Monday, June 1, 2015

On Perfectly Undemanding Novels for my Travels

I just returned from a two-week trip to the Netherlands and Scotland; I had a wonderful time there. Of course an important question for me was what to read on the trip, especially on those very long flights back and forth. I packed some unread magazines from my pile at home, along with a couple of novels I had picked up recently (“The Submission,” by Amy Waldman, and “The Archivist,” by Martha Cooley, both of which were quite good). But I didn’t want my reading material to take too much space in my bag (I know, I know, I should have an e-reader, but I just haven’t gotten to that step yet…I am obviously still resisting on some level). So I needed to buy some books along the way, in airports and bookstores. (When I finish a book while traveling, I just leave it on the airplane or at the hotel, and replenish my supply, always making sure to have enough reading material in reserve at any given time….) I realized that for my travels I wanted books that were interesting, enjoyable, well written, but not too demanding. Travel is wonderful but tiring, and for me it is usually not the time to read a “heavy” or very literary book. These are the books – all novels, all fitting the above requirements – that I bought and read: “The One and Only,” by Emily Giffin; “The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year,” by Sue Townsend; “As Good as it Gets,” by Fiona Gibson; “Saving Grace,” by Jane Green; and “The Husband’s Secret,” by Liane Moriarty. All the authors are women (some American, some British), all the books are in paperback, and all of them fall under the general category of domestic drama. Most are told from the point of view of a middle- or upper-class woman -- either in the USA or in England, or sometimes going back and forth -- who is struggling in some way, generally either with her marriage or job or children or elderly parents or general ennui, or some combination of the above. Marriage is the most common focus; most of the characters felt that something had gone wrong with their once strong and happy marriages, but weren’t quite sure if they were correct, or what exactly was wrong, or what to do about it. Each novel had its own twists, of course, and in some ways they were quite different, but I was surprised by the way I ended up -- without planning to -- choosing five novels so similar in genre and type. As readers of this blog know, my usual reading is much more varied, and in general more “literary,” with occasional exceptions for “beach books” and such. I have written here about “middlebrow” novels (2/8/10) and I think the novels I read on my trip more or less, or almost, belong in that category. I enjoyed all of these novels thoroughly, and they were perfect for my trip. I give much credit to the very skilled writers who gave me the pleasure provided by these enjoyable and even sometimes thought-provoking but not overly demanding novels.

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