Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vacation Travel Reading: The East Coast

Well, I'm finally back to blogging after a summer off. It was unplanned, but it turned out that my kids were so busy this summer, I spent my time driving them around Los Angeles (even during "Carmageddon"!) instead of blogging.

My summer reading this summer has suffered from a general lack of time to laze at the beach or by the pool, but next week my family is taking it's first-ever cruise, and I'm loading up the suitcase with books! We are sailing out of Brooklyn, New York (who knew?) up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then down the east coast, stopping in St. John, Bar Harbor, Portland, Boston, and Newport before heading back to New York. When I travel, I like to immerse myself in the literature of the place, so I have found some New England literature to read while sailing down its coast.

On my very first visit to Maine, I'm planning to read Sarah Orne Jewett’s classic novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, first published in 1896, for a look at what life in coastal Maine was like at the turn of the twentieth century. People praise Jewett as one of the great American writers that nobody reads any more, and I'm eager to take in her characters and the atmosphere of the rocky coast of Maine.

One of my favorite books in recent years, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, is also set in Maine, but the Maine of the present, not the past. A set of interconnected stories that make up a novel, it's about ornery Maine woman Olive who looks back on her life and relationships in her small town, and it has an amazing sense of place.

There's so much good writing set in Boston that it's hard to choose one book. For non-fiction, I'd like to read David Hackett Fischer's book Paul Revere's Ride, which I've heard is an amazing piece of narrative history, and a compelling read.

I've also had a Boston novel, John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley, which won the author a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1938, on my to-read list for a long time. It is supposed to be another hidden gem by an author who fell out of favor in the 1960s, which satirizes the life and manners of the "Boston Brahmins" in pre-World War II Beacon Hill.

But when we round Cape Cod, I'm going to get out my old copy of Henry David Thoreau's book Cape Cod, an account of his meditative, beach-combing walking trips to Cape Cod in the 1850s, told with his trademark reverence for nature. The Cape is a wondrous place, and Thoreau's travelogue is satisfying a mixture of its folklore and natural history.

Another of my favorite books of all time is set on Cape Cod, Annie Dillard's The Maytrees. It is the chronicle of the ups and downs of a marriage over many years, set in the parabolic dunes of the very tip of the Cape, at Provincetown. I read it while sitting on a Cape beach one summer, and was captivated by Dillard's lyrical language and quirky characters.

We won't be visiting Providence, Rhode Island, this year, but it's a great city, and I was intrigued when I heard that its former mayor wrote a book about his exploits there. Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale is a memoir by former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy’’ Cianci, and I hear it's as colorful and controversial as the man himself.

When we hit the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, I plan to pick up Thornton Wilder’s fictionalized memoir, Theophilus North. It tells the tale of a young man who spends the summer of 1926 in Newport, teaching tennis to the rich, and getting caught up in their travails, narrated by the elderly North from a distance of 50 years.

I've heard good things about John Casey’s book Spartina, winner of the National Book Award in 1989. It's about Rhode Island fisherman and boat-builder Dick Pierce, his difficult family problems, and his life among the salt marshes and crab fishermen of South County, RI.

What vacation reading have you done this summer? Has any of it reflected the places you visited? What was your favorite summer read?