immediately engaging, almost scandalously informal prose by an anonymous narrator only gradually revealed in the book’s arguable middle. Each chapter explores a different generation of Oscar’s family, and at the end of each chapter I thought…I don’t want to leave Oscar and read about his sister; then, I don’t want to leave the sister and read about the grandmother…etc. That takes skills and true talent to inhabit so many diverse characters (including the narrator) in one novel, and to keep the novel balanced and the reader equally engaged. My advice: do not miss this book.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto By Michael Pollan
_Dare I admit this? I didn’t actually carry this book with me, but in the absence of other reading material began reading this off my traveling mate’s Kindle. I did so begrudgingly, and with irritation at figuring out the buttons and bookmarks and awkward non-book size, but I did enjoy this book. It takes a more instructional and personal tone than The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but Pollan makes clear exactly why he is doing this, and that what he describes about eating choices come from research and personal choice, but that he hopes it will help you make choices about how to eat real food that your grandmother would recognize.