All the sweet books I read on vacation


Returning from vacation tends to engender three questions: How was it? Where did you go? What did you do? For meβ€”freshly returned this week from a five-day sojourn to Vermontβ€”the answer to No. 3 is almost always β€œI read all of the books.”

My vacay book binges aren’t just the byproduct of fast reading. They’re a result of devoting entire glorious days to the taskβ€”turning off the TV, hiding my phone, putting on my comfy pants, and settling into a cushy armchair, preferably one facing some sort of relaxing outdoor vista. In Vermont, it was the pillow-padded wicker deck chair of a cabin on Lake Champlain (at right). Here’s what I got done:

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Reports from the front lines of the mommy wars


The first time I read the words “Mean Girls for moms”β€”a blurb adorning the back cover of forthcoming Gill Hornby novel The Hiveβ€”I threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Mean Girls. I watch the shit out of Mean Girls. But describe a book to me as “a tart vivisection of mother culture” and I’m already dozing off. Or running in the other direction.

The Hiveβ€”a debut novel for Hornby, whose brother is, yes, the fantabulous Nick Hornbyβ€”is pretty highly anticipated, as books go. (Released in the UK in May, it goes on sale here in September). The novel inspired a seven-way bidding war among publishers, and Focus Features has already bought the movie rights. At this very moment, some studio executive may be out in search of quirky middle-aged women to play each of The Hive’s caricatural leading ladies.

And who are these ladies? Well. There’s Rachel, our protagonist of sorts, whose husband recently left her for an intern. There’s Georgie, hilarious and uncouth mother of six, whose notion of “joining in” is muttering sarcastic quips from the sidelines. We have Heather, over-eager and desperately insecure mother of one, and of course Beatriceβ€”Beaβ€”the queen of the moms, the Regina George, the HBIC.

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Enough about suicide already

So I’m in a bit of a funk this morning, which I’ll need to get past in short order as I’m soon headed to Penn State for a night of good old-fashioned state-school drinking. In any case, this morning I read about Mark Madoff, the elder son of disgraced financier (and current prison resident) Bernard Madoff. Mark committed suicide yesterday, undoubtedly due to the number of lawsuits pending against him and the rest of his family, and what I can only imagine have been years of criticisms and death threats against him for his alleged involvement in the Ponzi scheme. Which is particularly sad since it was both Mark and his brother who told authorities about the scheme as soon as they found out, thereby setting the stage for their own father’s 150-year prison sentence.

I guess it was only appropriate that a real-life tragedy would occur on the morning that I finished this week’s read, Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. I know what you’re thinking: If the Hugh Grant movie is any indication, About a Boy isn’t a sad story–it’s about a mildly bizarre 12-year-old who befriends an affable but clueless middle-aged guy who otherwise hates kids and meaningless social interaction (in other words, every Hugh Grant character ever). But if you’ll remember, the catalyst for the development of that relationship is the weird boy’s mother’s attempt to kill herself, which is discovered by Marcus (the boy) and Hugh Grant on their first day together. Indeed, much of About a Boy is really about life, and whether it’s worth living, and if so, why. This isn’t unprecedented territory for Hornby who, despite his reputation for writing generally humorous novels, actually uses a comedic voice to touch on fairly poignant issues: High Fidelity was about lost love; How to Be Good was about failed marriages; Juliet, Naked was about unfulfilled aspirations. And A Long Way Down was, well that one was pretty much entirely about suicide. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the point of life, or lack thereof, is something Hornby has given a considerable amount of thought.Reading About A Boy–which I’ve owned for so long that the pages were yellowed–years after having seen the movie (which I’ve seen multiple times) was an interesting experience. Certainly I’ve read books that have become movies before, but I generally prefer to do it the other way around, where the book is my first impression of the story and I’m then free to judge the caliber of the cinematic adaptation. It’s more difficult to see the movie first; the sense of discovery that comes with reading is a bit lost, since you already know how everything turns out. Particularly with Nick Hornby, whose novels read so much like movies that much of the dialogue is exactly the same, it felt a little redundant. I will say that the movie version, which Hornby had a hand in, is pretty much perfection. The voices and qualities of the characters are near-identical, and the overall temperament of many of the scenes, which is some odd cross between existential crisis and mundane hilarity, is spot-on. More than once I would read a line in the book and remember fondly its delivery in the film.

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