Friday, June 30, 2017

How to Construct a Vacation TBR Pile You'll Actually Read

We're almost at the end of June, which means that Summer is well and truly underway. And chances are, between 4th of July fireworks and Labor Day barbecues, you're going to be getting out of town for a while... and you're probably trying to tackle a few good reads along the way!

I consider myself a particular expert on the traveling TBR pile. Whether it's our multiple-times-a-year excursions to Sunriver, OR, or even just a weekend getaway into one of the PNW's many glorious state parks, I'm pretty notorious for the extensive list of titles I choose to take with me. While it might take up a little extra room in my backpack, it's well worth the hassle, because I know that the better the selection of tomes I have with me, the better the likelihood that I enjoy as many of them as possible.

Here's my tried-and-true strategy for selecting the appropriate titles to take with me, no matter where I roam:

how many books should I bring? 

For me, that's no more than one per day I'm on vacation: not only is that the absolute most I'd be capable of reading anyways, but I'm likely not going to be able to read even that much. So, this offers me a realistic amount of book titles to pack, while also allowing room for options. 

why shouldn't I just pack regular vacation reads? 

As you shall see once we get into the bigger list below, I am an enormous advocate for packing a large variety of books, rather than strictly one genre (something I routinely see others get into trouble with, after only stuffing their travel totes with *beach reads*). Sure, you're here to relax, but last time I checked, reading itself is a means of relaxing. Why waste all that time on whatever Entertainment Weekly's touting at the moment, instead of getting some real quality time in with your whole bookshelf? 

size matters, too

My Spring Break 2017 Vacation Pile! I only got through three
out of eight, but having them all with me made it feel like home.
Beyond genre, this kind of diversification also applies to length and density of your reading material. Don't just pack the five heaviest tomes you've got, in the hopes that you'll emerge from the other side of your vacation with a brain practically pulsing with newfound knowledge. You're going to get burnt out by book #2, if you even make it that far! 

Instead, go for a wide range of sizes and reading levels. Classic read + fave genre + nonfiction = an always decent formula for packing diversely for a weekend's reading, or you can always just take a quick run through your local library and grab a new title from each of your favorite sections. Know which will take you longer and shorter amounts of time to read, and make sure to balance them. 

and don't forget alternative reading! 

Don't just stop at your typical book formats! Load up your iPhone with a podcast you enjoy, or an audiobook (or several), especially if you're traveling somewhere with a lot of room for hiking or leisurely walks. Stroll through your local Barnes and Noble magazine racks before you head to checkout, and make sure you pick up a publication you've never read before. There's nothing wrong with taking time out of your regular reading schedule for a little light editorial reading, too. This way, even if you end up getting burnt out or bored with your TBR - or even just too painfully sunburned to hold up a whole novel by yourself - you've got backup material to keep you busy. 

the book buffet : the very best kinds of vacation reads 

Once you've determined the number of books you want to bring, and you've already selected a few alternative reads to bring with you, it's time to get down to packing the actual books themselves. Bearing in mind the advice I've already given, here are the kinds of reads I'm most likely to stuff my own travel bag with:


  • the Titan of Tomes. It's the massive novel I've been saving for a worthy occasion, something that's going to take a long time, and that I'd never have enough concentration to get through in the hustle and bustle of home, but will completely be worth it in the end. Last summer, this was Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and man, was it totally worth the wait! 
  • the Kind of Embarrassing One. It's the fluffy, girly YA contemporary I save for only when I'm around immediate family, because it's not like I can have anyone I actually know seeing me with it. If you haven't read anything Sarah Strohmeyer has written from the past 5 or 6 years, I absolutely insist you do. 
  • the High Fantasy Fanfest. I'm going to need every brain cell I can scrape together to remember all of the names and places in these kinds of books, and I already know I'm not going to be able to put it down as soon as I start reading, so I might as well do so somewhere quiet. Tamora Pierce's Tortallan books will always feel like summer to me. 
  • the Memoir. The next-best thing to having an actual real-life friend to take on vacation with you, these kinds of conversational, personal gab fests are some of the best for days that are too hot for spending time inside your own brain. Bonus points if it's a celebrity memoir, double bonus points if it's a "celebrity" memoir! 
  • the Fact-Heavy Nonfiction. Not only does a vacation award you the kind of thinking space necessary to comprehend all of this information, but it can also be easily used as a makeshift nugget of self-importance should your parents somehow manage to run into someone they know. ("Oh, I'm freelancing it at the moment, but I'm currently working my way through a nonfiction class-breakdown of the spread of cholera in 1854 and how it affected modern medical science. How is Carley liking D.C.?") 
  • the Period Piece, with corresponding appropriate seasonal setting. It's easy: American Lit is for Summer and Fall, Russian Lit is for Winter, and French and English are for Spring. Duh! 
  • the Super-Hyped Thriller. I'm an anxious person by nature, so it's best to be surrounded by family and friends when reading about people trying to kill each other. Better read it in comfortable and relaxing digs under a bright summer sun today, and tell people how much you enjoyed Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl later! 
  • the Classic Mystery. It's like eating a bowl of cereal: it doesn't really need to correspond to any meaningful moment, but can be consumed freely whenever you want. I can be struck by the sudden need for a good mystery - similar to a bowl of Lucky Charms - at any time, so it's best to have an Agatha Christie or two on hand. 
  • the Entire Series. Okay, so it's not for everyone, but I'm absolutely the kind of kid who's gone on vacation, only to return having burned through three or four books in a series. For instance, in high school, I once read every single fictional book Lauren Conrad has ever written while on a vacation.  Find an author you really enjoy, and pick out a brief series or a duology you know you want to tackle. Just make sure not to do it all in one sitting! 
  • and last but not least, Ol' Faithful. I've made no secret of one of my favorite annual summer habits, rereading Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but this time of year seems to be my favorite for reconnecting with old favorites. I finished Annie Dillard's An American Childhood in the midst of camping this past weekend, and it immediately took me back to reading it for the first time for summer homework before my Junior year of high school. 

So, there's my list of tried-tested-and-true tips for building your own vacation TBR pile, that you'll actually manage to read. 

Then again, I do have one more piece of advice for these kinds of things: Remember, you're on a vacation! Don't feel like you have to spend every second reading, and don't just let yourself get complacent, cooped up in your hotel room, cabin, or campsite. Get out there and do some exploring. There's too much of this world left for you to see, to feel like you can view it all through the pages of a book. Take a little bit of time out of your day, every day, to just walk around, and find something new. 

You never know... there could be a bookstore out there! 

What are some of your favorite books to read on vacation? What are some of your favorite book-packing tips? Let me know, in the comments below!

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