As March draws near, so does vacation season. Maybe you’re looking to unwind somewhere on a beach after midterms (or after your kids’ midterms). Maybe you’ve been buried in tax paperwork since those W2s came in the mail, and you seek an oasis free from facts and figures. Maybe you’re about to tackle the ten years worth tools, toys, and terror piled up in the garage, and you want one last escape as reality encroaches. Or maybe you’re still pushing full-steam ahead, with no vacation plans until July, but need something new to occupy your mind during the commute.
Whatever your reason, if you’re looking to kick back with something refreshing, imaginiative, and smart, the following 3-part article will provide six recommended reads in six different genres. There should be something for everyone.
1. Romance: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
If you love a good love story, but aren’t interested in the airport paperbacks with the predictable plotlines of boy meets girl, boy and girl overcome obstacles (famine, assassins, a general adhorrence for one another upon first impression) and get together, boy and girl break up for a time (no worries, though, you know boy and girl are destined to be together), and then finally boy and girl get married and/or pregnant and live happily ever after, then Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen may be the story for you.
What makes this romance break apart from the plotline outlined above is in part the setting. The story takes place on a circus train in the early stages of the Great Depression. This historical backdrop provides a cast of colorful characters and sets the stage for drama to unfold in ways unrelated to the romantic storyline. Another standout from the genre standard is that it’s told from the first person perspective of the “boy,” Jacob Jankowski, a naive but loveable almost-veterinarian.
Finally, there’s an element of mystery to the novel, which gives the plot drive beyond the “will they or won’t they” question of a typical romance, and instead focuses the action of the story elsewhere. Many romances fall flat when the only component is “will they or won’t they” because the answer is largely predictable (they will) and thus, the story has no tension. A good romance works when you take the focus off the couple and place it on something else, in this case: Can Jacob survive (and even thrive) in the competitive and oftentimes cruel world of a 1930s big top circus?
2. Comedy: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
If you’re looking to relax with a laugh this spring, you might take a gander at the tried but true play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Not only is this play laugh-out-loud funny (you might even try reading it aloud with a friend or group of friends), but it’s smartly written, and provides some social commentary that is still relevant today.
Though at times ridiculous (for instance, all the female characters in the play seem to think that the name “Ernest” is sexy enough in its own right to warrant marrying said Ernest merely because of his name), the ridiculousness is actually a large part of its charm, and also how Wilde manages to comment on such societal tendencies as superficiality, class importance, and honesty. A book that’s capable of making you earnestly think and laugh is a tough find, and if you haven’t read this one yet, you’re missing out.
Over the next few days I will post two more articles with the remainder of my spring reading recommendations, looking at the genres of Mystery, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Literary, and Historical. If you like my columns, please subscribe!