Sunday, August 27, 2006

Vacation Reading

With the heightened security, we were afraid that we wouldn’t be allowed to bring anything onto the plane with us. Restrictions changed daily. We had only carry-on luggage, but were forced to check it. Our traveling companions went through Heathrow and weren’t even allowed to bring books on board. I vowed to one friend that I’d be willing to take a nibble from every page of a book to prove it was real if security demanded it. Lucky for me, I wasn’t forced to eat anyone’s words, and I got to have my books.

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty got me from LA to about the middle of the Atlantic. It's a good novel, and I understand that BBC made a movie from it, but I had a hard time being truly interested in the main character.

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was my companion from Paris to Rome. In the finest tradition of science fiction, this story uses alternate reality to examine the definition of humanity. Strongly recommended.

While in Rome, I read Jim Thompson's The Grifters. This was one of the few times I'd say the movie was better than the book. The novel has an extraneous character that gets in the way. The screenwriter was smart to tighten the focus to a triangle between Moira, Ray, and Ray's mom, Lily. Jim Thompson could write a plot, but he sure tells everything, never showing - which is a big no-no in contemporary writing.

In preparation for Venice, I then read John Berendt's City of Falling Angels. Like his Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this is more a collection of anecdotes about a city and the people who live there than a single story. Still, he has the talent to pull it off - in style. If you’re headed to Venice, I strongly recommend this. My only disappointment was the difficulty of finding English translations of Mario Stefani's poetry, as the story of the poet’s suicide and will captured my attention. Having finished City of Falling Angels the day before we went to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection, I was amused to find books written by Jane Rylands, who came off as a near villain in Berendt's story, for sale in the museum gift shop.

Due to a train schedule problem, we had to head back to Paris the long way - Venice to Milan, Milan to Nice, Nice to Paris. 20 hours. I meant to sleep most of the way, but when you’re traveling along the Mediterranean in Southern France and Monaco, it’s hard to ignore the scenery outside the window. Once the sun set though, I pulled out a book.

I like Raymond Chandler's prose, but his homophobia is laughable. I must read his biography and see if he was gay. His lingering, lavish physical descriptions of men and throw-away details of women raised my eyebrow, but in every one of his novels, he has a beautiful boy but then makes some nasty comment about gay men just to prove his detective isn't turned on. Internalized homophobia? I smell a closet.

After I finished The Big Sleep, I still had hours of train travel ahead of me. Our traveling companions had a galley of Patricia Marx's Him Her Him Again The End of Him. They took pity on me and passed it across the aisle. I think it will be released in early 2007. Patricia is a former SNL writer and other TV shows, as well as pieces in Spy, The New Yorker, Vogue, Time, etc. By the time I finished her novel, everyone in our compartment was dead to the world, so I shut off my reading light and got some sleep too.

Our vacation was almost at an end by then. Good thing. I was down to one book - Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely - and the SO was reading it. The nerve! So I read his Steven Saylor novel, Roman Blood. I got the SO hooked on Steven's series. I'm hooked myself. I love detective novels, and the ancient Rome setting makes it all that more interesting. After I devoured that, I impatiently tapped my foot while the SO finished my book. Incompatible reading speeds do not make for happy traveling companions. The SO was lucky I didn’t rip my book out of his hands. I dangled my copy of the Grifters in front of him, to no avail. As I said, I like Chandler’s prose, so I’m reading through his list. If you’re offended by racism, misogyny, or homophobia, I wouldn’t suggest his work, because it’s rife with it. If you can grit your teeth and get past it, and you like your detectives hard-boiled, go for it.

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