It recently occurred to me that books are like vacations. There is often an extended period of anticipation, during which I eagerly look at the calendar each morning to see how much longer before the book comes out. Then there is the journey, the act of reading the book and experiencing all it has to offer. About halfway through the book I get that uneasy feeling. It’s halfway over. It’s three-quarters over. Gosh, how I wish this book was just 100 pages longer. And then, all too soon, the book is finished, and while the experience had been a great one, I’m left feeling a little empty inside. How could it have gone by so fast?
I’ve experienced this a few times recently. A week ago Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher book, Past Tense came out. I’d been looking forward to it for a month or so leading up to it. I devoured the book, and before the sun had set on that same day, I’d finished it. I think of books like these as weekend getaways. The anticipation is fun, but I go into it knowing that the book won’t last long. Weekend getaways are more frequent than more elaborate vacations, and I know I have others coming up to look forward to. Today, for instance, John McPhee’s latest collection, The Patch arrived, and another weekend getaway gets underway.
Then there are books like Gary Giddins’s Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946. I’ve been anticipating this book for 17 years. When the book finally arrived, I tried to savor it. Though it appeared at my door two weeks ago, I am only 400 pages through its 700 pages of close print. I am working my way through it slowly, reading it carefully, trying to soak up every bit of it. Each dip I take is like a fine meal and I don’t want to miss any of it. I know that I am more than halfway through the book, and dark thoughts about another 17 year wait before Volume 3 have started to creep in. Still, I force them back. A book like this is like a once-in-a-decade vacation, and I know when it is over, it will be a while before I get to experience something like it again.
Often when I finish a good book, I have a difficult time settling into the next one. That’s not much different than returning from vacation and settling back into the home routine. We head to Florida for several weeks each holiday season. We leave our house on a cold, and sometimes, snowy day, and 24 hours later, we are driving across the border into Florida, where the temperatures are in the 80s. The return trip is the reverse, leaving that warm weather for snow, sleet, and cold. Vacations mask reality and coming back to that reality can be hard. That is the way it is for me with a good book. I struggle with what to read next, often starting half a dozen books before finally settling on something.
I try to keep those weekend getaways coming. In the near future, I’ve got Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham lined up. I’ve got The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Levy, and Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, and If Wishes Were Horses by W. P. Kinsella, and All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. These mini-vacations are like waypoints on the way to our real vacation, now less than five weeks away.
There is one difference between books and vacations that I should mention: books are cheaper than vacations.