Well, I am home. After three weeks traveling abroad – London, Bath, Athens and Poros, then back to the United States – I arrived back at home on Sunday evening. I took a final vacation day on Monday to try and get a little bit settled, but I didn’t get much done – I’m still feeling the effects of jet lag and my post-vacation blues.
I have so many thoughts on the trip and some of the amazing things my sister and I got to see, but for now I wanted to share some quick reviews of the four books I managed to finish while I was away – all excellent in their own ways.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
Beautiful Ruins was the first book I actually finished on the trip and wow, was it basically perfect for vacation reading – readable prose, distinctive characters, and enough mystery to keep the pages turning amidst the distractions of travel. There’s some comedy in the book – especially Walter’s critique of Hollywood culture – but also a ton of heart. I totally loved it and I hope Jess Walters has more like this that I can read.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels – four books exploring the coming of age of two young women in mid-century Naples – have been getting a lot of attention. My Brilliant Friend is the first of the quartet, introducing readers to mysterious Lila and bookish Elena, as young women in a small town in Italy. I thought this story was so engaging, and a wonderful look at two girls pushing back against the expectations set for them by their families and communities. I’m looking forward to seeing where their stories go next.
Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman
Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies by Hadley Freeman is one of the books I purchased on my trip, a staff recommendation at Foyles. Freeman is a columnist for the Guardian who writes about fashion and pop culture. Be Awesome reminded me a lot of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, in the way that each essay gives serious consideration both “high” and “low” culture and offers an unapologetic celebration of feminism. I want to consume every book and movie that Freeman recommends – I’ve got a big list to get through.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall is the first book in a trilogy following the life and career of Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious lawyer and statesman who served King Henry VIII. I’ve had a bit of a Tudor kick this year, so this was high on my list of books to read. Despite my excitement, Wolf Hall isn’t really a vacation read – the style definitely demands attention that, for a lot of the trip, I couldn’t give it – but the book ended up working for me for a couple of reasons. First, since I binge-watched The Tudors earlier this year I came to the book with a decent sense of the Henry VII timeline and players, meaning I could fill in details I missed in the book. And second, since I was visiting locations in the book I had some extra motivation to push through some of the dense sections. It may not have been an ideal choice, but I definitely enjoyed it enough to grab the second in the trilogy, Bringing Up the Bodies.