Do Literary Journals Make Good Winter Vacation Reading?

I suppose it’s fitting that if summer reading consists of novels filled with romance, youth and page-turning suspense, then winter reading consists of something decidedly more, well, meaty. Like winter food, it should be something you can sink your teeth into and suck the flavor out of for a while because let’s be honest, it’s snowing outside and you’re not going anywhere. Which is perhaps why before departing for vacation, instead of starting a new book, I picked up a couple of literary journals. But the thing was, before I was headed up to Maine to go snowboarding for a few days, I was headed to the island of Nevis, in the Caribbean. I know you’re dying to know how my high brow literary reads fared in the sun, so I won’t keep you in suspense: I kept turning the page long after my sunscreen application had expired.

As many of you know, it’s important to not only bring enough reading material on vacation, but to bring something you’re actually going to want to read once you get there. You’ll be stuck with what you’ve got once you board that plane, so unless you have a Kindle and Internet connection, which I do not, you’d better pack the right book, or books. (Tip: Removing an item of clothing, like, say, a sweater or pair of shoes, even a jacket if you have to, and packing another book to be sure you are well equipped is a respectable option.)

I will also divulge one more thing, in case my packing compulsions are not already TMI. I almost always buy a tabloid to read at the airport. It’s my reading weakness. When your flight is delayed, or you’re sitting on the plane waiting for it to take off, or when it seems like you should have reached your final destination but there’s still another hour to go, and you’re too tired and impatient to read a real book, it’s the perfect distraction.

So on the second leg of the flight I broke into Barrelhouse and Tin House. Barrelhouse because it happened to have stories in it by two writers I know and am completely biased in discussing their work which is why it’s great that this is not a book review. Tin House because it’s always good.

I was a little surprised by how much reading I actually did on vacation. Then again, I was surprised by how much of everything my fiance and I did while we were away. We had never stayed at a resort before, and we took full advantage: sailing, snorkeling, paddleboarding, tennis, golf. In just three and a half days! (Spoiler: There’s not much on the island of Nevis. I know, I took a tour.)  Immediately upon our return we drove up to Maine for a ski trip with friends, where considerably less reading and more socializing happened.

In Issue Twelve of Barrelhouse, Jen Michalski’s “Your Second Left Fielder” about a young woman visiting home for a wedding who sees a guy she used to have a crush on, took its time getting to its sad conclusion, pulling me along with it. Written in the second person, this story moves with a confidence that doesn’t waver.

Rolf Potts’ essay about his uncle and football, “Why I Follow Football,” was also a bit quiet in its sadness, but powerful too. I’ll be honest, I did not read all of the stories and poems and essays in these books, but another standout from Barrelhouse was “Bureaucracy of a Breakup” by Jared Gottlieb. A humorous take on what a person goes through when broken up with, from the perspective of his brain as a corporation. The meeting notes made me more than chuckle.

In Tin House’s Issue 58/Winter Reading, Elisa Albert’s story also sucked me in, despite the fact that sunscreen/sweat was dripping into my eyes. One of those stories I couldn’t put down ‘til I was done. Good thing it was an excerpt from a novel, so there’s more to come. Called “I am Happy for You That You are So Happy,” we meet a new mother in a nothing town desperate for a friend.

I was also keen to read Major Jackson’s poem “OK Cupid,” which starts:

“Dating a Catholic is like dating a tribe

and dating a tribe is like dating a nation”

and ends:

“and dating a lamp is like dating a blonde

and dating a blonde is like dating a Swede”

It’s a good poem to read aloud, and slowly.

There’s a lot of other good stuff that I haven’t read yet I’m sure, but that’s the beauty of a literary journal–you don’t have to read it all at once.

Did you go on vacation this winter? What did you read?

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

Image from Tin House. Featured image from Barrelhouse

Related posts:

Shiny Happy Book Club: “MWF Seeking BFF”

Shiny Happy Book Club: “These Days Are Ours”

Adventures with the Topless Book Club, And Why You Should Go Topless, Too

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