Reading is an inherently solitary, even intimate, experience. We can discuss what we read, we can even read aloud with someone, but because what we are experiencing via the written word is contained within the imagination, it is primarily a private experience. The summer season, languid and aromatic, is perfect for losing oneself in the portable microworlds of pulp and ink or plastic and silicon. The shade of a tree at the park or an umbrella at the beach become a portal to anywhere, immediately. This year we’ve called upon readers from the community to share their good reads alongside our own recommendation, a somewhat confessional expression of the power of solitude in the cult of busy, by a local travel writer. Enjoy!  — Michel Cicero

Islands Apart
by Ken McAlpine
(2009, Trumpeter)

by Erik Hayden
erikhayden23@gmail.com
For Ken McAlpine, the still moments of quiet reflection, as daylight surrenders to twilight, led to a year of roaming in places not necessarily distant and exotic, but just far enough away from the faintly flickering lights of civilization. Solace would manifest itself in the wind-whipped beauty of the Channel Islands, a relatively short boat ride from Ventura Harbor, but an eternity away from the constant static of the mainland.

“No age is louder than ours. We have reached a crescendo of clamor, and it is both curse and comfort. Solitude, in our times, is rare and, for many, profoundly unnerving.”

Islands Apart, a compilation of essays, impressions and humorous anecdotes, weaves together a variety of excursions into thoughtful ruminations on the importance of seeking silence and self in the age of the endless to-do list.
As McAlpine endures the rugged splendor of San Miguel Island, chuckles with a wizened monk in a sheltered desert abbey and jests with a homeless Jack Sparrow impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard, he returns to a simple, yet timeless and persistent, question: What can we make of the hushed surroundings found on that isolated island or expansive desert?

Some feel a sudden pang for the familial comforts of home. Others conjure up a lingering fear or loneliness. The majority, like Ken McAlpine, experience the full spectrum of emotion: curiosity, anxiety, adrenaline, doubt and quiet satisfaction — even peace.

Perhaps that’s why the restless, the wanderers and the writers are continually drawn to the outdoors as sanctuary. Not for instant revelation, but simply to be exposed to the shivers and joys of solitude and to see what becomes of it.

kThe Brothers K
by David James Duncan
(1996, Dial Press Trade Paperback)

This is an ambitious book and many of the Book Club members did not finish it for various reasons. The five or so who did, all LOVED it! One was even brought to tears while discussing the book on book club night. It’s set in the Pacific Northwest in the ’60s and ’70s and tells the story of the Chance family. The father is a minor league pitcher who injures his thumb, ending his baseball career. The family consists of six children and their parents including a devout Seventh Day Adventist mother. It spans the period beginning with the Eisenhower years through Vietnam and explores themes of that era. Each of the siblings goes in a different direction and their stories are fascinating. This book incorporates family tensions, politics, religion and, of course, baseball!  I loved this one, too! —Lisa York, Seaside Bookies Book Club

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao b
by Junot Diaz
(2007, Riverhead)

This book will shake you up if you let it. The stunning narration pulls readers toward feeling the spell of history in the present. Inventive profanity and violence make its beauty, grace and compassion for outsiders all the more precious.

There’s a lot of geek culture in this book, but I loved it even though I’ve never been into comics, Dungeons & Dragons or Tolkien. — Brad Monsma, Professor of English, California State University, Channel Islands

bluBlue Shadow Behind Everything Dazzling
by Gail Wronsky
(2009, Hollyridge Press)

It’s not that hard to see with your third eye — especially when you’re holding a slender magical book in your hands. Topanga author Gail Wronsky has lived and traveled in northern India and the Himalayas. Her latest poetry chapbook offers 18 poems of India that will move you to change your life. Say you’re at the beach, baking in the sun, each grain of sand around you glinting hard at the sky, and Krishna appears magically beside you and whispers a question in your ear. Prepare yourself, pick up this book, and let your eyes and ears open. — Marsha de la O, poet

Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America
by George Whalin
(2009, Portfolio)

Hot, Flat and Crowded f
by Thomas L. Friedma
(2008, Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

It’s almost all work-related for me: Daniel Pink (Free Agent Nation) and Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story of Success) are two must-follow authors. I also subscribe to about 15 monthlies, and I’ll flip through another 15 design and/or landscape architecture magazines in one sitting just to see what progressive Europeans are doing. I try to keep up with “my people” so I read The Advocate. Gavin Newsom is reading Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, so I will, too. — Rob Edwards, Executive Director, Downtown Ventura Organization

foodFood: The History of Taste
by Paul Freedman
(2007, University of California Press)

I’m a major reader; I have six books going at any given time. I’m currently facinated by Food: The History of Taste. It’s a monster-sized tome detailing a comprehensive, chronological history of taste from prehistoric times to present day. It includes essays by notable literary historians of the past and present day. A “follow the food” adventure in gastronomy, perfect for me as I teach food science, and nearly eat my weight every day, and dream in advance about my next meal(s). — Suz Montgomery, Schmooze with Suz TV show