Vacations are meant for reading…

Throughout my life, a highlight of any vacation has been the chance to read novels. Yet in anticipation of all the sightseeing, I wasn’t sure how much reading I would get done on our tour of Italy and Greece. Yet the hours spent in the air and on the rails, along with the early mornings due to jet-lag, I found myself reading quite a lot – to the tune of 9 books in fact. Anyway, I thought it might be worthwhile to offer some reflections (and rating!) on what I encountered. I’ll go through them in the order I read them, although there was no particular method to my reading-madness, as I ended up reading all of Julie’s books as well, along with buying a few from the limited English selection available to us in stores. Here goes:

1. The Shack – William P. Young

I think the fanfare surrounding this book took away some of my enjoyment as it was difficult to read without all those voices influencing my experience. Oh well, what can you do? What I enjoyed about the book, was that in exploring one man’s experience of God following the tragic loss of his daughter, Young provides us with a poignant glimpse into the loving relationship of the Trinity and how that love manifests itself to us in the midst of our suffering. The human longing to connect with God in our sorrow and emptiness is something we can all relate to some degree. Additionally, Young makes an abstract theological construct available to people who would otherwise not engage something as complex as the trinity. The writing itself may not be anything especially amazing, but I think the chord the story strikes in the heart of the reader is what makes this book a success.

-Rating: 3.5/5

2. The Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin Jr.

I picked this up on the sale rack at the Regent bookstore, and was glad I did. I’ve always enjoyed narratives that portray the battle of good and evil through the eyes of the animal kingdom. Told from the perspective of a rooster’s leadership of a farm yard, Wangerin’s story is a classic example of this struggle. Through a tense sequence of events, the book climaxes in a stunning representation of how sacrifice is the ultimate victory over evil. The only critique is that animal/fantasy genre (right term?) is a bit predictable, but aren’t all classic good vs. evil stories predictable?
-Rating: 3.5/5

3. Same Place, Same Things – Tim Gautreaux

Another book off the sale rack, this one is a collection of short stories that all take place in the southern state of Louisiana. Most of the stories present the dark realities of southern rural life, and while too predictable (most stories took had an inevitable depressing ending), Gautreaux does well in showing that even the most mundane context can’t escape the complex reality of sadness and death.
-Rating: 3/5

4. A Discovery of Strangers – Rudy Wiebe

This was definitely my favorite book of the vacation. Based on the events surrounding a British expedition into Northern Canada in the 1800’s, Wiebe takes an historical record and weaves a beautiful narrative that displays not only the hardships of Northern life, but the complex relationships that developed between the aboriginal natives and the British explorers. I especially appreciated the story’s excellent exposition of the challenges present in the clash of two extremely different cultures, while at the same time was grateful that this representation did not take precedence over the characters and the narrative. What I like so much about Wiebe is his ability not just to tell a story, but to tell a story that has meaning on so many different levels. The beautiful descriptions of Northern Canada, the intricacy of the woven storylines and characters, and the underlying cultural critique all combine to form a great book.
-Rating: 5/5

5. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

This well-known story was better than I expected. Not only does Golden provide incredible detail of the Geisha-culture in war-era Japan, but manages to give insight into the life of individual women and the challenges they faced. Hard to believe those things really happened!
-Rating: 3.5/5

6. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

From the author of the acclaimed Kite Runner, comes this second novel from Hosseini which presents the lives of two woman in war-torn Afghanistan, relating how their paths cross and how they come to rely on one another to navigate the suffering and abuse they both experience throughout their lives. I appreciated Hosseini’s ability to portray, at times graphically, the bleakness of life for many women during the reign of the Taliban. While I do wonder how much our North American views of freedom and personhood play into novels such as these, the women’s journey of suffering, sacrifice, and perseverance is one which captured my attention, even if in a troubling sort of way as I considered its relevance in our world today.
-Rating: 4/5

7. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer

This book recounts the tragic events that took place on Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996. The only reason I enjoyed this novel at all is because in high school I did a very small amount of mountaineering and can relate to the culture somewhat. The problem is that the book reads like an extended Reader Digest story, and considering the account is true and was written only months after the event, I was left feeling a little bit discouraged in terms of honoring the lives of those who died. Yet, tragedy sells because part of us (myself included) are drawn towards it. It is what it is…
-Rating: 2/5

8. A Certain Justice – P.D. James

Nothing like a British crime novel for a change of pace to my vacation reading! While I haven’t read a considerable amount in this genre, I must say that reading my first novel by P.D. James was a very enjoyable experience. Her writing style, especially choice of words, stuck out to me as something a little more significant than what one would usually encounter from mass-produced paperbacks. Accompany that with the usual twists and turns of a mystery novel and the fun task of guessing “who did it?”, and I would definitely read another James novel if the opportunity arose.
-Rating: 4/5

9. JPod Douglas Coupland

I’d been meaning to read this book for a while, so when I saw it in a London bookstore, I figured it to be a suitable last read for the journey home to Vancouver (also the book’s setting!). The story itself is a bit strange, but considering it portrays the complex lives of postmodern young adult professionals in Vancouver, the strangeness seems somewhat appropriate. The setting is a small department (“Jpod”) in a videogame production company and the characters are the motley crew that make up the department, with particular attention paid to one young man and his wacky family. Less a story and more of a lens into the quirkiness of Westcoast culture, the book is humorous throughout and in my opinion pretty accurate in portraying the types of situations (although a bit extreme) young adults encounter in their developing professional and personal lives. Coupland ability to blend humor, story, and cultural commentary makes for an entertaining read.
-Rating: 4/5

Bonus Book: Rick Steves’ Italy 2008

This was our travel bible while in Italy and I would highly recommend it to anyone who tours Italy or any of the other countries Steves writes about. His insider information and ratings of what to see and not to see were consistently accurate. I’m not sure what we would have done without it – likely paid more and seen less!?!
-Rating: 5/5


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