I’m the kind of person who always brings a book to the cabin and…never reads more than a few pages of it. I go on trips with several book and come back with most of them unread except for the audiobook on the plane. I’m often lucky if I get a single book read on a trip. There’s usually so many other things to experience and do and reading tends to be a pretty solitary, relaxing activity, which is not usually trip strategy. So with very few exceptions (like our trip to Taiwan years ago when I had long stretches of time to myself), I tend to buy more books on vacation than I read. And because these books become something like souvenirs, they’re often more memorable to me than the books that I read (or tried to read, and reread the same paragraph over and over again). So although the prompt for this week is books I read on vacation, I’m going to talk about books I purchased on vacation instead.
New York, New York at the Strand: Unnatural Creatures ed. by Neil Gaiman
I bought this book for the cover, the gorgeous typography and twisting branches. We were young college kids on this trip, and we didn’t have a lot to spend on souvenirs, but the book was out in paperback and on sale, and I bought it. This is a great collection of short stories by the way–a cool focus that allows the writers to be very creative. If you enjoy fantasy and dark fairy tales, you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Bend, Oregon: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
I found this at a thrift store with my Mom and Nana–we always beeline for the books. I had read a couple other Atwood books by then so I was excited to see another one. Even now, I know I’ll get through all of her books eventually, but I tend to dole them out to myself so I don’t go through them all at once.
Paris, France: A French version of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I learned un petit peu of French for the trip to Paris my Nana and I took in 2018. I learned enough to get around as a tourist, but definitely not enough to struggle through Harry Potter, and given the choice I’ll probably go back to Spanish, but I couldn’t resist buying something in the wonderful little bookstore. Next time I’ll stick to notebooks. I still have the little embossed bookmark though, and I love it.
Maui, Hawaii: The Quest for King Arthur by David Day
I really enjoy shopping, but not the mass produced souvenir kind, so while my friend was off looking at things in Lahaina, I went and found this cute little used bookstore and an interesting coffee table book about King Arthur caught my eye.
Taichung, Taiwan: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I went into a lot of bookstores and stationery stores in Taiwan and bought lots of washi tape and little cards and stickers and things, but I didn’t kid myself and think I was ever going to learn enough Mandarin even for a simple picture book. But there was a little used bookstore in Taichung that held a shelf of English books, and I was running low on reading material so…it came home with me.
Actually Taiwan was the rare trip that I read quite a bit since I was alone most of the day. I only took books I was willing to leave behind and I ended up leaving almost a drawerful and the hotel called. In retrospect, I should have just taken them down to the bookstore I’d found but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the person at the counter even though the vast majority of people we met spoke at least some English (certainly much more than my 10 words of Mandarin) i also could have looked it up on my phone… no excuse really. My bag was lighter without them and then I had room for all the washi tape.
Patrick Ness writes really well about the shock and horrors of childhood made manifest as a little boy grieves his mother in the only way he knows how. A beautiful middle grade book. And the movie was decent as well.
London, UK: The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
There was some sort of deal for 3 of certain paperbacks, so I found a few things. I don’t remember the name of this bookstore that we poked into…but I did notice that books are a bit less expensive in the UK and that they’re made a little differently– stiffer and lighter than the floppy US trade paperback. The covers were gorgeous too!
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote the Master and Margarita, which is one of my all time favorites, and this little novella was good, but not as good. It’s about a doctor who switches a human’s testicles with a dogs and they take on each other’s characteristics to amusing results. It’s a weird little book, but it gives you a good sense of the midcentury USSR, which Bulgakov was very much writing against in a fantastical way.
The Essex Serpent is a little dark and creepy and full of magical realism, like most of Sarah Perry’s work. Her writing can be a little dense, but it’s worth wading through (or listening to the audiobook) for the atmosphere she creates in her stories, which borders on the gothic. They made a miniseries of this for Apple TV+, which I haven’t seen yet.
Everyone talks about Jessie Burton’s more well known book The Miniaturist, but I couldn’t get into that setting nearly as quickly as I was swept into a fast paced midcentury London. I ended up reading this book waiting to be called for jury duty. We were there 6 hours or so before being dismissed. I finished both books I brought and went to the library on break. That’s where I picked up the more famous Jessie Burton book, but it was such a tone and pace shift I couldn’t get through the first chapters and into the richer parts. Also, those closeted Holland spaces always feel dark and claustrophobic to me. They’re not my favorite historical setting by a long shot.
Merida, Mexico: Purchased: The Poems of Octavio Paz
Recently my friend and I went to Mexico, and while we were in this colorful city, I discovered that an expat was running an English language bookstore. I was looking for poetry by Mexican authors, and I was disappointed not to find much although I’m sure it doesn’t sell that well. But I did pick up a lovely bilingual edition of poems by Octavio Paz.
Do you ever buy books on vacation? Let me know in the comments!