OLLI logo
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois

The question that was asked this time:


"What book makes good reading while on vacation? It could be something to read on a train or airplane, or while sitting on the beach, the deck of a cruise ship, or wherever you put up your feet and relax?"


Scroll down to read the next topic for The OLLI Bookshelf

In This Issue
Summer Reading
Blogs for Book Lovers
More Suggestions
For the next issue
About Us

Liz Abraham - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The paperback edition has clear print, short chapters, an engaging story. You can stay with it for awhile, or read it in chunks. Works well when you are traveling. Light weight, too.


Judy Braunfeld - The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

I very much enjoyed this book. It takes place in Boston and relates to the Gardner Museum heist of many years ago, when so many old masters were stolen. I couldn't put it down!


Sandra Casserly - Six Years by Harlan Coben

I think any Harlan Coben's book is a great page-turner mystery ... short chapters, suspenseful, requires no deep thinking. Six Years is his current book.


Chris Catanzarite - cheesy romances

I spend most of my year reading budget reports and academic books. So, when I get to the beach, the first thing I do is head to a little used-book store right off the boardwalk, and I buy the cheesiest paperback romance I can find - with special preference given to stories that actually take place at or near a beach. The books are always well worn and smell like saltwater; sometimes there is sand between the pages. At the end of my vacation, I return the book to the shop for the next starry-eyed beach bum to discover.


Priscilla Christians - Plainsong by Kent Haruf and Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson

I recommend Plainsong, set in a small town Colorado. Excellent writing! Also recommend Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, set in Nigeria - great characterization and lots to learn about life in present-day Africa.


Isabel Cole - Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I always think a dichotomy is in order. For example, when in Jamaica I read Lonesome Dove. The juxtaposition of dusty western and languid, island beach scene was poignant.


Craig Cutbirth - Nobody's Fool and  That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

When I'm on vacation I like to read popular fiction. One of my favorite authors is Richard Russo, partly because he is a very good writer and partly because he often puts his stories in a college/university setting. He is terrific at skewering the pretentious academic ego! I particularly love the two listed above. Nobody's Fool is the basis of a very fun movie with Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy (unfortunately her last film). Russo has many other books on the  market as well. I always urge my friends to give him a try.


Millie Davis - A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean by Tori M. McClure

This is an adventure story, a woman's story, and a story of persistence and courage to follow your heart. And, it's set on the ocean so you can enhance your vacation while reading the book or feel as if you're on the ocean without actually being there.


Donna Davis-Pearson - The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews

I loved reading and owning this book. It's short, with short chapters and very inspirational. Easy to pick up and put down and an excellent conversation piece if you are the new kid in town.


Marsha Gepner - Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

When I was just starting out as a television copywriter in the early '70s, a new and groundbreaking show aired featuring a young woman with "spunk." Coincidentally, she, too, had just begun her first job at a TV station. Mary Richards of WJM in Minneapolis instantly became my role model, and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" became one of the most successful television series ever. Now there is a new book which tells the story of how the show came about, its creators, its stars, its success and its legacy. Many interesting tidbits are included, such as the fact that the program was almost ditched after its pilot episode because some of the characters were deemed too "unlikeable." A very fun read it is, especially for those long-time fans of this iconic series.


Editor's note: In 1997, TV Guide ranked "Chuckles Bites The Dust" No. 1 on their list of The 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

Robin Goettel - Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein  

These are great reads!


Al "Bud" Heckman - Thieves of Book Row by Travis McDade

I just finished the U of I's very own Travis McDade's Thieves of Book Row. Like his previous book, The Book Thief , it's a delightfully entertaining little book. It's well written and just the right length (and weight) for a short trip.


Carl Jockusch - River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

I have just enjoyed reading River Town. It tells the story of the author's two years teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small city in China, and has many insights into Chinese people and culture.


Sten Johansen - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and Plainsong by Kent Haruf


Barbara Kaufman - Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

After the first chapter of this book, I wondered if I really wanted to work through it to the end. The setting is Cambridge, Mass., and the islands off the coast in the early 1660s. The story is told by a teenage girl and the author must have done exhaustive research to capture the language and sentence structure of the period. But I did read on and soon became captivated rather than put off by the language. Caleb's Crossing is the fictional background of a real event, which was the acceptance of the first Native American to Harvard College, as it was then called, in 1665. It revolves around a group of Calvinists trying to convince the island Indians to abandon their religion for that of the English. Although I approached it with misgivings, I am now disappointed to find that I have only three chapters left. This would be a fitting book if you are vacationing at Martha's Vineyard.


Connie Kelly - The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

This is a wonderful book. I wanted to keep reading it even when I finished.


Mary Kinney - any series by Alexander McCall Smith (Dalhousie series, No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, 44 Scotland Street series); the Gaslight Mystery series by Victoria Thompson; The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

If you want something short and easy to read, you could read anything by Alexander McCall Smith. The Gaslight Mysteries, all set in Victorian New York City, are another very interesting series of stories. For the long haul, you couldn't do better than The Greater Journey - exhilarating tales of Americans in Paris in the 1830s to 1900; a lot of familiar figures from the past are in these pages by one of the premier historian-biographers of all time.


Jan Kruse - A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki


Rosemary Laughlin - The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

For travel, I like what I think of as comfort-food reading: anything by Tony Hillerman, Anne Tyler, or Maeve Binchy; the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith; and for non-fiction anything by Simon Winchester.


Sharon Lumsden - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This is my favorite book of all time. I've read it eight times over the years and it is different and better each time because I am a different person each time I read it. Obviously, it has been with me in many different situations and circumstances ... so much so, in fact, that I wore out my first copy and had to buy another a couple of years ago. There are so many brightly drawn characters and adventures that this book and its stories never get tiresome for me. It will go with me again this summer.


Barbara Meyer - The Witchery of Flutes: Forty-seven short dramas of Anasazi daily life by Jeff Posey

Witchery is "flash fiction" - a collection of very brief (two to three pages) imaginative stories, in this case evoked by an artifact, a legend, a name, or archeological site. The author adds a comment to each to explain what inspired the piece - whether it is based on an extrapolation of a fact or simply speculation of what might have happened. I downloaded this book to my Kindle after visiting Chaco Canyon on the OLLI trip to New Mexico last month and found them a gripping and engaging exploration into what daily life might have been like for these fascinating people about whom we know so little.   


Sharon Michalove - The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca and In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah

I like to read something connected to my trip, usually history or travel literature. On a trip to Morocco a few years ago, I took these two books by Tahir Shah. They are wonderfully written accounts of his experiences in moving his family from London to Casablanca and, interestingly, I seemed to get to descriptions of where I was in Morocco just as I reached them. It was a marvelous way to deepen my appreciation of my surroundings.



John Moore - Swimming to Cambodia by Spalding Gray

This 127-page paperback is funny, entertaining and informative.


Don Pilcher - any book by Alan Furst

Historical spy stuff, WW II, carefully researched and stylishly written. Addictive to some of us. Better than Grisham.


Jo Pride - Lilla's Feast: One Woman's True Story of Love and War in the Orient by Frances Osborne

I enjoyed this book on a plane trip to St. Martin.


Janice & Mel Rothbaum - Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

We both loved this book! Full of surprises and wonderfully written.


Cheri Sullivan - Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

On vacations I enjoy engrossing books that are fun to read - that way I don't mind so much when my flight is delayed or the rain pours down. Ella Minnow Pea is full of wordplay, as the dictator on the tiny island of Nollop outlaws the use of various letters of the alphabet when they fall off the statue of the nation's founder. The book also has a deeper message beyond the extraordinary circumlocutions required to communicate without using certain letters.


Barb Selby - Schroder by Amity Gaige, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal, Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today by Yoani Sánchez  


Mohan Tracy The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The author is a former correspondent for NPR and the New York Times. It is a fun book to read, an easy read when on the move. A review on Amazon states, "Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, [the book] takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the crabby author's case, moments of 'un-unhappiness.'"


Martha Wagner - Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I'd recommend taking this book along on vacation. I found myself fascinated with this tale of the author's (fictionalized) account of growing up in Ethiopia in the same way I was pulled into The Poisonwood Bible: I just didn't want to put it down and found sometimes that I was more interested in its plots and characters than I was in my own life at the moment. There are practical reasons to take it along, too. It's in paperback, it's long (on vacation I seem to have more time to read a long book straight through), and enough other people have read it that it makes for interesting conversations in planes or at the library.

Blogs for Lovers of Books
Bonnie B. Hudson

Over the past few years, I have found myself admiring people from many different backgrounds who have developed excellent book blogs, often evolving to include interviews with authors and publishers. Some of these blogs now include multi-media, so the blogger does not just print or summarize the interview, but includes it in his/her blog.


Following are just a few active, well written, and highly followed blogs for book lovers:

  1. Bookslut 
  2. Curled Up With A Good Book 
  3. Book Riot - "Always books. Never boring."
  4.  Steve Bertrand on Books - Steve Bertrand, longtime newsman at WGN Radio, Chicago, began his own blog on books a few years ago. He is one of those individuals who get some really nice interviews. Check it out!  

One final book blog to leave you with is The Story Cartel. Here you can find the Top Ten Book Blogs of 2013.

  1. 101 Books - "Reading my way through Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels"
  2. The Book Wheel - "An independent Review Site for the Average Reader"
  3. Arabic Literature (in English)
  4. Bookalicious Babe Book Reviews 
  5. Tumbling Books - "Shameless Book Judging" 
  6. Natalia Sylvester - "Finding truth Through fiction" 
  7. In Which I Read Vintage Novels - "A guide to the bestsellers of yesterday" 
  8. Bookslut
  9. Deliberate Reader - "Because great books shouldn't be hard to find." 
  10. My Life in Books 

Another kind of blog provides many book reviews along with other discussions; I call these "blogs for thinkers." Here I have found more books than many book blogs. Because we are discussing book blogs here, I will mention only one that is amazing: Brainpickings: "A library of cross-disciplinary interestingness and combinatorial creativity." 


I could list sites forever, but just wanted to share a few in case you have not seen them. Google will provide you with more blogs for book lovers than you could ever follow. The ones I've mentioned are some that are recognized across reading genres and have 'been around' for awhile.


More summer reading suggestions
Summer reading lists abound at this time of year. Here are links to a few more that might give you some ideas for your reading pleasure.

NextFor the next issue of Bookshelf:

Let us know what your favorite children's book is. It could be something that you loved when you were a child, or something that you enjoyed reading to your own children. Please send your submission to Cheri Sullivan (cheryl.sullivan@gmail.com). Thank you!


e-News Committee:
Cheri Sullivan (Chair), Frank Chadwick, Bonnie Hudson, 
Barbara Meyer (Technical Coordinator).  
Please send your ideas and stories for consideration to OLLI@Illinois.edu  

OLLI logo
About OLLI Illinois 

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with support from the Bernard Osher Foundation, is part of a national network that recognizes learning has no age limits.  


Through a rich array of lifelong learning opportunities, members are inspired to take a fresh look at themselves, their world, and the possibilities that await them.


OLLI at Illinois is a member-led community of peers. It provides its members with a number of special perks and offers them exciting courses, educational trips, small-group discussion opportunities, a meeting place and special events.


Click here for more information OLLI Illinois and how to join us.