Yes, we are going to Italy. Call it a honeymoon of sorts. T has a conference there, so we are traveling a week early to explore Rome and the Amalfi Coast. This will be my first time visiting the country. And this will be our first time renting a car abroad. And it will be stick shift.
Neither of us drives a manual transmission, although I learned on one when I was getting my license. After scaring myself with a near death experience merging onto the beltway from a dead stop into the height of DC rush-hour 80 mph traffic (couldn't be helped, every car before and after me had to do this same thing), I was certain I was going to kill myself or someone else from a poorly-timed stall. So I gave up the stick shift and never looked back (i.e. I started driving my mother's car). T never even learned in the first place.
But we read that most of the rental cars available in Europe are manual transmissions, so we sucked it up and learned again. Italian countryside: you will be ours.
I'm bringing a kindle and one book of short stories (also not a single pair of jeans). This is my version of vacation reading:
1) Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian
2) Bundori by Laura Joh Rohland
3) Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
4) The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake, if you can believe it.
I've already explained my recent discovery of Patrick O'Brian, and I'm enjoying this second book in the series even more than the first. I expect I'll finish this one on the plane ride over.
I read the first Sano Ichiro book, Shinju, a few months ago, maybe around Christmas. It's a solid murder mystery set in feudal Japan. I'm a bit of a Japanophile, so I'm not surprised I enjoyed it. (One of these days I'll have to discuss my manga collection.) What it lacked in any attempt at prose style, it made up in the foreignness of its setting and the thrill of the chase. I don't read a lot of mysteries, so when I do, I usually enjoy them (see Tony Hillerman). Probably because I'm not burnt out on the same old tropes. Even though I really liked Shinju, I wouldn't let myself buy the second book in the series after I finished the first. Too low a quality to price ratio to justify two of the same kind of book. But all bets are off come vacation.
Honestly, I chose Fever Pitch because I recently started listening to the BBC World Book Club Podcast and one of the first episodes I listened to was an interview with Nick Hornby about this memoir. Nick Hornby is one of my favorite modern authors. I especially love About a Boy, his collected columns from The Believer, Ten Years in the Tub, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that he also wrote the adapted screenplay for one of my favorite movies, An Education. I don't know why I love his stories, and I don't know why I also feel like I have to justify how much I enjoy his work. I just find that he often gets closer to the truth about the horribly mundane quality of what it means to be human than any of the more literati type authors, while also being entertaining to boot. What he explains in one paragraph about a character's experiences sums up more and means more to me than anything Haruki Murakami could blather on about for 800 pages. So anyway, long story short, hearing that interview piqued my interest for Fever Pitch, which I had never picked up before.
And the D'J Pancake stories. This is the only physical book I'm bringing. Trust me, I'd bring more if I hadn't learned from prior European experience to pack lighter this time around. Many years ago I abandoned a copy of A Farewell to Arms en route to Geneva because I couldn't stand the weight of a read book. Now I wish I had that copy back...
D'J Pancake, the name made me think this was a modern author. A brunch eating hipster, I guessed. I was wrong. It's a posthumous collection, I guess written some time in the seventies, before the author committed suicide in 1979 after entering UVA's creative writing program. I've read the first story already and thought the writing was heads above what I usually read. Certainly better than a lot of the garbage that comes out of the New Yorker these days. I'm looking forward to finishing this one. I put it down because I sensed it needed greater attention than what I could give it at the time. It's the sort of writing that's so deceptively simple, so much white space, but when you focus on a sentence, you're hit with the intention of each word.
Hopefully that's enough. We're really going to try to not make this a monuments vacation. I mostly want to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of a different place. So if we don't go to the Vatican, I'm not going to die from FOMO. I'm going to walk, drink, eat, and read in the company of my loved, and be content.