What I'm Reading (No. 85): vacation reading
I’m writing this on a ferry that’s taking me and my wife from Orcas Island to Anacortes in Washington state. We’ve been on vacation for a few days (thanks to the kiddos’ wonderful grandparents!), which always provides some of the most enjoyable type of reading: vacation reading.
This week I finished Jamie Ford’s newest book, Love and Other Consolations, and got knee-deep into the next Cork O’Connor mystery by William Kent Krueger (you’ll hear about that one in probably two weeks).
Since I just finished just the one book this week, I’ll give it some more room, while also talking a little bit about what I like in a vacation read. And there's a PNW reading list at the end.
Let's do it.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford (2017, 321 pages)
I first read Jamie Ford back in 2011, when I thoroughly enjoyed his debut, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It’s about a couple of kids back in WWII-era Seattle who fall in love (the teenage version) and have to navigate being Asian in that tumultuous period of America's history.
Then a few years later I read The Songs of Willow Frost as soon as it came out. It’s about a 12-year-old orphan in Depression-era Seattle who is convinced his mother is still alive, and a famous actress no less. Also quite enjoyable.
So when his newest book came out I knew I had to read it. And vacation was the perfect time. (Especially a vacation to the Pacific Northwest.)
As you will have noticed, Ford writes (so far) within a rather narrow niche: 20th century historical fiction set in Seattle, featuring teenaged Asian protagonists. His novels tend to bring the reader between multiple periods decades apart to show what the passage of time does to the characters’ memories. Ford is almost Dickensian in his focus on the teenage set and what it’s like to be separated from the main thrust of society.
Anyways, this new book is about a 12-year-old orphan who ends up being raffled off at Seattle's 1909 world's fair and lands at a famed brothel, working as sort of an errand boy and then chauffeur. Love and jealousy ensues. Peppered between important events from 1909 are chapters from 1962, which was the next time Seattle hosted the world's fair. It's great framing for a story and easily transports the reader between the time periods.
I enjoy Ford’s novels because they’re nicely-written stories about young people figuring out the world, and they’re pretty easy reading. At the same time, not everything about them is light and fluffy; there’s still some intense trauma and tragedy, but it’s not all about that. (Plus those tragedies always follow the course of what has actually happened, making it more believable.)
I don’t always want some crazy mystery or intense action plot on vacation. I want something sort of chill, that’s somewhat easy to read, and makes me feel good about humanity. That usually falls into the realm of fiction, but not always. While there are some sad parts, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is ultimately a book about love — falling into it, choosing it, releasing it. It was an excellent vacation read.
Ranked, I’d put this one in the middle of Ford’s three novels. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was probably better, but not by too much.
A PNW Reading List
Given our vacation up here, and the book I finished, a Pacific Northwest reading list is quite apropos.
Eruption by Steve Olson. A chronicle of the Mt. St. Helens explosion of 1980. Includes a bunch of very interesting history of the region.
Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. One of my favorite books, from one of my favorite authors. About the rowers of the 1936 Olympics, many of whom originated from the PNW, and spent countless hours training on Lake Union in Seattle.
In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond by John Zada. I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s sitting on my Kindle and high on my list. It’s about Sasquatch — specifically, why people search for it and why they so badly want to believe it. Has quite good reviews.
Howard Schultz’s Starbucks memoirs. The writing is average at best, but it’s still interesting to hear about the story of Starbucks and how the iconic brand came to be. Pour Your Heart Into It is better than Onward, but I enjoyed both. (From what I hear, don’t bother with his newest book.)
Astoria by Peter Stark. Thomas Jefferson and John Jacob Astor wanted to establish a trading empire on the Pacific. This is the story of how that worked out. I’ve not it yet, but it’s sitting on my shelf and my mom said it was good.
Where’d Ya Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. A fun, light-hearted book about a Seattle family. Mom is quite quirky, and disappears for a bit. Sort of a mid-life/identity crisis novel. Also, it just hit the big screen.
On Trails by Robert Moor. Certainly not just about the PNW, but Moor lives in British Columbia and there’s plenty that does concern his home region. It’s all about trails — hiking trails, animal migration trails, life’s metaphorical trails. It’s a wonderful book.
That's all for me this week. Thank you for your time and inbox space. Hope you all get some good vacation reading in over the long weekend!