Sara’s Picks for the Lost Vacation

Has “summer vacation”—two of the loveliest words in our language—gone the way of “free time?” Does anyone take a real vacation anymore, and what, I’m wondering, qualifies as a vacation these days?

A trip with young children is not a vacation.  A family reunion is not necessarily a vacation.   Staying home and “catching up” is not a vacation.

As defined by, vacation is “a period of suspension of work or study,” used for rest or recreation. The Italians call it “il bel far niente,” the beautiful doing nothing.

Good luck.

At a recent dinner with friends, one woman said she had family travel plans this summer but nothing that would give her a breather from stress. So, I asked her and others at the table, “What would allow you to unwind, relax, and recharge?”

Most shook their heads; they hadn’t had that kind of vacation in years, and one man said he’d never taken one. He wouldn’t know how.

Read book hammock For me, vacation has always meant the beach. Perched by the water with a hat or umbrella, feeling the tranquilizing warmth of sun on bare skin, listening to the rising, cresting, foom! of the waves, and—the icing on this cake—reading a book.

A great book, with characters you root for and a story that grips you and doesn’t let go until the final page, and sometimes not even then. Most important, for me to avoid tossing the book after a few chapters, it must be beautifully written, with a musicality of style and rhythm that bring delight to the ear.

I read at home all year, of course, but almost always with a nagging sense of guilt: “Come on, put it down, Sara, you have work to do, calls to make.”

Back in the ‘90s, I received a letter (this was before text or email) from John F. Kennedy Jr. at George, a political magazine he’d co-founded. They were asking selected people to suggest one thing that, if accomplished, would make life in the United States better. I proposed that we create a national daily reading time, a 30-minute dedicated period, like a siesta, in which everyone would stop what they were doing to read—anything they wished. No phones would ring except in case of emergency. I still think it’s a great idea.

I wish I could just do that for myself—take 30 minutes each day to read for pleasure, but I don’t. I read in small bites here and there, or I multi-task, listening to audio books while I’m hiking or driving or standing at the sink taking care of body upkeep—brushing, moisturizing, pill-taking, sun screening—and that has allowed me to enjoy a significant number of books without taking a vacation.

In case you’re one of the  enlightened who still do take vacations and read, here are three books I recommend.

1. The Circle, by Dave Eggers. This came out more than a year ago but I just caught up with it, and it’s that rare story that entertains while provoking you to think. It’s about a young woman, Mae Holland, who goes to work for the Circle, a company like Google or Facebook, that’s madly creating new devices and technology to make the world completely transparent. But here’s the thing: this fantasy world that Eggers describes is not that far removed from where we are now. He simply extends the scope and scale of technology that’s already in use.

In the world of the Circle, cameras are placed everywhere so there’s no place on earth you

Motto of the Circle

Motto of the Circle

won’t be seen, except the bathroom. And all data is available to everyone. Nothing can be erased. Politicians are encouraged to “go transparent” by wearing a video camera around their neck so that anyone who tunes in can see what the politician is doing and saying in real time, 24/7. No more meetings behind closed doors, or “off the record” talks.

The Circle’s stated motive is that total transparency will eradicate crime and misbehavior. If people know they’re being watched and will instantly be found and made to answer for what they’ve done, they’re less likely to cheat on a partner or rob a Seven-Eleven.

I experienced something like this at the grocery store. In the section for bulk foods, I had the impulse to pull the lever and let a few macademia nuts drop into my hands for a quick snack, despite the sign that said, “No samples, please.” Then I thought, if you knew you were being watched, (hey, at this market you probably are) what would you do? I put the nuts in a plastic bag and paid for them.

In the Circle, people enjoy the increasing connection and transparency, until they grasp that they no longer have any privacy, nor can they ever enjoy solitude, except in the toilet. Some of them rebel and try, unsuccessfully, to break out of reach of the Circle’s monitoring. Mae Holland, though, embraces the whole enchilada…to the riveting end.

2. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932, by Francine Prose. I was enthralled listening to the version of this book on Audible Audio, because it was read by a cast of six superb actors, who brought to life six different characters who narrate the story. And what a story. Before sampling it, I didn’t think I’d want to hear about a lesbian, cross-dressing, race car driver in Paris who ends up spying for the Nazis and torturing members of the French resistance.

Prose was inspired by this picture taken by the  Hungarian photographer,  Brassai: "Lesbian Couple at The Monocle, 1932"

The author was inspired by seeing this photo from the  photographer, Brassai: “Lesbian Couple at The Monocle, 1932”

But the story is told in lush detail that makes you feel truly in Paris at that moment in history. Francine Prose is a master novelist, and this is my favorite of her works. The last line brought me to a full stop, mouth open in amazement. If you read it, let me know what you think. It was the strongest statement I’ve heard about the mysterious and resilient power of evil in the world.

3. The Painter, by Peter Heller. I met Peter at the Boulder launch of his first novel, The Dog Stars.

Peter Heller, fishing like the Painter

Peter Heller, fishing like the Painter

It was highly acclaimed, but while I admired the skill and craft of his writing, I didn’t feel much for the main character.

The Painte was different for me I not only came to love the artist, Jim Stegner, but was awed by Heller’s wizardry in conjuring up a unique group of  ballsy, funny, and lusty characters whom you can see, hear, and even smell. Heller’s artist is of the Hemingway mold: he wants to fish every stream, surf the big waves, tempt fate again and again and fuck gorgeous women. He becomes embroiled in a murder that pulls him into a treacherous but creatively inspiring vortex, and I became obsessed to find out how the hell he’d work his way out. Or not. I actually found myself, after finishing a hike, ear buds plugged in, standing outside my front door and not going in, because I couldn’t bear to stop listening.  It’s  been a while since a book has given me such a walloping good ride.

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT. I’d like to hear your relation to vacation.   And if there’s a book you highly recommend, please tell us about it. I’m always looking for the next terrific read.

I take the time and pay the costs to send out these blogs, and hearing your thoughts is what keeps me going. So please respond below.  Thanks!

NOW, maybe you’re wondering what’s happening with The December Project, published in March?   It’s a best seller in Colorado, and PBS did a segment about the book, which you can watch HERE.

Colorado Matters, an npr show, did an unusually good program with Reb Zalman and me. CLICK HERE to listen.

If you haven’t read The December Project yet, BUY NOW, and receive a free mp3—a 20 minute recording of Reb Zalman singing, talking with me and leading a meditation on letting go. You’ll hear Reb Zalman at his finest—extra material not in the book. Enjoy!






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34 thoughts on “Sara’s Picks for the Lost Vacation

  1. Karen Hart

    Hi Sara,

    I look forward to your interesting and thought-provoking newsletters. Please keep them coming!!

    Best wishes,
    Karen in Fort Collins

  2. Robin Schiff

    The last book I truly couldn’t put down, and I read it over Christmas vacation, was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I was so sad when I finished it, that I got her first book and reread it just so I could keep reading her prose. If you haven’t read it, give yourself the pleasure. It’s long, but worth it.

  3. cindy

    I am with you, Sara! When I take time out to read, I always, in the back of my mind, think of what I need to be doing! But, when I go on vacation, always to the beach, that is where I can relax and enjoy and concentrate without worrying about what I should be doing! It is very hard for me to relax, I need to learn how to do that!! Even with the time, I can’t!!! It is just in my blood! My mother was the same way! Oh, lordy, help me!!! Love reading your blogs, always look forward to them! Until next time!!!

  4. Ellen Alterman

    Hi Sara!
    Like you, I live in a Colorado ski town (Durango), and I think that is the reason why I have such intense cravings for the beach. When I lived near the shore, my dreams were of the mountains. So, for me, a vacation fantasy is one where I can be in a different place than the one I’m used to. Renew, refresh, unique, out of the daily grind. Out of familiarity.
    As a single person, I face the HOW of vacationing. There’s no automatic family or mate to go with. So, I have to figure out the logistics of how to deal with that. . .

  5. Nancy

    Hi Sara–Here are 2 book recommendations that come to mind. First, I recommend a book called Loose Change that was written back in the ’70s. 🙂 🙂 (For those who don’t already know, this book was written by Ms. Davidson). I have read it more than once and it influenced me to visit the campus of UC Berkley when I visited California many years ago. The second recommendation is a book called Palisades Park. Any baby boomer who grew up in the NY/NJ/CT area during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s will truly appreciate this terrific read. If you are looking for a “beach book”, please read this one.

  6. Roz (Ellman) Ross

    Hi Sara, I am still working and travelling. My last “vacations”, India, Morocco, Nepal, and Eastern Europe three weeks ago. Two big vacations a year. Totally relaxing away from work and family. Going this weekend to the LA High reunion with Elka. Hope you and your family are well. Fondly, Roz

  7. Norma Levy

    I absolutely loved The Circle! I read Where’d You Go Bernadette directly afterward and they went very well together. I had been in a real dry spell with my reading and missed some good fiction so much, these two gave me hope, I am very picky. Right now I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, well written, I just started it. Looking forward to trying your suggestions, so appreciated!!! And looking forward to much more from YOU! If you ever want some beach time in Malibu mi casa es su casa!

  8. Melissa

    Wimberley, TX, is my vacation spot. I am truly relaxing when I read anything by Dorothy Parker. Vacation means leaving the day-to-day routine behind temporarily. Love your blogs.

  9. Esther

    Dear Sara,
    Don’t you think Shabbat, 1 full day each week, can bring the time that you long for? To read, not to work, to breathe, to visit friends if you want?
    I live in Brazil and since I’ve bagan to observe some Shabbat aspects, I have the sensation that it is a contracultural trend, in the direction you point.

  10. melissa stuart

    Hi Sara
    I have so enjoyed listening to shantaram and am captivated by the last part. food for thought. I love some of his descriptions, how he thinks, the letting go of resentment and revenge. I am almost done and will plug in to one of your suggestions. I read on the run like you. or listen I should say.
    also I enjoyed December project. xo melis

  11. david maurer

    I enjoy your writing whether it’s a book or your blog. Your conversational style is comfortable as opposed to contrived ways to say things. I’m a retired guy so some would say I’m always on vacation. Not so. Unless I get away from home for a few days or a few weeks I don’t really relax, I don’t get away from “what I really should be doing”. I like to read when I first get up in the morning, but even then I sometimes have to reread a page because my mind has wandered to tasks ahead. I will take a bicycle ride or a motorcycle ride, or maybe take the boat to the lake for the day, but it’s not the same as getting away. Responsibilities lurk in the back of your mind whatever other activity you’re doing, they get in the way of really relaxing. They’ll be staring you in the face as soon as you get home. A vacation necessarily means getting away. It is so rejuvenating, I’m ready to dig in as soon as I get home, all the while thinking ahead to the next “get-away” but glad to be home at the same time. Whether it’s a rented cottage at a lake or a motorcycle tour of New Zealand’s South Island, I’m ready to go – and ready to get home.

  12. Cyndy Davis

    Funny that your posting on vacations came the day after I saw on the news that a few companies are now offering, as a company benefit, guaranteed “no company e-mail” for their employees on a vacation. (I never thought we would come to this!) One company gave their employees one evening a week free of company email. They finally figured out that people were burning out after working, texting, and checking their email 24×7! I think the French have the right idea. I understand they passed a law making it illegal for an employee on vacation to be contacted by their employer! For good vacation reads, I love re-reading your LOOSE CHANGE (really!), and always hope for a sequel when I come to the end. Great idea of 30 minutes a day for reading!

  13. Benay Nordby

    Dear Sara, I am an occasional reader when my friend, Maria, sends you to me. I trust her to send along meaty pieces to read. So I read with interest your comment on restful vacations. I live on Bainbridge Island, WA so vacations, for me, do not mean getting away from it all. A vacation mans getting TO it all. I am 63, my husband 65, so our “December Project” is to do the things we need to do. Last year it was seeing Paris for the first time. My heart ached a bit that we had not seen it as young lovers. We saw it after 40 years of marriage and are still excited when we see an image of the Eiffel Tower. The 70th anniversary of D-Day is on the 6th. Now we can say we were in Normandy and had an expert guide show us the place we had heard about all our lives, Our project includes writing. I completed a book this year and published it through The Full Ripened Grain, a Memoir of Healing and Hope, is an ebook and POD paperback. My Christian faith matured writing about the loss of my family. I also had to express my forgiveness and love for my dad, who left my mom in 1965 because he was gay. He lived 25 years with his partner, never discussing the truth with me. I tried to pull it together in this book. Since I believe in an afterlife, I’ll have a lot to tell him.

  14. kat hardt-holoch

    For me a vacation is a time to not be held accountable for my time, held to a schedule, or over scheduled (all things that I feel are part of my daily routine). I use my weekends as mini-vacations, by NOT doing any of the above.

    But for “real” vacations, I prefer going to places that allow me to be outdoors and using/moving my body. I’m a movement-learner and someone that generally needs movement to clear my mind and achieve a better state of mind. I’ve made it a priority to take active vacations that feed that need of both my mind and body.

  15. Susan Morrell

    First of all, I have no problem taking a relaxing vacation away from it all! In fact, I have four weeks scheduled this September in Hawaii where I’ve rented a cottage 1-1/2 blocks from the beach and a Starbuck’s. Who could ask for more?! As for books, I tend to have several going at once–usually a novel and some non-fiction books–so I finally broke down a couple years ago and got a Nook because it’s so much easier to take my books with me on a trip. Of course, I still like the feel of a real book and will be sure to pick up a thick trashy romantic paperback for those beach days. One I’d recommend? Believe it or not, last year I read The Host by Stephenie Meyer, just because my teenage niece recommended it and I wanted to share the story with her. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I like it–and I’ve read it a second time since then. (The movie, while well done, can’t capture the thoughts of the main character which makes up so much of this book.) For your readers, I’d recommend your book, Cowboy, that I read in the 90s and have re-read several times since. And would it be tacky of me to plug my own book here? The Pleasure of My Company: Finding the Motivation and Courage to Spend Time Alone — explains a lot of how I can take those long, relaxing vacations where I leave work and stress behind! Thanks, Sara!

  16. Anne Cushman

    Great suggestions, Sara, I was just looking for something to read at my cabin in the Sierras this summer!

    Two great books I’ve read lately: Anna Quinlan’s Still Life With Bread Crumbs; The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (I may not be spelling her name right but it’s something like that).

    Glad everything is going so well!

  17. Judi Bachrach Turner

    A FIGHTING CHANCE by Elizabeth Warren. It’s a political book about how she attempts to get some rights for the middle class and how she shows that bankruptcy was created by the banks and made worse by George W. Bush. She does it in a way that had me holding my breath to see whether, in fact, she was going to be able to provide “a fighting chance” for those of us who are not multimillionaires. Each and every line held my attention and entertained me.
    Judi Turner

  18. anne turley

    I love my vacations. I try to go for a month. The last time I did that, I went to Brazil and caught up with old friends, went to many beaches, enjoyed the food and the warmth of the people.

    I have been on a Camping Photography Safari in Kenya, river rafting in the Grand Canyon, diving off the Great Barrier Reef, Canoeing up the Amazon, bicycle riding through the Rhone River Valley, to name a few. I plan to go to Bali for a month or two in October.

    Recently, I am reading Deborah Crombie Murder Mysteries. She is great at developing her characters and the suspense and creating a sense of place.

    I agree with you about beaches. They are the place to be.

  19. Gail Storey

    Sara, this post is so rich I hardly know where to begin to respond! First, I loved your PBS video and your interview with Ryan Warner on CPR. You and Reb Zalman shared the essence of THE DECEMBER PROJECT with eloquence and depth. Thanks also for your book recommendations. I heard Peter Heller read last night at the Boulder Book Store and can hardly wait to read THE PAINTER. As for another book I’d recommend, it would be POINT OF DIRECTION by Rachel Weaver–a gripping story of a couple living in a remote Alaskan lighthouse and struggling with their personal crises. And as for vacation–I’m with you on a beach vacay–I just got back from visiting my brother in Delray Beach, FL, and it was heaven. You’re the best, so much to appreciate about you!!

  20. Pamela

    Thank you so much for the reading recommendations. I love your writing and have recently been wondering if you have ever considered writing a biography. A few possible subjects come to mind. Would love to hear if you have anything in the works.


    I fully agree with your statement that going on “vacation” with your children, or to visit with your parents or other parts of your family, is not a true vacation. Both these have their rewards and important worth too and should have their place in your life, but do not lend themselves to rebalance, refocus, and re-energize.
    I also find that for me, spending serious time on a beach with a good book, is the best quality vacation time.

  22. Lynda Levy

    Sara, I completely agree with you about what a vacation should look like. A trip is when you’re traveling from city to city, packing and unpacking, racing with time to get it all in. A vacation is just what you indicated, sitting under a palapa on a sandy beach listening to the hush of the ocean, reading, sleeping or conversing. I think there’s a place for both types and have been richly rewarded from both types of traveling. This summer will be New York City, Ireland & London and I know it won’t be the “lost vacation” but rather a trip filled with history, architecture, eating and absorbing culture, people, places, walking a lot and completely removed from my daily rituals and life as well as from my family which is my anchor. I am blessed to be the woman, mother, wife and grandmother that I am because of my family and the richness of my life.

  23. James Angleton

    I suggest studying Joan Didion’s “Play It As It Lays.” The main character — the narrator– suffers psychologically and at times physically from the unexpected consequences of her decisions–especially her decision to hire an abortionist to kill her unborn child. But the narrator senses what is genuine and what is not. The narration consists of fragments and short sentences that form a mosaic of her confusion and depression but give an understandable if hard to understand narrative. But she is, as Didion once said, “tough.” The narrator writes, ” ‘Why,’ BZ would say. ‘Why not’ I say and keep on playing.”
    The narrator differs from Ms. Didion in that the narrator is not an intellectual but both are strong women. I commend Ms. Didion for her concern for a character whom she respects although the character makes bad decisions. I think the range of empathy that Ms. Didion and Ms. Davidson share has a lot to do with creating their friendship. Ms. Davidson contacted Ms. Didion for personal advice and Ms. Didion responded although their political views were not the same. Sara’s book on Joan Didion is perceptive and I hope that Sara will discuss her reactions to the great novel, “Play It As It Lays.”

    1. Beverly Kai

      Hi, Sara,
      When your blogs are few and far between, it is easy to fall out of the routine groove of feeling a part of your life.

      So much for that excuse: Now about ‘vacations”

      Fibromyalgia took away my ability to earn my living thirty years ago. One painkiller which worked was moving warm water. That was as good an excuse as any to move to Honolulu. Then comes the problem of structuring time when the whole world is at work.

      Volunteer work, of course. I chose dolphins at the local Oceanarium.

      The best part: Endless reading, preferably at a beach. Hawaii is perfect for that.

      My best reading years were the four I spent backpacking Australia and Southeast Asia. My trappings were in storage in Honolulu, and I just wandered the Lonely Planet with what I needed on my back., which was good for my Fibro legs.. Also good for my legs were the beaches where I hung out.

      Backpackers used to carry paperback books. I suppose now they all carry “devices”, which spoils the joy of trading. Because I ran into European and British young professionals in the low-budget hostels, I was treated to the best of current literary fiction of the day. We all carried books we had read, to trade. And always had an unread book to while away any spare time, which was often.

      I discovered Umberto Ecco and Milan Kundera and Nadine Gordiner.. I revisited Margaret Atwood, John Irving and Doug Adams. I found that the number “42” really does have a deep meaning for the world’s young professionals, so deep that it turned up in the first episodes of the TV series “Lost.”

      So I have had years’ long periods of lying on beaches, reading for joy. Lonesome Dove was Krabbe, Thailand (which I later saw destroyed by tsunami on TV). A Prayer for Owen Meany was Sibu Island, Malaysia. Doug Adams was Southern Australia, in the wine country. Margaret Drabble was so tentative that I forget where, when, and what about.

      That was twenty years ago. I dearly miss the contact with the traveling young. They come here to Waikiki, and the hardy ones obtain permits to camp. But I quickly found that if I attempted to socialize with them……. I was seen as a weird old local wannabe with an agenda and too much time on my hands.

      My nightime recreation used to be cruiising Amazon. com, when all they sold were books. But, on a budget, I have happily discovered a used-and-remainder online bookstore, Daedelus, whose paper catalogs fill an evening when TV is exceptionally bad. Yesterdeay I received delivery of about forty pounds of art books, plus a Great Course in medicine; hospital rounds. I find I am not confined to literary fiction.

      When I took a scriptwriting course, I found that I had no talent for writing scripts. Good to know. VERY good to know. This led to the discovery of television shows as literature, as filmic novels. I think that the reason that Broadway has descended to revivals and copying movies is because all the best writers of original fiction are in Hollywood. . . . . and underused.

      Expanding the knowledge of online Magnum P.I. fans was a nice hobby……. and as I grew more and more familiar with the series, I could see the structure of each episode as a mini-movie. I could see why the most popular episodes were the best written . This was a whole new world.

      I bought the DVDs of Third Rock from the Sun for the writing. Also, Homicide, Life on the Street. Law and Order is a lesson in scriptwriting if you have a clock at hand..

      Having finagled my way into being ‘background talent” in TV shows and films shot here (read: I was an extra), I could see that a scriptwriter had to consider what could be done on camera in a hurry, as well as literary quality. Possibilities had to be shrunk even beyond the seventeen-inch screen. If the star was shooting on another island, her scenes had to be written and scheduled to give her time to fly back to Oahu.

      The logistics of scriptwriting tangled my brain. Again, this is good to know.

      Sara, I am glad that you cited books in your blog…… because I have not heard or read of any of them. Hawaii is a foreign country in many ways, and I am not complaining…… but one does lose track of current Mainland trends. Except for Kardashians and Kanye. (insert current names here). Some subjects can’t be avoided without retreating to a cloister.

      After, considering writing for decades, I am finally doing it. A friend has offered to edit my memoirs. I took him up on it. With confidence, finally. As I travelled, fellow backpackers constantly told me that “You should write a book,’ and my reply was always, “It has been written.” This because all I could concentrate on was the fighter squadrons of my then-husband, illness, and travel. Nothing new there.

      After twenty years and more, i n one city…….. A “first” in my lifetime . . . I think I have the perspective to make sense of my past. I see an arc The frustrating part is that the family story is not finished neatly. My son is critically ill and I am owning my anger at this turn.. Being angry at God is nothing new…. but I want what another Honolulu woman got: a real miracle. This was in our newspaper as big news because of worldwide implications. See the Honolulu StarAdvertiser and search for Damian Miracle.

      A Honolulu woman had inoperable lung cancer. A devout Catholic, she flew over to Molokai to pray at the grave of the ‘leper priest,” Damian, who was up for Sainthood. All he needed was another miracle in his name. Molokai is not on the tourist path. It took her some effort to even get from its airstrip to the grave.

      Her prayer was answered. Her oncololgist took Xrays as her tumors shrank to nothing. He was quoted in our newspaper:as never having seen anything like it. The woman’s priest took the matter to Rome,. Damian was declared a Saint because of the Hawaii miracle of disappearing cancer. The woman and her oncologist went to Rome for the ceremony.

      I want that for my son.

      I know that prayers are not magic spells which either work or do not work. I know that prayers are not the same as going to Vegas and being in harmony with chance.

      Miracles go against the laws of physics. There is the Arrow of Time………. and a shrinking tumor…. shrinking for no reason……….. is Time in reverse. Just for one little grandmother in Honolulu and the example of a priest who knew how to give as he lived.

      I am not a Catholic, but I know these things happen. My family and I have not led exemplary lives….. and we do not believe in a play-the-slots kind of God. We are not owed anything from the Universe.

      I need an ending for this story arc. Most of all I love my son to bits, and want to watch him grow into old age. I want his tumor to shrink to nothing.

      All I want is to reverse the Arrow of Time. I don’t need a ceremony or worldwide celebration, or PR, and I don’t have a local pastor to go on point. Maybe I will go to Molokai. I would rather spend energy to go visit my son..

      Who was it who said that in the end, everyone’s life plays out like a novel???? I really can’t remember. But I know that I want a Happy Ending for my son. And since it is his story, I will leave it to him to write in his own memoirs.

      If I live as long as my parents did…….I have at least twenty more years of life left to me. As Fibromyalgia clears from my brain, I remember stories and adventures of life and death which will make literary fiction if I handle them properly.

      I will go online today and check Daedelus at for the books you have recommended.

      Please understand my going off-topic for a paragraph or two……but there is an underlying story with my son. If I could reverse Time for thirty years, and let us all live our lives over again, I would. If we get our miracle, it will perhaps show that you don’t have to be a Saint to be loved by……Whoever it is out there that has Ultimate Control over History. Everybody qualifies for Grace. And my son certainly has loved a great deal.
      – –Bev in Honololulu

      P,S. James Angleton. Interesting name when the subject is literature. what is your middle name, James??

      1. James Angleton

        My middle name is “Charles.” I use this chance to reply as an excuse to suggest “Jews of Arab Lands,” source material edited by Stillman to those interested in the reasons for the conflict between Arab Muslims and Jews. Stillman begins with the conflict between Muhammad and the Jews after Muhammad migrated to Al Medinah in 622 AD. Muslims see Muhammad as rightly guided by God and his violence against the Jews is regarded as in accord with God’s command and his success against the Jews is–unfortunately–regarded a grounds for encouragement of further violence.;

  24. Sandra Katzman

    For the last 16 years while I have been living in Japan, “vacation” means a 2 or 3 week trip to the United States. Visiting friends and family, I am nourished. I contribute the making of borscht, or an apple pie, and help get the groceries. When I return to Japan, the frequent need for cooking surprises me. Books abound in the US among the places I visit, and my suitcase ferries them to and fro, as on “vacation” I read very little.

    I just finished “Cancer Ward” a semi-autobiographical novel by Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Because I recently completed my 3000-word manuscript “Go Yonder: Ward 504,” the matching subject matter was of great interest. I was charmed, too, by the similarity of how to tell the story. First, there were jokes about names of the ward. Second, there were nicknames given by the protagonist to other patients whose names could not be pronounced or known. Third, there were descriptions of the contrast between life on the ward and life outside the ward. Fourth, there were notes about the sounds and smells on the ward.

    I love to read, and in the aftermath (of near death in summer 2013), I have more time for the wonderfully solitary and connective activity.

  25. Dori

    I totally agree that vacations are way too low on the list of priorities in our culture.
    Unfortunately, unlike cultures that value vacations, play and R&R time, we’re simply not really trained or programmed to value and insist on down time for ourselves. I think a bigger conversation is more about integrating “vacations” into our normal routines. Many of us put far too little time into planning time to simply be still, relax and pursue that which truly adds joy and fulfillment to our lives. I’d like to see a new paradigm to reflect a more balanced way of living that includes not so much a summer vacation; but rather daily, weekly and monthly time we set aside to totally check in and out. To check in with ourselves with stillness to reflect and meditate. To check out from work, study and anything that drains us of our positive life force and energy. I believe “vacations” are truly necessary for a life of good health, happiness and wholeness.

    Thanks for planting the seed to allow more of us to at least start thinking about giving ourselves permission to take more time for ourselves. Also, thanks for the book recommendations. I’m always ready for yet another great book to add to my reading list.

  26. Trisha Johnson

    Sara, I loved this blog. I, too feel a real vacation is almost exactly what you described. Every detail you shared. Thank you for the book recommendations. That was a generous act. Congratulations on your book. Nina and I both ordered copies, and I will clink on the links you provided here. Thanks again. Trish

  27. Tracy

    Just read Dave Eggars Hologram for the King and it took me through a long plane trip.Thanks for the tip about The Circle.

  28. Torkin Wakefield

    Hi Sara,
    I’m on vacation now on Cortes Island. I spent this morning playing my flute overlooking the ocean.
    Then I planted tomatoes in the garden. Vacation for me is total control over my time and no agenda.
    I prefer to be surrounded in beauty and peaceful nature.

    I just read an incredible book called The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Its about North Korea, which I was not particularly interested in until I took up this book. Beautifully crafted, this Pulitzer Prize winner, carries the reader along a journey of surprise and intrigue. Totally recommend this one.

  29. Elizabeth Quigley

    Best vacation ever? A week with Ram Das just before the launch of his book, “How Can I Help?” in the early 1980’s. I was a hippie farmer in upstate NY and never took a vacation because I had a kid, chickens and pigs, but I found a way to get them all baby sitters and I was off to Omega for five days! Early morning (5am!) meditations in a cold wooden building wearing a blue shawl over my head, most excellent organic vegetarian meals, and lights out in my tent by dark. I got myself healthy and I wasn’t the only one. The crowd that attended had a lot of New Yorkers – city folk who were living high stress lives. The whole group of us were teachers, therapists, nurses, counselors, helpers in every sense. One guy, overweight and with huge dark circles around his eyes looked terminal the day we checked in. I saw him on the last day hanging over the railing at the mess hall calling happily to a friend, looking rested and refreshed. It was an amazing transformation. We had so much fun all week with contra dances and music and a talent show! That was the best. If you never got to go to camp as a kid, this was the experience made up for that loss. At the talent show, my group – all girls – sang Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Breaking Up is Hard to Do’ tune with the lyrics, Helping Out is Hard to Do. We did a Goddess imitation with me (the tallest) in front while all behind me waved their arms. We teased Ram Das and laughed and laughed.

  30. Peggy

    Love this post! It came out a while ago but I am only now getting the chance to respond. Taking “real vacations” is so hard. Scheduling them, yes, but even harder is giving myself the time, prying myself out of my regular life and ignoring my guilt from not working.

    For me, to be re-nourished requires solitude, carving a space just for myself. The best way I’ve been able to manage it is in little bits here and there, sometimes within an official vacation. I’m in one of those “bits” now–a 5 day break in a 5-week book tour. (I’m coming to Boulder and would love to meet you.) Now my dilemma is just HOW to spend this delicious time so that at the end it doesn’t feel frittered away. Reading a novel will definitely be a part of it. as well as exploring the lovely wilderness around me.

    Creative expression for its own sake is another vital part of the picture for me. That usually translates into photographing flowers and other parts of nature and maybe reinterpreting them creatively in Photoshop. Following what I WANT to do rather than what I should do, allowing my ADD its full expression, and just sitting/reclining idly, basking in life in between dips into a compelling novel.

    Thanks for this post and the reminder of how important this aspect of life is–that it’s not something frivolous but essential. I loved the comment below about taking a Shabat. If the world could do that –if I could do that–just like with your half hour reading suggestion, the world would be a better place. Peggy

  31. Dave Clare

    I spend 2 weeks every year on Kauai; reading, eating, drinking, laying by the pool and exercising. I don’t spend any time checking back atthe office! Cheers to vacation!

  32. Irene G. Ostroff

    I just read Rabbi Jack Riemer’s excellent review of The December Project and ordered it just now from Amazon. I hope I get the recording as well.
    I met Rabbi Zalman-Shalomi many years ago when my rabbi, Herbert Weiner, brought him to speak at Temple Israel in South Orange, NJ. He was just at the very beginning of starting his “mission.”
    Enjoyed your blog; you are having a wonderful life!
    I am 89; will turn 90 in May, 2015. I live alone in Palm Beach, on the ocean. Busy with Jewish Genealogy and writing memoir stuff.
    Yascher Koach! and Shalom, Irene Ostroff

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