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A List of Vacation Book Reviews

By Ann Boland August 06, 2023 Lifestyle

Vacation reads – what a joy to curl up with a hefty book and let the hours spin. I’m off to Spring Green, WI for a family and theater (American Players Theater) holiday. My selected book for the trip is so long it must be on Kindle! I’ve never enjoyed “beach reads” because, in my opinion, they waste precious reading time. Consider some of the meatier vacation reads below.

I’ve begun to treat myself to an hour or so of afternoon reading to give my brain a break from computer work. It raises my energy and my ability to plow back into client needs. Who knew?

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2021)

Oh, William!

A thoughtful, powerful, quick read. If you’ve been married once, twice, maybe three times, you think back on what made life together work and what didn’t. If you have children, they are like strings attaching you to your former spouse/lover/friend. If not, then it’s possible that all strings are cut except for thoughtful reflection.

Oh William! combines reflection on married life with children (William) and second marriage without children (David). I loved this book because it constantly surprised me with plot twists and new reasons to love Lucy Barton, a familiar protagonist in Strout’s novels.

Lucy’s love and admiration for William’s mother, Catherine, is such a contrast with Lucy’s stony, impoverished childhood. Yet Catherine’s character is eviscerated by her shocking betrayal of family. Throughout, Lucy centers herself so that people see joy in her – regardless of the vicissitudes of life.

Jane Fonda: My Life So Far by Jane Fonda (Random House, 2005)

Jane Fonda

Jane is now in her 80s. This book ends when she is 67. The book is good, though it is too long. A better editor (someone not Jane’s friend) would have cut down or out the long paragraphs where she drones on about the rationale for her choices. As a reader, you learn what you can skip.

I enjoyed Jane’s story. A child of Hollywood privilege and East Coast wealth, she was molded by her mother’s suicide and her father’s coldness and serial marriages. She attended school in the East and after a few years modeling she enrolled in Lee Strasberg’s acting workshop. With her looks, connections, and training she became a film ingénue.

Three husbands, Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, and Ted Turner, 49 movies, four children, political activism, religion, society maven, entrepreneur, do-gooder, self-analyzer, lover – the action never stops. I think I would like Jane were we to meet. I certainly loved her streaming series Grace and Frankie and hope Jane is able to keep on ticking forever.

This was a laundry room book that I picked up to take on vacation. I’ll return it there so someone else may be entertained.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021)


Be warned, this is a long book, clocking in at nearly 600 pages. But it is a compelling read. The subject matter, family dynamics, is filled with betrayals, sins of omission and commission, adolescent drugs, some good sex, and some not-so-good sex.

The title comes from a youth church group called Crossroads and the impact the organization has on all the characters. A tidy plot device. The setting is suburban Chicago at the beginning of the ‘70s. The Hildebrandt family – Assistant Pastor Russ, wife Marion, and their four children – are the foci. Around them spiral their friends, their perceived enemies, the parishioners, their past, and their future.

This is a good, old-fashioned novel. Take it on vacation and enjoy!

Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by Maggie Haberman (Penguin Press, 2022)

Confidence Man

I hesitated to pick up this book. It was “passed off” to me by a bookish friend who didn’t want anything to do with Donald Trump. I read it, cover to the end at page 508. It was interesting and well written. Haberman covered Trump in New York and Washington as a reporter for The New York Post, The New York Daily News, Politico, and The New York Times.

Full disclosure, I am an independent voter, and not a voter for Trump. Confidence Man confirmed my views that he was not qualified to be President. He surrounds himself with sycophants and lackeys. He has power because he is a brute, not because he earns it.

Haberman’s story shines when we see the back-office and out-of-office chaos, the disowning staff who were later re-embraced, the undaunted self-absorption. The only new things I learned were about the people who had to work with Trump, some of whom showed fortitude and grace.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (Grove Press, 2023)

The Covenant of Water

This is a great vacation book – a deep novel in an exotic setting. But you may want the eBook or the audio book because the print book is over 700 pages. Verghese was born in Ethiopia, educated in India, writes, and practices medicine in the U.S. Just read through his Wikipedia page to see how his life informs his writing.

The Covenant of Water is about life in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, from the turn of the 20th century for the next 50 years. It covers three generations of Christian Indians (Mar Thoma), their friends, families, enemies, white colonials, plantation culture, the evolution of a medical system, love, death, adultery, friendship – you name it, Verghese touches upon it in this epic. I kept seeing it as a 10-part streaming series like The Jewel in the Crown. It will be someday. I can’t wait!

The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-year-old Man by David Von Drehle, (Simon & Schuster 2023)

Book of Charlie

Please read this short book aloud to your adolescent/teen grandchildren and discuss each chapter with them. Von Drehle crams this book with the wisdom of age and experience, gently revealed through the life of his neighbor Charlie. It is the gospel of grit – the inspiring story of one man’s journey through a century of upheaval. I loved every page.

The Relive Box and Other Stories by T. C. Boyle (Bloomsbury, 2017)

The Relive Box

I like to think that I’ve read Boyle’s entire bibliography – in reality, he keeps writing more, and I keep discovering older books. Such is the case with The Relive Box. I could not put down this excellent collection of short stories. But expect to pay for the experience.

Boyle has long been a forecaster of man’s depressing return on investment in warming the climate, profligate spending, and medical folly. Each gem in this book shows where we are headed as a planet and it’s not pretty.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Are you a ‘beach read’ kind of girl or do you prefer books with more substance? What have you read thus far this summer? Would you choose a hefty book or something easier to carry around?

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Some good ideas here. I need to read Maggie Haberman’s book on Trump. Hard to believe that anyone voted for the man. I want to read Franzen’s book, Crossroads, and the Covenant of Water. I get ebooks from my library and so I always have a great book at my fingertips.

Ann Boland

Thanks for the feedback, Lin. AB


The Author

Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater, opera, and arts. Involved as a theatre-goer since the early 80s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of Chicago's theater scene, its exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. To support her good and bad habits, Ann handles public relations for authors and the arts.

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