Holiday Reading

Hello blogging friends – I’ve missed you; did you miss me? I had a lovely week’s holiday with indifferent weather, perfect for guilt-free sofa-based reading. I returned to a heaving bloglines account and spent the morning reading through everything you’ve been writing this past week. And I mean everything. But I haven’t commented because something’s gotta give. Anyhow, before I went away I noticed a few posts in the blogosphere wondering what holiday reading actually was. Well, it will surprise you not at all that I’ve come back from my week away with an answer of sorts. It just so happened that the books I’ve been reading have been on the lighter end of the scale, comfort reads, if you like. The first book was by Douglas Kennedy who I’d never read before and was called Temptation. It was about a would-be Hollywood screenwriter, David Armitage, who after years of futile effort finally finds himself top of the fickle LA listings when his television sitcom Selling You becomes a monster hit. In no time at all he has an acrimonious ex-wife, an investment portfolio, more offers of work than he can handle and an intriguing invitation from a reclusive millionaire who wants to make films to spend some time with him on his island retreat. Philip Fleck is worth $20 billion and the plot centers on the possibility that such a man could (and indeed does) act like God in contemporary LA where every kind of integrity comes with a price ticket. David’s tortuous entanglements with this man leave him almost destroyed, but as with all great plot-driven narratives, our man has the brains and the insight to fight back. Looking back over this summary you may well be thinking, oh dear, embossed lettering a foot high, endless sex scenes and descriptions of every meal. But no, don’t go there! If you’re in the mood for this kind of thing (and I was), it’s actually really good. Smart, snappy dialogue, a good central character, and rather an intriguing meditation on the fascination with wealth and its immorality that seems to underlie a lot of American light reading. Why do we want to read about the super rich? I cannot tell you how little I care about possessing state-of-the-art anything in my house; at the very least I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to work it, and yet I caught myself happily siphoning off the details of this billionaire’s domestic appointments and had to laugh at myself.

After that I was in the mood for more fun, and so I read a murder mystery by an author I’d seen recommended on the blogs (and many apologies to the blogger in question as I’ve forgotten whose site it was). The author is Sarah Stewart Taylor and it was her first novel O’ Artful Death introducing her detecting protagonist, the improbably named Sweeney St George. Sweeney is an academic who works on funerary art, gravestones and the like, and I’m a sucker for academics in stories, whatever role they are playing. Sweeney has a flowing mane of titian curls, a taste for vintage clothing and a tragic past. Hmmmm. The story was a jolly confection that joined suspicious deaths in the past and the present through the inhabitants of an artists’ colony in Vermont, and it was all focused upon a highly unusual gravestone by an unknown sculptor. My goodness I wish academic research really was this dramatic and this fruitful. And I really wish I were that glamourous and that determined as a researcher. If I weren’t the kind of shoddy academic who said, oh well, whatever, when books I wanted in the library weren’t available, perhaps I could have exciting adventures too. It was extremely entertaining, definitely one of those crime stories that’s interested in the puzzle rather than reality, and it was deeply implausible in a way that didn’t really matter.

You’d think I’d had enough by now, wouldn’t you? But no, I then picked up Lisa Scottoline’s Devil’s Corner, partly because the Maureen Corrigan book I read recommended her, and partly because I always used to like Sara Paretsky books when I was younger. This novel’s all about drugs in Philadelphia and the female protagonist is a gutsy lawyer called Vicki Allegretti, an assistant U.S. attorney (I have no idea what that is) who happens to stumble into a revenge shooting when supposedly meeting with a confidential informant. This is a speedy read; I’ve covered 200 pages in not so very many hours and I certainly haven’t needed to chew. But I can’t say that I’m getting on with it quite so well because the main protagonist is annoying me. She’s been told by just about everyone not to investigate this case, and she just listens, waits until they’ve left, and then puts her coat on and heads off to chase after drug dealers. She’s made so much fuss and been so conspicuous that any gangster worth his salt would have had her murdered by now. I think this is a feminist thing, because it’s a continual stream of men in authority doing the telling, and my suspicion is that she will uncover corruption in high places, etc, and therefore have been justified in her behaviour. But perhaps it’s the mother in me that means I cannot read along while someone acts with mindless, stubborn recklessness and not feel at least slightly disapproving. Or perhaps I’m just getting old. Oh and there’s this subplot concerning an incredibly perfect male (married) best friend who she adores from afar. I give it another ten chapters or so before he leaves his wife and and moves in with her; yeah, right. But if I put all issues of credibility to one side, it’s a fast-paced, enjoyable read that makes no demands on me whatsoever.

So, what is this thing called holiday reading? Well, in the case of the three books I’ve read, it’s been about suspending disbelief and allowing the world of narrative simply to entertain me. These novels have asked nothing of me other than a brake on reality checking and trust in the ability of stories to do all the work, make the journey and provide the answers. In that respect I’ve been taking a holiday in the world of reading, entering its parallel universe and leaving behind the cares of intransigent daily life in which there is so rarely justice, resolution and closure.

And what a splendid holiday that is every once in a while.

[I’ve just managed to press the wrong button and publish a half-written, long-abandoned blog post. I deleted it almost instantly and do hope that means it won’t show up in people’s feed readers. Whoops!]

15 thoughts on “Holiday Reading

  1. The character in that last book sounds like a lot of the Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) heroines that romp mindlessly through some romance books. The authors claim it’s some sort of “feminism” thing but I declare that feminism has nothing to do with reckless females with only two brain cells to rub together putting herself into every sort of possible danger in order to get the story/avenge the dead sister/mete out justice/[insert motivation here] only to miraculously escape unscathed and/or be saved by brawn. Ah well, they can be a lot of fun to read, only you’re laughing at the heroine not with. 🙂

    Happy to read you had a splendid holiday with good books!

  2. Glad to hear you had a good break. I haven’t been on holiday but have done some holiday reading of the same kind of ilk of you – light and fun. Sometimes it’s just necessary.

    (And I did catch the other post, but I have already forgotten it.)

  3. I am at home at the moment and have had plenty of time to sit and read my way through loads of crime novels, light fiction and adventure stories and have had a lovely time in so doing. I highly recommend The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower as a simply gorgeous book to read, I won’t say only on holiday, but all the time and I am using any excuse to recommend it to everyone.

  4. Welcome back. I did miss you! It sounds like you had some lovely holiday reading — it’s so nice when you are happy the weather is bad and can just relax and read and enjoy it.

  5. Saying this might not sound quite normal coming from someone who has spent all her adult life studying and teaching literature, but I approach every fiction book, even the most lofty, with the hope, first and foremost, that it’ll entertain me. If deeper meanings and observations about the world become apparent, great. But those messages only have a chance to get through when the story keeps me reading.

  6. I love this sort of reading sometimes–the whole suspend belief and just be entertained reading! I have not read the other two books, but I also read the the Sarah Stewart Taylor book and keep meaning to read another book in the series. She certainly has quite an unusual job! You mean you don’t get mixed up in murders in between teaching and doing research? Ah, how disappointing–LOL. Of course that’s why books like these are so much fun–pure escapism. Glad you had a nice vacation!

  7. Charlotte – isn’t it just? It’s wonderful relaxation. And what a dear you are to have forgotten that post already. How embarrassingly stupid of me to publish it! Duh! Elaine – I did see your lovely reviews of it and had already been tempted! I will certainly be reading it. Dorothy – I missed you too! Yes, sometimes bad weather can be very useful! Dewey – it sounds perfectly normal and understandable to me, and I know exactly what you mean. Whatever magic the written word possesses, it will only do its work once it’s grabbed you by the throat. And Dewey – which authors/periods do you teach? Danielle – pure escapism is exactly right, and I agree it’s a delight. If you do feel in the mood for it, then try the Douglas Kennedy. I thought he was really good. And if I ever do come across a murder case in the course of my research, I promise to post all about it!

  8. Welcome back! And, of course we’ve missed you. 🙂 I’m so glad that you had a good time (despite the poopy weather we’ve been having) and managed to escape with a bevy of good books.

    I’ve been contemplating this ‘holiday reading’ concept as well – if a holiday is a break from work, is ‘holiday reading’ a break from the work of reading? I suppose I’m not alone among lit-bloggers in thinking of my reading as a form of ‘work’, that is, of improving my understanding, both emotional and intellectual. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who sets reading targets, and schedules classics, and so on. That isn’t to say that it feels like a slog or a trial, but simply: it is more than a hobby, a form of entertainment that is also an endeavour. So, I suppose it is possible to take a holiday from that – to think ‘I’ll read something off the map of literary landmarks, classic, contemporary or otherwise.’

    In my case, this would probably consist of some fat fantasy trilogy, something that it is difficult to justify even with the most intensive and imaginative critical analysis. 🙂 It seems important to make these concessions to your reading id, now and then.

  9. Victoria – you say it just beautifully! That’s exactly right. I shall now term these books ‘reading id concessions’ when I pick them off the shelves and smile, thinking of you!

  10. Sounds like a good time Litlove! 🙂
    I’ve read three of the Sweeney books and have enjoyed them so hope you’ll get a chance to read another one.

  11. Iliana – I already have the second one on my shelves and so I’m following right behind you! Stefanie – I missed you too! And the kitten/dog situation, and Emerson. Brain candy is a brilliant term, and exactly what I was reading.

  12. “I think this is a feminist thing, because it’s a continual stream of men in authority doing the telling, and my suspicion is that she will uncover corruption in high places, etc, and therefore have been justified in her behaviour.” I think it’s a trend that’s been going on for a while in pop culture, to have a “strong but vulnerable-in-appearance” female heroine who is told to stay out of things by men in authority but who goes ahead and solves the crime (Veronica Mars) or beats up the vampires (Buffy) anyway. It’s the latest fashion in the obligatory “vacillation” scenes that these novels often have – where the main character ponders whether or not to come out of retirement to solve the big case, will the gangster heed his wife’s warning or do the big bank job. The reader knows the answer already – but it’s a “must have” in the plot anyway.

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