Book Review - The Vacationers

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.
— George RR Martin

In my very first blog post, I mentioned that my yoga studio started a monthly book club, which was a big part of my inspiration for starting this blog. I enjoy reading, and I enjoy writing, so I figured I should try my hand at writing about reading. So in addition to posts about healthy eating, another recurring segment on this blog is going to be a series of book reviews. They’ll mainly be books from my book club, but I’ll cover other interesting books that I read as well.

I’ll do my best to share my thoughts on the book without giving any plot points away, but there may be a few bits here and there that you could read into. So if you are concerned about even the slightest spoilers, its best to wait until you’ve read the books I’m writing about to read my posts. Otherwise, feel free to read ahead.

Up first: The Vacationers.

This is the third book that my book club has read, the first two being The Alchemist and My Year with Eleanor (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, and may do retroactive reviews of down the line). I think its fair to say that everyone loved The Alchemist, and while My Year with Eleanor had mixed reactions, they were mostly positive. In contrast, The Vacationers fell a little bit flat for everyone that I talked to about it.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading Emma’s novel, but it lacked the depth that the first two books had.  Had I picked up the book on my way to a sunny beach destination akin to the island of Mallorca, which provides the backdrop for the story, I probably would have come away with a much more favorable view of the book. This book is in many ways the perfect summer beach read, but reading it as a part of my book club left me wanting something more meaningful to unfold from within the pages.

For those of you who haven’t read it, the book follows the Post family and some of their closest friends on a two-week long vacation. Though the story is written from a third-person perspective, it takes turns having each of the main characters in the driver’s seat, giving us a glimpse of their perspective of the events that are unfolding.

While the story is confined to the events that take place on their island getaway, most of the plot is driven by events outside of the vacation. An affair threatens an otherwise happy marriage. Financial trouble burdens a young couple trying to figure out what their future holds. A college-bound girl faces a coming-of-age journey. The vacation is simply the author’s way of getting all of the family members together, secluded from the distractions of every day life, so that she can let the turmoil that has bubbled beneath the surface finally boil over.

 One drawback to that approach is that the story progresses at a fairly slow pace. There are multiple plotlines that all have to be advanced, and more than half-a-dozen perspectives that need to be shared. While I enjoyed reading the book, and genuinely wanted to know how everything ended, I was never on the edge of my seat, too enthralled at the end of a chapter to put the book down.

I struggled with how I truly felt about the book as a result. I enjoyed the book, but it certainly wasn’t my favorite read. I cared about the characters, but by the end the plots resolved to what I viewed as foregone conclusions. I’d recommend the book to a friend, but it certainly wouldn’t be my first recommendation. At our book club meeting I struggled to express these thoughts, and probably contradicted myself multiple times throughout the evening.

Once again, our book club had motivated me into writing a blog post. I wanted to finish sorting through all of the thoughts I had about the book, and I hoped putting the metaphorical pen to the paper would do the trick. (As an aside, is there an updated version of that phrase for these modern times? Fingers to the keyboard? Keystrokes to the computer? I digress.)

The more I sat with my thoughts, the more I wondered if there wasn’t some deeper lesson that could be learned from all of this, whether intentional on the author’s part or not. Maybe it was okay that I enjoyed the slower paced plot. Maybe it was okay that this wasn’t the most exciting book I’ve read this year (or even this month). Maybe it was okay that the struggles facing some of the characters were more mundane.

Two weekends ago I spent the weekend in San Diego. This past weekend I spent most of the weekend at home. San Diego was incredible, filled with seeing new sites, exploring an unfamiliar city, and trying new food. My weekend at home was nothing to write home about, but it was productive, relaxing, and a bit rejuvenating. As much as I love to travel, I’m always thrown off when I arrive back at home late on a Sunday night, forced to start my week without having done the usual Sunday chores of laundry, grocery shopping, or cooking.

While the time spent traveling is exciting, I certainly couldn’t stand to be gone every weekend. And it felt rewarding to cross a few items of the growing to-do list that comes with being a new homeowner. It was definitely the slower burning plot of the two weekends, if you will. But at the end of the day, it’s important to have both types of weekends in your life, to find that balance between excitement and contentment.

And maybe that’s the lesson to be learned from this book. Maybe its okay for some books to just leave us feeling content, without being the deepest or most exciting book we’ve ever read. Maybe we need to take the time to appreciate the happiness that comes from appreciating the everyday, mundane aspects of our lives, in addition to the exciting high points that we often focus on reaching.

With that in mind, I’d like to challenge each of you to be a little bit more mindful as you go about your week, and take the time to find something to be thankful for and appreciative of each day. Don’t just settle for feeling content. Strive for it. Enjoy the little moments in each and every day of your life, and I guarantee you will be much happier than if you just sit around waiting for the next big exciting adventure to roll around.