If I ever take a vacation to the Bahamas, I’ll bring along something appropriate for reading in a hammock beneath a coconut palm—maybe Finnegan’s Wake or The Tin Drum. (I expect to read Finnegan’s Wake at about the same time—and with about the same degree of confidence—that I expect ever to vacation in the Bahamas.) For the time being, however, holidays take me to one of two unassuming suburban homes, one in Southern California and one in Utah Valley. And the only way to read on this kind of vacation is to sample the shelves. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far this week.
BYU Magazine. I leafed through the most recent issue one night before bed. An article on the artists James Christensen, Cassandra Barney and Emily McPhie (the well-known father and his two daughters) was the most interesting piece in the magazine. And its interest, like several of the featured works of art, lay as much in what was left out as in what was included. The story’s clever lede contrasts the father’s sacrosanct no-children-allowed studio with his daughters’ kid-friendly work spaces, but it left me wondering about a lot of things: do the daughters ever wish they had time and space to paint without kids? how has the presence of their children affected their style and method? could they produce better paintings without kids around? on the other hand, if they weren’t parenting their children at home would they have time to paint in the first place?
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Despite having graduated from BYU with a degree in English, I’ve never read Lewis’s serious works. And I didn’t get too far with this one. I loved the yellowed, defoliating old paperback edition I found, but I couldn’t get past his opening gambit, an appeal to natural law and an attempted defense against charges that the moral impulse is mere instinct. I’m disappointed; I had hoped to enjoy it.
1967 Family Home Evening Manual. I found this on a basement shelf at my grandmother’s home in Sanpete County. I browsed through it, expecting to emerge with delicious morsels of sixties-vintage cultural awfulness, but instead I came away unexpectedly moved by my grandmother’s earnest notations throughout: “Ask Kelly to discuss this,” “Rita and Russell will read,” and, simply, “Joan.” I comply with Church programs, including FHE, but I’m not always very earnest about it.
“Readings for Honors 200 Intensive Writing,” 1992. I took Intensive Writing my freshman year at BYU (sometime T&S commenter Keith was my instructor), but I’ve long since lost the reader. I spotted one in a closet, aging but intact; it was a pleasure to scan the table of contents. It brings together a nice range of pieces and writers, among them Wendell Berry, James Baldwin, B.F. Skinner, Annie Dillard, May Swenson, Alice Walker. I recognized a few real gems: Elouise Bell’s “When Nice ain’t So Nice,” Bruce Young’s wonderful personal essay “The Miracle of Faith, the Miracle of Love,” a trilogy of Leslie Norris’s poems. It was in this reader that I first encountered the Letter from Birmingham Jail, Nibley’s “Zeal without Knowledge,” and the King Follett Discourse.
I’ll be on vacation for a few more days, and I’ve got my eye on my father-in-law’s study: I want to get my hands on The Worlds of Joseph Smith, the proceedings of the Library of Conference conference, some of which I haven’t yet read. And there’s a whole shelf of Lewis; maybe I’ll give the old fellow another chance.
What do you read on vacation? What books have you read in other people’s homes?