What I Did On My Winter Vacation: an essay by Russ Marshalek
I may not talk like it (unless I’ve had a bit too much to drink or I’m flustered), but I’m a born-and-raised southern boy. White Christmases, frozen ponds for ice skating, chopping down trees-none of these activities have ever been a part of my schema for what the winter holidays encompass.
(Truth be told, in fact, for me the Christmas plan of attack has quite often been more of a sneak mission-penetrate the demon fortress of “family”, get in, get out, escape unscathed.)
This year, for the second time, my girlfriend Lucy and I spent our Christmas in the north-Maine, to be specific-with her mom, dad and sister. Coming from a household that makes the term “broken home” seem tame, getting to spend time with this very-much-together, warm and witty family reminds me of how utterly awesome getting to be around really good people, have really good conversations and eat really good food can be.
Unlike last year, there was snow on the ground and covering the trees when we landed in the Portland airport, and suddenly that verysame snow that had frightened me by being, in the back of my mind, an amorphous potential travel delay, was bright and shining to the extent that, if I was a writer, I would muse upon being reflective of all those things I didn’t have growing up in the south. This, my first real snowfall removed from the sugardusted cake toppings we get in
It’s a good thing I’m not a writer!
In addition to Lucy’s mother’s home-cooked goodness on a daily basis (and in addition to finally, finally finding a pair of jeans that fits and flatters), as well as all the other going-home comforts (not the least of which comes in the form of a schnauzer), I managed to get a good deal of reading done, in between a direct flight from Atlanta to Maine, a good deal of couch-time reading whilst there, and flights from Maine to Cincinnati and Cincinnati to Atlanta en route home.
Last year, my winter vacation book, which was also the first book I read for 2007, was Michael Thomas’ Man Gone Down. I wasn’t ready for the harsh reality and essential truths it offered, but lo and behold it ensconced itself in my heart and mind to the point of being my favorite book of this year.
This year, I took a handful of books that were less-than-current, but that required attention-most notably, Lydia Davis’ stunningly readable translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way, and Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.
Ok, so he’s like the guy I roomed with in college.
Ken Follett’s Pillars Of The Earth was a huge, huge surprise to me. As a handy rule of thumb, I detest historical fiction, particularly when it sprawls all over the place and has priests and monks and society. Well, you could blame Oprah or you could blame our store’s Penguin sales rep, but in the past few weeks I’d heard so much about Pillars that I had to pick it up (mass markets are good for something!).
I devoured, and I mean nearly literally devoured, the epic, EPIC billion-year tale of Tom Builder and his dream of a Cathedral in just about 24 hours. For once, the short time frame is less a testament to the fact that I read quickly and more to how captivating Pillars is. It’s also, at least for me, utterly inexplicable. As Lucy (who is reading it now, and who is a fan of big ol’ lumps of historical fiction, especially when there’s sexual intrigue) commented last night, “the plot’s so boring and I can’t stop reading it”.
And thus, ‘twas Christmas in the north for this native southern kid. I had my first apple cider martini, I lost a filling and medicated with really strong red wine, I pet a pug for the first time. I read two really excellent books. And, believe it or not, I relaxed.
Oh, and don’t think I let that first northern snowfall of my memory go to waste, oh no. I made my first snow angel:
Russ Marshalek is the Marketing and Publicity Director for Wordsmiths Books, the largest independent bookstore in the state of Georgia, located in Decatur. He's also quite fond of schnauzers.