Our friend Emily Huie recently enlisted our help in compiling some book suggestions, specifically the variety one reads while lounging beachside with pina colada in hand. She told us that she’s already “got a couple things in the pipeline” (a phrase we’d like to employ more often) but that these things are all “non-fiction and a little heavier.” Like Vincent D’Onofrio and his trusty pal Anna, we’re on the case.
Now, everyone has a different standard for a beach read, but most of us can agree on what a beach read is not. It’s not Ulysses (unless you’re Eric Bescak). It’s not burial records for Hamilton County, Ohio, Volume 17, by the Ohio Genealogical Society. It’s never a business book, because pulling out The One Minute Manager at the beach is an open invitation for a lifeguard wedgie.
Once we’ve established that much, everything else is pretty wide open. Some might prefer Shopaholic, others Grisham. We’re not snobs about it; a book is a book, and it’s better to read than not read. But since we do believe some books deserve your time far more than others, we rarely hesitate to make recommendations.
So, without further ado, Book Recommendations for Emily Huie’s Vacation.
Since Emily has a great sense of humor, we think these funny books have her name all over them.
Then We Came To The End, Joshua Ferris. The easy comparison here is “The Office,” but it’s also a misleading one because we had no interest in reading a literary novel about sitcom characters. That’s not what this book is. Then We Came To The End takes place in a Chicago advertising agency at the wane of the dot-com boom. The book is written almost entirely in the first person plural, inviting you to observe the eccentric but believable cast of characters who scrap and claw to retain their humanity in the grim world of cubicle existence. It’s hilarious, sarcastic, acerbic and big-hearted. Then We Came To The End is literally a book about life and death that just happens to take place at work.
Indecision, Benjamin Kunkel. Protagonist Dwight discontentedly works for Pfizer and gets diagnosed with Abulia, the inability to make decisions. He soon gets pfired (get it?) and takes medication to combat his disease which lands him in South America, following a fleeting trail supposedly leading him to his exotic high school crush. It’s fast, funny, and a fantastic debut novel.
While Emily will find the following book in the YA section of the bookstore, we hope she will not be deceived: Looking For Alaska, John Green is a cleverly adult novel that echoes the best prep school lit and addresses capital letter subjects like Death, Love and Faith without hitting you over the head. (Full disclosure: Ben went to college with John and sat across from him in Introduction to Fiction Writing. They were also members of the comedy troupe 1033. But Ben is receiving no financial compensation for this recommendation.) And if awards are your bag, this one won the Printz.
While Emily specifically requested fiction, we feel obligated to recommend two non-fiction picks should the spirit move her.
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey. Should you, Emily Huie, venture anywhere toward the mountains, take this book with you. (If you’re staying at the beach but still plan to visit a craggy area of the soul, this book will work there too.) Desert Solitaire is an angry, cranky, mystical left hook to the jaw, chronicling Abbey’s three seasons as a ranger at Arches National Park. How can you not be charmed by Abbey’s admission in the Introduction that “much of the book will seem coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced [and] unconstructive,” and that “if the book has virtues they cannot be disentangled from the faults. … There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes right”? Only if you’re in the right mood, though. (Maybe as a palate-cleanser after a breezy chick lit read.)
My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum. Every vacation reading pile should have at least one collection of short stories or essays. My Misspent Youth tackles topics as diverse as cyberstalking, flight attendants, making it in New York City (and dealing with massive credit card debt), and the failure to grieve after a friend passes away. These essays are like conversations with a whip-smart, brutally honest friend who always tells you exactly what’s on her mind.
And finally, a hearty endorsement in the spiritual memoir category.
Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner. With sincerity and humor, Winner paints her story about growing up in the Jewish tradition (her father is Jewish, her mother a “lapsed Southern Baptist”), converting to Orthodox Judaism in college, and then finally to Christianity in grad school. Her candor about her personal shortcomings and less-than-noble thoughts about others is refreshing. We found a friend in this fellow bibliophile. Lame title? Yes. Lame book? Absolutely not. One of the best reads all year.
Enjoy the vacation, Emily.