Permanent Siesta: 3 Books To Whisk You Away

Apr 13, 2012
Originally published on January 29, 2013 5:55 pm

One doesn't necessarily associate spring travel with heavy reading. For one, books are bulky luggage, the weighty enemies of economical packers; even an e-reader takes up precious space in one's overflowing duffel. And two, escapist migration to mountaintops or flowery fields or seaside locales for sun worship and meditative communion with nature connotes a markedly book-free environment, an escape from the office or the solemn halls of academe.

But surely even the most active traveler will have some downtime during the trip. What to read when it's raining outside your Puerto Rican bungalow, or with your cappuccino in a Parisian cafe, or on African safari when your cellphone's out of service and there's no Wi-Fi for miles? Or what about those of us stuck at home, tethered to work and family, eagerly awaiting winter's end?

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The warming weather this time of year brings with it a growing sense of wanderlust. Thoughts drift to exotic locales, adventures abroad. We draw up itineraries, real and imagined, and wrestle with essential questions: What to wear, what to pack? Well, author Adam Wilson reminds us of another important consideration: What to read on those few precious vacation days? Here are a few of his recommendations for our series Three Books.

ADAM WILSON: Most people don't associate spring travel with heavy reading. For one thing, books are bulky luggage; even an e-reader takes up space. And for another, people like to escape to mountaintops or flowery fields or seaside locales. Communing with nature is really a book-free activity. But what about your downtime? When it's raining outside your Puerto Rican bungalow or with your cappuccino in a Parisian cafe or on African safari when your cellphone is out of service? And then there are those of us stuck at home, tethered to work and family. Here are three books that are perfect for those times.

Roberto Bolano's "The Savage Detectives" begins in diary form. It's from the perspective of Juan, a 17-year-old Mexican poet, green around the gills and eager for experience. It's Mexico City in 1975. While Latin America storms with revolution, Juan is falling in love with a clan of young poets. The visceral realists are on a sort of permanent siesta complete with passion, ideas, warm weather and beautiful women. It's a charged and romantic time for them. Eventually, they drive off into the sunset.

If the book ended here, it would feel nostalgic and sentimental. But the next couple of hundred pages show the harsh fallout from that freewheeling period. It's a reminder that time touches everyone. Youth, like all holidays, can't last forever.

Joy Williams' "Breaking and Entering" invites readers into the lives of Willie and Liberty. They're a young couple living like vagabonds on the Gulf Coast of Florida. They squat in unoccupied houses, dressing their blank lives in the clothing of strangers. But when the owners return, the couple has to hit the road. It's a funny book and breezy, but there's human drama too. Williams has a gift for dialogue. Sadness lurks beneath the smiley dispositions. No amount of sun and surf can wash away a haunted past.

Everything in this book really happened, but some of the things that happened only happened in my head. That's how Geoff Dyer introduces "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It." And thus, we're off on a whirlwind world tour: the cramped cafes of Amsterdam, Indonesia's most competitive ping-pong tables. We see Burning Man and the Roman ruins. Dyer ponders life's deepest questions. The book is funny, occasionally beautiful, sometimes scholarly and usually under the influence of controlled substances.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether it's fiction or nonfiction. It feels true. It's like your best friend telling you his favorite adventure story. This anti-travel book will leave you feeling like you were there on the journey. These three books grasp the spirit of spring travel. Read them anywhere: on the subway or in an airport terminal, on the couch or on the beach. You'll be instantly transported to a tropical adventure land where the wind whips the ocean and the heart beats a slow samba.

SIEGEL: Adam Wilson is the author of the book "Flatscreen." You can comment on this essay at our website. Go to Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.