On March 14, we want our readers to stay in together as part of Autostraddle’s International Staycation Spectacular! Follow along with everyone’s hotel parties, spa days, and indoor picnics around the world with the hashtag #StaycationSpectacular, and join us on the day of for the A+ livestream!
With all the things you could be doing with your Staycation, I’m going to make the argument for books. Yes, perhaps you want to boot up your old Nintendo 64 that you just dug out of boxes in your parents house, and you can and should do that too (I’m doing that!), but there’s nothing more relaxing and recharging than reading a book. It comes with a feeling of moral superiority and the added bonus of actually improving your brain, instead of melting it in a pool of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Building a reading habit comes with so many benefits, and what better time to start (or continue, I don’t know your life) than on a relaxing weekend where you go nowhere.
Here are some recommendations to get you started that can totally be completed in a weekend (and I’m actually a very slow reader despite the numerous books read in graduate level literature seminars, so probably you will finish faster).
Books With Queer Content
Event Factory by Renee Gladman
This novel is very concerned with language, the protagonist is queer and it contains a fisting scene which, I would argue, is a metaphor for the author-reader relationship (but tell me if you think I’m full of shit). This book would appeal to people who like poetry and idiosyncratic protagonists.
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
This is a historical fiction meets literary fiction story with elements of jazz music worked into the cadence of the words on the page. Ivoe Williams, the protagonist, is a queer (though that’s not what she calls herself in 1919) black journalist covering the American prison system in the early 20th century. This book would appeal to people who like epic timeline spans and history.
Okay, yes, this is a gay man. But there’s something kinda wonderful about being led by the hand through 1950’s and 60’s New York City by a Frank O’Hara poem, with all the humor and campy Hollywood references that a gay man of that era tended to deliver. If you’re like, ugh, Ali, just ONE place where we don’t have to worry about the men and you remain unsold, I dare you to listen to Frank O’Hara reading one of my very favorite poems, entitled Poem. This book would appeal to people who like urbane, clear lines and movie stars.
The Canon You Never Got To
(As much as I disagree with the “canon” as a thing because it is often straight, white and male, here I am using it to refer to stuff that some of us read in high school and some of us didn’t.)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I am about to admit a thing — due to our two-track English system in high school, The Great Gatsby is one of those books that I completely missed. But it is now on my Kindle and I am ready to go! In fact, I am so ready to go that I’ve read a bit of it. So far, I think this book would appeal to people who would like to attend the Jazz Age Lawn Party and those who love, hate, love to hate, and hate to love the society pages.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
While The Tempest is actually my favorite Shakespeare, Macbeth is a close second and, in my opinion, easier to digest in a weekend— turns out the language of jealousy, greed and violence hasn’t changed much since the 1500s. I always say Shakespeare is meant to be seen, so while you’re at it, treat yo’ self (ack, Parks and Rec is over!) to some tickets if you can find the show playing near you. If you’re in New York City and you’d like to combo pack Macbeth with the Jazz Age from Gatsby, you should snag tickets to Sleep No More. Then I will be very jealous of you. This book would appeal even to people who historically don’t care for Shakespeare, and people who like murder and mayhem in their books.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It’s a timely time to discover or revisit Harper Lee’s one and only published novel because she (or her attorney) is releasing a second book. When we read this in high school, it was the rare moment that everyone (even the people who hated reading) was so super into it. It’s also one of those books that turns up in all the pop culture references. I highly recommend filling this hole. This book appeals to fans of history, cinematic storytelling and Gregory Peck.
Recent Award Nominees
Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
I’m a bit biased here, because Tiphanie is one of my professors. And this book is also a little long for a weekend (like at the upper limit for a weekend read, I think), but still totally possible to finish in two or three days — mostly because, like her teaching style, Yanique’s novel is both accessible and intellectually rigorous. You will not want to stop turning pages, and that’s how you can get through such a hefty book so quickly, even while savoring every gosh darn word. It’s an epic timeline and one of the characters speaks entirely in beautifully rendered dialect. Partially first person and partially narrated by the old wives, the language and style of this novel are just as wonderful and intriguing as the plot. This book appeals to folks who enjoy epic timelines and history, and also musicality of language that I find totally unparalleled anywhere else right now. Land of Love and Drowning recently won the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Holy crap, this book. It’s perfect for a Staycation because this apocalypse narrative is not something you should read before, during or directly after you get on a plane (just, like, fucking trust me on this one, because I read it on a plane and NOPE). It’s also a story you’ll whip through, because apocalypse. It’s, frankly, the most realistic imagined apocalypse I’ve ever encountered and it is haunting. This book would appeal to anyone who likes a dystopia and doesn’t easily get nightmares (or can power through their nightmares for the good books). Station Eleven was nominated for the National Book Award last year.
Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra
This book is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever read, and I’m the Geekery Editor. While it’s dense, Geek Sublime is definitely the right length for a weekend — just be prepared for your brain to smell like bacon as it works really hard, okay? Chandra (best known for his novels) takes us down a winding, nonfiction/criticism path where he both draws connections between writing code and writing novels and poems, and then problematizes those connections. He describes for us the way computers work (which, like, I understood before but I understand X1000 now), and takes us on detours that include Sanskrit grammar and the history of violent masculinity in technology. This book appeals to people who are nerds and people who love nerds.
Now it’s your turn — what are you reading for your Staycation 2015? Do you totally hate my choices? What can you add to the categories I picked (which are almost arbitrary, there are so many good weekend-length reads)?
I just read Dawn Lundy Martin’s books of poetry Discipline and Life in a Box is a Pretty Life and confirm that they’re both a) great and b) totally possible to read in a weekend. This has been a PSA.
omg, yes, thank you Rachel! #moarpoetry
I just finished reading the Magic 2.0 series by Scott Meyer. Off to Be the Wizard, Spell or High Water (my favorite of the 3) and An Unwelcome Quest. Nothing mind blowing, but fun, light reading.
I recently read “The Days of Abandonment” by Elena Ferrante in one sitting. It may well be the best contemporary book I can remember reading. If you’re looking for a modern Medea and a really brilliant narrative of the dissolution of identity with just stellar prose, totally winding and captivating sentences/consciousness, absolutely for sure read this.
is a short, powerful read which dumps all over every single pain-in-the-ass hate-mantra people have about being uncoupled. It’s written for straight, urban chicks, mostly, but I think a lot of the truths are universal. (There are no bubble baths or affirmations in this one, just self-compassion and mindfulness.)
is a cute, cute, beyond cute read about queer girls in a performing arts boarding school in the 1920s and also the poem “Goblin Fruit.”
Okay for some reason WordPress did not like my formatting but those are links for It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single by Sara Eckle and Make Much of Me by Kayla Bashe.
Random: I wonder how much canon has going for it right now, beyond AP-type classes. Sometimes when I was teaching, I’d try to make a point, and I’d end up flat on my face right away, wanting to scream, “does ANYONE read Vonnegut, or is it all Ayn Rand?” This also happened recently in a conversation-context when I was trying to explain stream-of-consciousness and couldn’t come up with a single novel the other person had read to use as an example. It just kind of makes me wonder, but that is pretty much 100% beside the point of this. But I’m only on my first cup of coffee for the whole day.
Read recently: To Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran. I really loved that one, and it’s definitely quick. The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai is not all that recent (2010? 2011?), but it’s very good and a real reader’s book. Tomboy, by Liz Prince (which may have been on here? I read about it somewhere else, but I’m thinking it may have also appeared here?). Graphic memoir, so super-quick. How to Grow Up, by Michelle Tea, especially for the older (NOT old!) readers. Currently just started Girl in a Band.
I am an English teacher, and the literary canon isn’t going anywhere. There are definitely expectations of what kids in each district read in each grade. If there wasn’t, I would definitely not have just taught The Iliad five times a day for a month.
Oh, I understand there are still standards, etc. and it’s not a random free-for-all (teachers picking random selections out of thin air). I think more of what I was trying (unsuccessfully) to say is that there does seem to be more– I lack a good word here– overall similarity? sameness? than there once was. My mother taught high school and college English (~70s-00s), and we’ve talked about this before– that’s kind of where I’m coming from (I’ve only taught various college courses). I absolutely agree that the canon is here (as long as the Norton Anthology is present and accounted for!); it just seems like there’s more overall diversity and less ability to “expect” that most people have read something than there once was.
Does that make any more sense? I couldn’t even come up with most of the words I’m actually looking for, so probably not. At any rate, I apologize for the general lack of clarity.
I was on my first cup of coffee in the first post, as I said; I’m up to two now, and that’s still not good at all by my operational/functional standards.
Oh, and the Ayn Rand thing: in intro to fiction courses, I passed out a sheet that had a question about the last thing you read (this was at a fairly conservative school). I swear nobody read anything BUT Ayn Rand. I started to get nostalgic for the days where it was standard to go through the Vonnegut phase (which may be me– I’m old).
Yay Vonnegut! Also it is entirely possible to read slaughterhouse 5 in 3 days by the pool!
I really liked Land of Love and Drowning. It wasn’t the type of thing I usually read (sci-fi, history etc., I’m a nerd) but the characters have such incredible narrative voices and the setting is so beautifully described that I was totally taken with it. I remember reading it on the walk home from work; I gasped as some plot elements fell into place, and stopped right there on the sidewalk until I finished the chapter.
I can see why you’d be into this book if you’re into history, because there’s some history in there!
you read while you walk? props i can’t even walk correctly while paying 100% of my attention to it. teach my your ways
Re. reading while walking-
Personally, I wouldn’t be able to do this without walking into something (at least, that’s how it works while I try to text while walking). BUT I love listening to audiobooks while taking long walks/hikes/drives. Seriously, audiobooks from the library are my new favorite thing!
I used to get into trouble for reading while walking around the halls of school. Before I understood it wasn’t socially acceptable, teachers and I would have baffled back-and-forths that were complete communication failures on both sides.
Its not socially acceptable? Er…shit.
But what are you supposed to do then while you walk to/in/around places?
Huh, recommended on Autostraddle and also seconded by a sci-fi/history reading-while-they-walk person? I may have to check out Land of Love and Drowning.
I haven’t reformed on the reading-while-walking thing– all I’ve learned is that it all goes more smoothly if you just agree that nope, this not actually socially acceptable, and you’ll get back to your book more quickly!
(also, wearing headphones, even if you’re not actually listening to music, can aid in avoiding this particular conversation altogether— er, theoretically)
If you haven’t read it yet, a must-read (in one sitting if you are in for the weekend) Is Carry The Sky . As you will see from my review it blew me away.
I second the nomination for Station Eleven. It is such a good book.
Also for the short staycation read I nominate Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. If you like strange things and don’t mind stories a bit more experimental.
I think you and I might be book twins. These are two of the books I read on my most recent binge (I also second avoiding all public transportation while you read Station Eleven)
i also am enjoying Station Eleven with about 80% of it read. I don’t think it is so creepy/scary though because I am not afraid the world will end in a pandemic outbreak of some sort (at least not in my lifetime/maybe i live in a land of denial).
I just finished Miss Timmins’ School for Girls which was lovely, and now all I want to read are novels set in 1970’s India with woman protagonists about family, growing up, first loves, teenagers, colonialism, and murder.
Kurt Vonnegut! Cat’s Cradle is a quickish read, and my favorite book! Whenever I need to center myself and find some perspective, I read it again.
Vonnegut’s short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House, is also amazing and perfect if you don’t have time to read a whole novel. “Harrison Bergeron” is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever.
I read Gatsby on holiday after missing out at school and recccomend, agree r.e. Love to hate comments. Brilliant book about awful people.
Also Penguin has recently released a series they’re calling little black classics, in the UK (not sure where else), which are short classic books celebrating 80 years of penguin, 80 books of about 80 pages for 80p. Including Sappho. Might be worth a go for a short read.
Penguin did something similar in the US awhile back: “Penguin 60s,” for the 60th anniversary. I could only put my hands on two right now, but they were .95 US/1.49 CAN, C 1995. If the list of titles in the back of this one is complete, there weren’t very many, and it was pretty standard stuff. I had probably about 10 at one time; our local literacy association had the ones that didn’t sell available for free. Here’s a picture of the back of one (I didn’t do a picture of the front; it’s completely a standard Penguin cover, just smaller):
also ugghhhhh to the great gatsby. i hated it (and read it as an adult).
oh man Geek Sublime is right up my alley – thanks for the recommendation!!
I recommend ‘My Body Is a Book of Rules’ by Elissa Washuta. It’s fantastic. The blurb on the back of the book is actually what you get:
“As Elissa Washuta makes the transition from college kid to independent adult, she finds herself overwhelmed by the calamities piling up in her brain. When her mood-stabilizing medications aren’t threatening her life, they’re shoving her from depression to mania and back in the space of an hour. Her crisis of American Indian identity bleeds into other areas of self-doubt; mental illness, sexual trauma, ethnic identity, and independence become intertwined. Sifting through the scraps of her past in fifteen formally inventive chapters, Washuta aligns the strictures of her Catholic school education with Cosmopolitan’s mandates for womanhood, views memories through the distorting lens of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and contrasts her bipolar highs and lows with those of Britney Spears and Kurt Cobain. Built on the bones of fundamental identity questions as contorted by a distressed brain, My Body Is a Book of Rules pulls no punches in its self-deprecating and ferocious look at human fallibility.”
It’s a hard read sometimes, but it’s so, so good.
Jotting this down in my to-read notebook.
Queer content: pretty much anything by Jeanette Winterson, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin.
Canon: Pale Fire by Nabokov, Ariel by Sylvia Plath.
(Alsooooo, could someone write an article about super long books that are totally worth the time commitment?)
I just came here to say Jeanette Winterson! I read The Passion in a single sitting, it is SO good. And I would be so stoked on a looooong books worth the time article. I like all your thoughts!
Ooh, Geek Sublime looks so good!
Some stuff that I’ve enjoyed lately (nonfiction):
-Hidden Reality – a book about parallel universes and string theory. Sometimes it gets a bit dense, but it’s intended for the general public, and the author does a good job at making it accessible. I found it extremely fascinating.
-The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – anyone interested in biology, biomedical ethics, and unsung women heroes should read this!
-Musicophilia (or any other Oliver Sacks book) – a fascinating book on music and the brain
-My Stroke of Insight – I found out about this after watching a ted talk by the author. It’s written by a neuroscientist who survived a stroke, and it offers incredible insights into the human brain (as well as an inspiring recovery memoir).
-Botany of Desire – a cultural and scientific look at the history of 4 different plants (apple, tulip, cannabis, and potato)
I read Botany of Desire for my AP Lang class, and it was brilliant. As with all of Michael Pollan’s work, there’s an undercurrent of manifesto, and it’s impossible to come away from the book without caring more about preserving our botanical diversity and heritage, completely reworking America’s drug laws (this was written before marijuana decriminalization really began, and has some scathing indictments of the War on Drugs), and mending large scale agriculture.
One of the major ideas explored in the book is how plants have shaped us just as we’ve shaped them, which I’m sure many of you have already encountered but was revolutionary to my world view as a high school junior. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys cry to action journalism and folktale style but obsessively researched history stories.
I loved Henrietta Lacks– and, speaking as a non-science person, I found it pretty accessible; she explains things well without making you feel like she’s talking down to you. And the story itself– like you say, the ethics and the unsung heroes– was amazing.
If you are into something like Geek Sublime but would like fiction, here’s some recs. What I like about these books is that they incorporate very current-day or near-future tech (like references to Google or an Oculus-Rift-like device) without sounding super corny and still making it realistic.
Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore – it’s sort of like a treasure hunt in a book. It’s about a bizarre bookstore in San Francisco that hides some sort of culty secret, and the characters use all sorts of tech to figure out what it is.
Alif the Unseen – it’s set in the Arab Spring and deals with ethics around surveillance as well as Muslim lore and culture. The writer, a Muslim woman, is one of the people behind Kamala Khan!
Ready Player One – if you are into 80s nostalgia you would LOVE this book. It’s set in a future where people go to school in a VR world and there’s these puzzles you have to solve to get epic prizes. There is one transphobic line that comes out of nowhere (about “are you a real woman, which means you have a vagina?”) which can be enough to sour you on the book, but asides from that one stupid line everything else is solid.
I’ve had my eye on Ready Player One for a while! Gonna read the HECK out of that (even with a problematic line).
Ever since reading Mr. Penumbra’s, I think that will forever be my vision of the perfect job.
Station Eleven is amazing, I’d give a shout out to Code Name Verity too. It’s a real page turner, totally engaging.
I love Code Name Verity SO MUCH.
I just finished Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (she also wrote the popular Room a year or so back). It’s a historical fiction and there’s lots of queer stuff happening, mainly with the character Jenny… Who is killed at the beginning. I know, I know. It wasn’t as good as I was hoping but I’m not big on historical fiction- it may be someone’s cup of tea.
I personally prefer her earlier novel, Hood- also super queer.
I also just finished Guests on Earth by Lee Smith, which I loved.
I liked Frog Music– like you, though, not my favorite by her. I normally like her historical fiction, but that one did seem to bog down in detail more than some. I honestly couldn’t say why.
I’m definitely going to have to check out Geek Sublime. (And “Alif the Unseen” from the comments above.)
Just finished “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland”. It’s a broad history of math but written by a journalist so it’s funny and way more relatable. It goes from societies who don’t use numbers or counting at all to explaining how there is something bigger than infinity. There’s some complex stuff in there but an easier read than you’d think.
I just finished Unbecoming by Rebecca Sherm and I really enjoyed it! Highly recommend for an intriguing weekend read.
I will be finishing A Women in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City :). It is a must read if you’re into World War ll history
I just finished Adam by Ariel Schrag (totally a book you can read in 1-2 days.) The plot description makes it sound like it could be the worst or it could be the best, and it’s definitely the best. It’s about a 17 year old cis boy who spends the summer in NYC with his lesbian sister and her friends. He ends up pretending to be a 23-year-old trans man and dates a lesbian.
It’s definitely not a politically perfect book (as if that’s a thing that could exist anyway), but it’s hilarious and smart and it has some wonderful, biting criticism of white queer culture and the fetishization of trans men. It also reminded me of how grateful I am that I interact with very few teenage boys.
I’m gonna be reading Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan! I guess technically I’m cheating cause I’ve already read the first three trade issues (there are ten in the series) but they are quick reads and you can totally get through them in a weekend with no trouble. So far the series is awesome though and just the right mix of apocalyptic doom and humour.