Tag Archives: Mary Karr

Stuck In The Middle With You, Ernest Hemingway and His First Wife.

Hammock-Beach-ReadingIt’s official, as of today, summer’s here! Thank the Lord. Spring is about glorious awakenings, autumn treats us to some of the most brilliant colors, and winter may get a bum rap but I love it because there’s nothing like waking up to a fresh carpet of snow, unless you’ve got to dig your car out from six feet of it.  But there’s just something about summer.   It somehow gives us a free pass. It allows us to shed the stress and slog of the daily grind. It’s kind of unspoken but it seems to allow for a universal laziness of sorts. Even retired friends and relatives whoop it up more, which is kind of strange since they don’t work. The Europeans have it right with their extended weeks of summer vacation. It’s probably one of the few areas where the U.S. missed the boat. But hey, you get what you get, so make the most of it, and for those travel ambassadors out there—don’t forget to write about it.

Woman_reading_at_the_beachOne of the pleasures of planning a summer holiday is figuring out what books to take, especially if you’re flying. The only thing that makes a plane ride bearable if you’re stuck in the middle seat of a coach flight is a good book. You’re partly folded up as it is, so why not go all the way and dive into a classic, or mystery, or someone else’s life? There’s nothing like tucking into a real page-turner. If you’ve already hit the road, chances are you’re toting a few books or a Kindle or some other digital device to get your reading kicks. Whether they’re of the rip and read variety or epic tomes, when you’re in the thick of a good tale, nothing—not even sleep—can get you to put a good book down. Pay no mind to anyone who may think you’re just lying around. Reading is an activity and a good one to have. Plus, it makes you a better writer. Whatever your plans are—vacation or staycation—books fuel that sense of escapism. Here are a few recommendations, fiction and non-fiction, collected from reading junkies, to pack for any summer getaway. They are in no particular order.

The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber. Terrifying, unsettling, suspenseful, thoughtful—this is true crime at its finest. Graeber’s investigative journalism into the nine-year killing spree by the nurse, Charles Cullen, is up close and personal but it’s the cover-up by the hospital administrators that’ll really freak you out. I had the good luck to catch Graeber’s appearance at a local bookstore and the hairs went up on the back of my neck just listening to the excerpts.

My friend Mary has a thing for the British spy genre so if you’re up for a bit of espionage, betrayal, suspense—and who isn’t when it’s not your life—then you may want to venture down this road. Restless by William Boyd is a historical novel set during WWII. Its heroine is a 28-year-old Russian émigré living in Paris who ends up in the British Secret Service and learns to become the perfect spy. If you’re in the mood for more passion and deceit, she also recommends Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. It’s an intriguing tale about an Oxford-educated middle-class girl in 1970s England whose beauty and intelligence leads her into a double life as a drab civil servant and as a secret agent infiltrating the current literary intelligentsia. Ultimately, it’s about the process of writing a novel seen through the eyes of a duped writer who falls prey to what turns out to be a disastrous government scheme to manipulate Cold War sympathies through the literary world.

If you’re into weird and supernatural stories, lose yourself in Vampires In The Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. Eight short stories make up the collection within these magical tales where anything can happen, from captive girls transforming into silkworms (creepy), to a president reincarnated as a horse. Russell’s been noted one of the best writers under 40 and she also wrote the best seller Swamplandia.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed’s name couldn’t be more perfect. In the wake of loss after her mother’s death, and then her marriage, Strayed goes it alone with no experience, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s a train wreck and you’ll journey with her through the solitude, the terrain, and meeting and experiencing the other beings along the way that lead her to knowledge and healing. This book shows us why travel is good for the soul.

Visit the ex-pat life during jazz-age Paris with Ernest Hemingway in this novel told from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. It may sound like paradise but the man was no picnic. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain takes you into their world and shows us heaven and hell all wrapped up in one.

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. This collection of magical, scary, and wacky tales is good for all ages and it made the New York Times Best Book of the Century List. One note, the Kindle version doesn’t live up to what’s in the paperback.

I wouldn’t want to relive my teenage years but revisiting the adolescent angst-ridden days of Mary Karr’s youth growing up in East Texas in her memoir Cherry is a wild ride. Karr’s writing is riveting, raw and addictive. There’s not a wasted word, and men and women will glimpse themselves in her writing. After her first kiss with a local boy she nails it when she wonders, “How can you know such a thing about a person and not lean into it?” Insecurity never felt so good.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. The back-story to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Whether you’re 15 or 50, it’s C.S Lewis and it’s pure magic, and the perfect summer story to take you far, far away.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann. This book is on the reading list of pretty much every one I hit up for recommendations. It’s a multi-layered tribute story in which McCann explores the ties between the U.S. and his Irish homeland. This novel leapfrogs continents, centuries, and introduces a cast of real and fictional characters.

Joyland by Stephen King. All I know is that it’s a paranormal mystery tale and can only be purchased in hard copy or audio download, but it’s summer and it’s Stephen King so why not spend it with a master storyteller.

As much as I love summer, I wilt in the heat. A boiling hot New York day is not my idea of a good time, which makes Endurance: Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, one of my all time, favorite summer reads. This story is the definitive account of Ernest Shackelton’s fateful trip to cross the Antarctic overland. It didn’t turn out too good when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped “like an almond in a chocolate bar” in the ice and eventually crushed. Shackelton and his crew survived on drifting ice packs in one of the most inhospitable areas on the planet.  I’ve read it a few times.

There are loads of best of summer reading lists out there. What’s in your hot little hands these days?

What’s On Your Nightstand?


Reading on the Beach

Reading on the Beach (Photo credit: cmcgough)

The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

What was the first book you read as a kid?  I don’t mean the first book your mom or dad read to you but the first book that you read.  You know, the first one that you actually enjoyed because something about it clicked for you.  The one that did it for me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.   I think most kids read this book but in case you didn’t, it’s a coming of age story about two teenage rival gangs from opposite sides of the tracks. The book is loaded with emotion and it was easy to identify with the characters. I savored every page and didn’t want it to end.  The bonus was finding out that S.E. Hinton was a woman—actually she was a teenager when she wrote the novel—and the story’s narrator is a boy.  In fact, the majority of characters are boys.  That pretty much blew me away.  It was my first real understanding about a writer’s voice and style.  It also led to a greater understanding that to write, you need to read.

Do you like to read? I hope so because reading is probably one of the most important things that will contribute to being a writer—and a good one.  The two pretty much go hand-in-hand.   I’m not talking about just reading travel writing.  I’m talking fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, and print or digital magazines.  If you drive to work, audiobooks make it easy to plow through books. They also make great cooking and workout companions.

Forest Hills Audio Book Month Display

Forest Hills Audio Book Month Display (Photo credit: mySAPL)

The reason I’m asking is because no matter what it is that you read, you’re learning.  Whether you realize it or not, you’re learning the art of writing in its many forms and styles—good and bad.  Much like some people have an ear for music, reading helps to develop an inner ear for writing.   If you find that you pretty much read the same type of literature, step out of that comfort zone and explore other genres.   See what’s out there.

Many times, what you may be reading at a certain point in time can trigger an idea for a story.  I’m not an architect, financial analyst or a man, but when I’m in a doctor’s office waiting room, I flip through the magazines geared towards those subjects to check out what’s happening.  I usually come away having learned a few new things and, oftentimes, an inspired thought for something I’d like to write.

reading by the fountain

reading by the fountain (Photo credit: jaroslavd)

The beauty of reading is that you can do it anywhere, and e-book readers, audiobooks and laptops make it easier than ever to access information.  These days, there’s almost no excuse not to read.  Much like the handy notebook to jot down your ideas and observations, it’s always good to have a book or other type of reading material with you.  Maybe you already do.  A Kindle is great but, like smartphones, they’ll eventually run out of juice.  Like the notebook and pencil, books are loyal travel companions wherever you may be.  I recently spent two hours in line at immigration at JFK airport.  Every once in a while when I looked up from my book, I heard people moaning and groaning about the wait.   If I hadn’t had my book, I’d have been flipping out right along with them.

Con el Kindle en todas partes

With a Kindle everywhere.  (Photo credit: edans)

Similar to travel writers whose columns you admire,  you may have already adopted a certain style of writing cultivated from your favorite authors.  That’s a good thing, because it may have already contributed to helping you define your writing style.  If you don’t read a lot then you may want to pay a visit to your local library where you can easily borrow all types of materials, including audiobooks. It also happens to be Celebrate National Library Weekanother good reason to visit.  Oddly enough, today marks the launch of the Digital Public Library of America which makes books, images, historical records, and audiovisual materials available to anyone with Internet access.  If you prefer to buy your own, there’s no need to spend tons of money when there’s plenty of used books stores around—you can even get them on Amazon.com. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s kind of a cardinal rule to writing.  If you want to write—and write well—you’ve got to read…a lot.

Stephen Kings says, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order.”   As far as I’m concerned, that pretty much sums it up.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 12.42.30 PMRight now I’ve got the current issue of Outside magazine in my handbag and can’t wait to tear into it.  The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr is on my nightstand.  What are you reading or listening to these days?  I’d really like to know.