Two weeks out of the year, I get to read whatever I want. I don't have to read new books or book club books or books by local authors or books that I plan to review. For one week in the summer and one week in the winter, I disconnect from the internet, fill a tote bag with a truly aspirational stack of books, head to a large body of water, and get lost.
A few weeks ago, I was in Moclips, out on the Olympic Peninsula, and I was trying to read as much as I could. I went for a long walk on the beach and I decided to sit down on a log and power through the last 100 pages of a book I'd been reading. And that's what I did. I wasn't interrupted by people or phones or responsibilites.
The book in question was Myla Goldberg's novel Feast Your Eyes, about a famous photographer and her difficult relationship with her daughter. It was easily Goldberg's best novel since her astonishing debut, Bee Season, and it was a book that made me think about photography in a new way. Goldberg has become a tireless experimenter in the form and function of novels, and Eyes is no different: it takes the form of notes in a photography exhibition — minus the photos — and it is a book that will break your heart and leave you grateful for the experience.
I brought Colson Whitehead's latest novel, The Nickel Boys along with me, too. I've got to stop reviewing WHitehead's books, for the simple reason that I have always deeply loved every book by Whitehead that I've ever read. I worry that i don't have anything new to add to his body of work, that my gushing has grown tired. When a writer only triggers one emotional response in a reader, that usually signifies a failure on the reader's behalf. I wish I had something more complex to say about Whitehead's work than it's great, and that he's one of the greatest novelists alive. But I don't. I can only sit there with my ass in the sand, wondering at the wonder of it all.
But now I'm back to reviewing again, and that's something I promise myself I won't do on my vacation. The fact is that I can't read without formulating a response in my head anymore. I'm always reviewing, even when I don't need to or even want to. And it doesn't feel like work, either — it feels like how I figure out the world, how I process what I see and feel and experience.
So I brought you on vacation with me, even just a little. I read these books, and I had to talk to you about them. What's the point of getting away from it all, if you don't have someone to help give meaning to all that away?