The 2016 Big Bend Reading List: Books to Read and Books to Avoid

One of my favorite things to bring on a backpacking trek is my kindle. Sure, it’s heavy, but it’s lighter and more compact than toting several paperback books around. When I’m on vacation, especially a backpacking vacation, I’m a voracious reader. On our trip to Big Bend, I read several books that I thought I would share with y’all. You’ll notice that I’m a reader with diverse taste.

Audiobooks

My husband and I usually listen to audiobooks on our long drives, and the trek to Big Bend is a 14-hour long haul. Audiobooks are a must. For better or worse, my husband is the one who usually picks out the audiobooks for our trip. Sometimes he picks gems, and other times we listen to a dud. This trip was a little of both.

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

We both would characterize this audiobook as listening to a grumpy old man ramble on about different parts of England. Some of it was mildly interesting; a lot of it wasn’t. The audiobook wasn’t so bad that we felt compelled to turn it off and abandon it altogether, but neither of us would say that we enjoyed it or would recommend it. My husband had read another book by him and thought he was funny. This rendition garnered a couple of laughs, mostly from him. I found the author mildly sexist in the way most grumpy rambling old men are, a few microaggressions here and there. Sometimes, when you’re stuck in a car for hours on end, you just keep listening where if you’d been reading the book, you’d have given up long ago.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

My husband and I both loved this book. He’d been meaning to read the book for a while, and he particularly enjoyed the information in the book. We both had a mad hankering to just run off into the sunset across the prairie. McDougall is an enjoyable storyteller as he weaves in descriptions of the athletes (almost as if they were characters in a story) alongside history and research into running. Some of the people are over-the-top and are people I would not be able to stand in person, but most of them are genuinely admirable. His book is a fairly damning expose on the running-shoe industry and a celebration of the marvel of the human body and what it can endure. We were so taken with the book and the Tarahumara tribe that we looked up how to make pinole and iskiate drink. We actually rather liked the drink.

We attempted to listen to the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, but after a solid 15 minutes, we hadn’t learned anything and found it a rambling mess. I can heartily recommend The Secrets of Happy Families, which I read a few months ago.

E-books

As will quickly become clear, my kindle paperwhite is my must-have backcountry accessory. I can be a voracious reader anywhere, but I plow through books in the backcountry, especially when sundown is so early in winter. Time to cuddle up in my sleeping bag and read, read, read!

Future Perfect

I did not enjoy this book and would not recommend it. I finished it because I kept hoping it would get better and it was a rather quick read. But just no. I would like there to be more young-adult fiction with women who are overweight as the body-positive heroines of their own story, but this one isn’t it. None of the characters were very believable (this kiddo gets into Harvard but the story from her perspective doesn’t seem in the least bit, well, Harvard bound). The grandmother who is pushing for a weight-loss surgery is also so overly characterized that she seems more a plot device than a person. Nothing in this book felt real or believable or very much interesting.

Wedding Night

I must confess something:  I really enjoy the vivacious silliness in each of Sophia Kinsella’s books. I picked up this one hoping for more light-hearted ridiculous romance, and I found it again. I laughed aloud so many times that I started having to explain the silly events that were happening in the book to my husband. He laughed too. The premise here is that one sister has rushed off to be married on a whirlwind romance with an old flame… but they’re waiting until the wedding night. Meanwhile, her sister is trying to do everything possible to sabotage the wedding. Hilarity and romance ensue.

The Thing About Jellyfish

This YA novel is a heart-squeezing story of a young girl who loses her best friend and then really loses her best friend because that friend drowns in the ocean. Suzy becomes convinced that her friend died as a result of a jellyfish sting, and the story unfolds as she obsessively researches jellyfish, jellyfish scientists, and … everything about jellyfish. She feels a compelling need to prove that this is how her friend died, and she’s willing to break rules and risk everything to prove it. The story is a heartbreaking one about grief as Suzy grieves her lost friendship, her lost friend, and her lost life as she tackles the perilous transition to middle school. The interwoven information about jellyfish is more compelling than you could imagine. I love this book. Of all the books I read on vacation, this would be the one I most encourage you to pick up and read. So, get reading!

I Still Love You:  Nine Things Trouble Kids Need from Their Parents

I picked out this book hoping that it would be a helpful resource as a foster parent; it absolutely was. The author works with three families who are essentially in-depth case studies where you see the nine things that kids need implemented. The author also includes his own troubled childhood as a kind of fourth case study. The children in the book are dealing with ADHD, poor grades, disobedience, fighting, criminal problems (one was on house arrest), alcohol and drug abuse, and sex with the purpose of getting pregnant (at 13!). The families do make progress through the book despite the scale of the problems their kiddos are facing. As the author repeats, there are no problem children, only children who need help tackling their problems.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

I’ve always felt as if I should know more about Iran and the events that culminated with such an antagonistic relationship with the West, and this memoir definitely sheds light on that topic all while weaving in literary analysis of famous works of Western literature. If you’ve read any of these (especially the Great Gatsby, works by Henry James, Pride and Prejudice, and the titular Lolita) it’s helpful, but not necessary. I haven’t read Lolita or anything by Henry James, and I enjoyed those discussions. Admittedly, though, I understood deeper layers of meaning during the sections analyzing the Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. These great works of Western literature are discussed amid cruelty, terror, and the subjugation of women and dissidents in Iran. This is not a light read, especially in today’s political climate. Many people don’t realize how quickly you can lose rights that you’ve had all your life, which is exactly what happened to women in Iran. What do you have when you’ve lost everything you once took for granted? Your stash of books. Your imagination. Your friends.

My husband was reading Furiously Happy and laughing hysterically throughout it. I’m putting it on my reading list.

Yep, I read seven books on my 10-day backcountry vacation (including time spent in the car, ha), and boy was it a great vacation! I hope I inspired you to put a new book on your reading list (or, perhaps, cross one off!).

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