Reading Day: The Ultimate Staycation

I’m tired.

Not the “I stayed up too late last night, so I’m a little droopy” kind of tired. I’m the “please don’t make me put on makeup and get dressed” kind of tired.

In the last six months, we moved from Austin, Texas to White River Junction, Vermont; restructured our business; Dave completed a semester of Cartoon School; I launched my Quarterly box; we produced a magazine version of Well Fed (more on that soon!); I joined a new gym and started training again; we traveled to Prague for a 10-day business+pleasure trip; we had multiple house guests and took the train to see my family a few times; and last week, we went to New York City for a few days, then returned and threw a Christmas Eve party for 14 people.

Yeah, I’m pooped.

I’ve written about the relationship between “fun” and “happy” before—and this is an excellent time of year to slow down the fun to focus on happy.

On our way home from New York last week, I said to Dave, “Can we have a day soon where we stay in our pajamas all day and read a really good book?” and that’s how Reading Day was born. We negotiated the guidelines, took notes, and set up our schedule. Here is the proof of our ultimate nerdiness:

bookday_notes

Our first official Reading Day will be held on January 1. I know! We are party animals.

Here’s the deal: We’re going to prep in advance all of the annoying, daily maintenance things a human usually has to do to take care of itself—counting out supplements, measuring the loose tea into the tea infuser, prepping vegetables and protein for meals—then on Reading Day, we can loll around in our pajamas all day with nothing more taxing to do than reheat food and make the incredibly important decision about whether to lie in bed or sit on the couch. (Or recline on the couch!)

We’ve decided that phones, computers, and television are off limits, unless Dave wants to look something up on the internet or make digital notes; social media surfing and email are strictly forbidden.

I’m ridiculously excited about Reading Day, especially the staying in my pajamas part of the deal. I encourage you to try to find a day in your schedule over the next few weeks to fully relax and recharge, too. If reading isn’t your thing, you could declare Game Day at your house and play tabletop games with your near and dear — Dave has shared his recommendations for excellent family games below.

Here’s the schedule we put together so we can have the ultimate Reading Day, along with a list of some of my favorite books, just in case you want to curl up with a good read, too.

iheartbooks

Reading Day -3
1

Buy groceries to make the food listed below

Reading Day -2
1

Prep food for Reading Day dinner:
Make Chocolate Chili
Make roasted sweet potatoes

2

Select reading material

Reading Day -1
1

Prep food for Reading Day breakfast:
Brown 2 pounds ground beef
Make steam-sautéed vegetables

2

Prep food for Reading Day lunch:
Make Tuna Salad: Mediterranean or Waldorf or Fiesta or Firecracker
Make Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup
Cut up raw veggies

3

Prep supplements for Reading Day

4

Prep tea cups for Reading Day

5

Clean up email; alert friends/family of 36-hour computer blackout

6

Charge Kindle (or Nook or whatever)

Reading Day!
1

Wake up, no alarm

2

Reading, in bed

3

Breakfast

4

Reading, location TBD

5

Lunch

6

1-hour walk

7

Reading, location TBD

8

Dinner

9

Reading, in bed

Reading Day +1
1

Breakfast

2

Ease back into email, phone calls, work, etc. No email, social media, etc. before 10:00 a.m.

Some of My Favorite Books

The books I love to read fall broadly into three categories: page-turning thrillers with badass, detective-type characters that don’t take any crap from anybody and have a dark view of humanity; nonfiction history books about daring and, potentially, doomed adventures; and sweeping fiction—perhaps historical— that introduces me to engaging characters and takes me somewhere far away, perhaps with a little sprinkle of fantasy thrown into the mix, but not too much. Other book catnip: World War II and characters talking about books or writing books or cherishing books. Also: secrets, preferably dramatically revealed with a flourish. And the ending needn’t necessarily be happy, but it can’t be hopeless. I will not stand for hopelessness.

For Reading Day this time around, I’ve settled on The Museum of Extraordinary Things because I want to be delighted. (I hope I’ve chosen wisely!) I just finished reading a very noir thriller, and I’ve been reading Jane Eyre on and off for a week or so (as I do every year), and I’m planning to start The Long Way Home next, a mystery starring Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec. It will surely be chilly in tone and setting; yummy!

But in between I want something sweet and magical. This is the description of The Museum of Extraordinary Things:

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman and the Butterfly Girl. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance. And he ignites the heart of Coralie.

Alice Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a tender and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is, “a lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people” (The New York Times Book Review).

One billion percent yes to that.

With all of the above in mind, here are some of my favorite books, just in case you want to have your own Reading Day. (As always, if you use the Amazon links below to buy something, I get a little kickback. The government really wants me to tell you that.)

books1

The  Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
Ah, romance… plus magic, a long-running feud, a circus that seems to be equal parts sinister and sweet. I started this book on a flight from Europe to New York a few years ago, and I didn’t even mind being cramped in a seat for 7 hours. This book took me somewhere else entirely.

In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides
This was a sweeping, soaring, old-fashioned adventure story of a turn-of-the-century expedition to the North Pole. It’s got cads and romance and brotherhood and misadventure and just about everything you want in a nonfiction page-turner. I read it this year and loved it very much.

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Daniel Mendelsohn
This is a real-life mystery about family, the Holocaust, and the things that drive us. It can be a tough read at times, but it’s completely satisfying. One of the best books I’ve read; it’s on my “Re-read this year” list.

The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
The movie paled in comparison to this wholly engrossing and moving book. It somehow manages to be heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. A beautifully written story that’s also wildly entertaining.

books2

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
I’ve read The Historian four times, and this time, I found this cool web site (called Vampire Travels!) that has photos of many of the sites mentioned in the novel.  For those of you that haven’t read it three times, it tells the story of academic researchers who begin to suspect that Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a., Dracula, is real, and maybe still alive. It’s told through letters and diaries, and includes romance, adventure, travel, food, and plenty of spine-tingling surprises. Here’s what I’ve said about this book before: This book instantly engages my imagination. It’s just spooky enough to make me think twice about walking into the darkened backyard without a flashlight, and the travel descriptions are so evocative, it makes me want to write lengthy letters home from a train somewhere with foreign accents.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
This is some moody, atmospheric storytelling. The Woman in White is widely recognized as the first mystery novel, and it’s spooky, beautifully written, and — to keep things interesting — is told through the voices of many narrators. Each chapter moves the story forward by having a different character share their tale. There’s a little bit of a lag in the very last section, but it picks up full steam just before the end.

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
This has all my favorite things: references to Jane Eyre, gothic elements, a heroine who loves books, a mysterious author, and long-held secrets. LOVE!

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The most important thing to know about this novel is that it features a magical place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Plus, there’s romance and the threat of war and defy-all-odds friendship. I also really enjoyed The Prisoner of Heaven, which revisits the characters from The Shadow of the Wind.

books3

The Way Men Act, Isabel’s Bed, and The Inn At Lake Devine, Elinor Lipman
These are the literary equivalent of a really good rom-com, more like When Harry Met Sally,.. and less like New Year’s Eve. The Way Men Act is about friendship and love and finding yourself in a small town. Isabel’s Bed is about a writer finding her voice and having many misadventures along the way. The Inn at Lake Devine is about loyalty, romance, and racism; it might be my favorite of the three, but I love them all. Her other books are good, too, but I think these are best.

Berlin Noir Trilogy: March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem, Philip Kerr
The Philip Kerr books are like a magic transport to another time: more dangerous, more romantic, more desperate, more stylish, more nuanced. He brings World War II to life in a way that no pure history book can do, and his all-too-human characters, struggling to do the right thing under terrible circumstances, have taught me plenty about politics, history, and the human spirit. His hero Bernie Gunther really got under my skin and stuck in my imagination for a long time.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
My love for Jane Eyre is well-documented. I re-read it every January (and sometimes mid-year, just ’cause). It’s entertaining, moving, enlightening, and satisfying every time.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde shows us the vast differences between who we are, who we think we are, and how the world sees us.

books4

A Room With A View, E. M. Forster
A sweet, funny, romantic story that pokes fun at the over-the-top stuffiness of Victorian manners, describes both Italy and England with details you can taste, and celebrates love and struggle in equal parts. I always finish reading it with a contented sigh.

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
I LOVED this story of a Jinni and Golem that, for odd and unique reasons, find themselves in turn-of-the-century New York. It’s enchanting, fun, and sometimes quite sad and frustrating. I will definitely be reading it again, which is the highest praise I can give a story.

Slovakia: Fall in the Heart of Europe, Marek Bennett
This is a ridiculously delightful graphic travelogue of Marek’s trip to visit family and teach English in Slovakia. He addresses cultural differences, family, and racism with a light tone, thanks to all of the characters appearing as animals.

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larsen
Totally engrossing. It’s the story of America’s first serial killer, overlapping with the trials and triumphs of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The audacity of both the heroes and the villain will take your breath away.

mysteryseries

Any and all of the Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood
I read all 20 of them this year (!), and they are super fun. I fell madly in love with the TV show and the heroine: a socialite in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. She’s a veteran (ambulance driver) of WWI, and decided to use her wealth and social influence to become a lady detective. Her outfits are outrageously beautiful, and she has thoroughly modern ideas about sex, equal rights, and justice. If you don’t want to read the books, watch the DVDs (also on Netflix!)… or do both!

Any and all of the mysteries by Dick Francis
He created characters with so much heart, and all of his stories are centered in subcultures — horse racing, the world of wine, photography, film making — so you learn cool tidbits about other peoples’ live while sorting out the latest murder. My favorites are The Edge, set on a train crossing the Canadian Rockies, and the series of books featuring the character Sid Halley.

Any and all of the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny
The stories are set in a village outside Montreal, and the weather is often as much of a character in the story as the people. At first these feel like traditional cozy mysteries, but then an underlying darkness emerges that makes them very compelling. I also love the sweet relationship between Gamache and his family; a little lightness to balance the murders. These are best read in order because there are plot lines that carry through the series.

Any and all of the Elizabeth George mysteries
Set in England, they follow a set of characters through decades of friendship, murders, and mayhem. The more recent ones aren’t as good as the older ones, but I still enjoy catching up with the characters. Definitely read them in order. If you like British mysteries, the contrast between cold-blooded murder and hot tea, and people with deeply-hidden motives, you’ll probably love these books.

Tabletop Game Recommendations

My husband Dave is the grand champion of picking out tabletop games that are fun to play and a little bit unexpected. Hope you have as much fun with these as we have.

games

Mice and Mystics
This is a collaborative fantasy adventure game featuring a tale of a castle that’s been taken over by an evil sorceress. All the players choose the characters they’ll represent as they play their way through the story. Two words: Magician Mouse. (We got this for Christmas ourselves!) Watch a review here.

Survive Escape From Atlantis
Get your people off of a sinking island! Avoid the sharks and the sea monsters! Here are two women talking about the game.

King of Tokyo
A fast dice game where you play a giant monster duking it out with other giant monsters to rule Tokyo. I love love love dice games! Watch Wil Wheaton playing it with his friends!

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Comments

  • Rach says:

    Aw, I LOVE this idea! Says the girl who just got a new Kindle for Christmas 🙂 I’ve read The Historian at least twice, might be time to go again since we’re having a snow day here. And thanks for the reminder about The Book Thief – I’ve been meaning to scoop that up for ages and somehow kept forgetting.

  • Diana says:

    This is an amazing idea. I just started the Louise Penny books! They’re like a Canadian Agatha Christie! The Phryne Fisher Mysteries sound like something I need in my life.

    • I just started the new Inspector Gamache last night, after finishing The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Reading those Gamache books is like visiting with old friends — so much fun!

  • Suzan Robertson says:

    I love a lot of those books you recommended. I also love books by Alan Furst and James Lee Burke. Check them out. I adore the idea of reading day! I think I’ll incorporate that into my schedule at least once a month. BTW, I also love Miss Fisher DVD’s. 🙂 Happy New Year!

    • I love Alan Furst and James Lee Burke, too! How fun that we have the same taste in books!

      Last year, I was on an Alan Furst kick and read a whole bunch in a row — then I had to read something light because man! that was a lot of war and intrigue 😉

  • Beth says:

    To make things easy on myself this coming year, I might just take the list of books you’ve listed, minus the handful I’ve already read, and consider it my 2015 reading list. I have yet to not enjoy a book I’ve discovered via your blog and I’m all about making life easier. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah says:

    I listened to The Museum of Extraordinary Things (unabridged) audiobook as we drove from New Hampshire to Washington this past summer. (We also tackled a cross-country move this year.) I loved it!

  • Kay says:

    I was wondering if you have ever read the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon? I enjoyed the history and the relationships. Plus they are long.

  • MzChrz says:

    Happy New Year!

    I have read many of the books you’ve listed and can assure you that you will be wild about The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Some of the books are new to me and I will be devouring them avidly. May I recommend Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series to you if you like detective novels? Matthew Scudder is a recovering alcoholic, a wonderful character and every book has been a “can’t put it down” for me. Mr. Block is quite prolific and has many stand alone books in addition to the Scudder series.

    I am having a big adventure this year; moving back to Philadelphia (my home town) alone after 37 years in California (SoCal and NoCal). Your blog has made me feel like I have a friend on my food/lifestyle/reinvention journey and I thank you for your humor, candor and inspiration.

    Happy eating and happy reading.

  • Amanda Towne says:

    I love Louise Penny & Dick Francis. Excellent books!

  • Ellen says:

    For a real getaway I love Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series, taking place in Venice. . Warning: contains many delicious food scenes.

  • Kimberly Austin says:

    I did reading day on December 30 – 31st! I am up early now doing my week food prep for my Week one Whole 30.

    Enjoy your day!

  • Michelle says:

    I so dearly love your book recommendations. I finally read Jane Eyre after reading how much you and Shauna Ahern love it, and it was as wonderful as you promised. I’m curious to hear what you think of the latest Jane Eyre movie; I really liked the score and cinematography, but I prefer the Charlotte Gainsbourg version.

    I read Cutting for Stone at Shauna’s recommendation, and it was my favorite book of the year. I loved Eleanor & Park and Attachments for the pure, sweet, rom-com brain candy. The Boys in the Boat was a great page-turner in the manner of Unbroken, which I also loved. I really enjoyed the first few books in the Outlander series, but I got bogged down in the later books.

    I hope you thoroughly enjoyed your Reading Day!

    • My favorite version of Jane Eyre is the 4-hour BBC adaptation. Second favorite is the 2011 version, then Charlotte Gainsbourg version (which was my #1 for a long time). I think the Charlotte Gainsbourg version handles some of the scenes better than any of them, but overall, the BBC version kills it. Have you seen it? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780362/

      Thanks for the book recommendations; will check them out!

  • Lisa Houde says:

    Melissa,

    I’m a youth librarian in NH and feel as though I’ve met a kindred spirit in you!

    My all time favorite book has been Jane Eyre since high school, and contemporary favorites include The Shadow of the Wind and The Thirteenth Tale. You might consider also reading (if you haven’t already) People of the Book by Brooks, and The Raven Boys series by Stiefvater.

    Today was day one for me and my spouse Sylvia, and I’m giddy over discovering your most fantastic website. The recipes are scrumptious, and I’m eager to make more after today’s Moroccan dipping sauce and cucumber salad.

    I loved the concept and nerdy planning of reading day. You rock!

    Looking forward to your updates, more fun recipes, and, bonus! …feeling better and being healthy…finally in my life!

    Thanks for being such a fun inspiration, Melissa!

    Lisa.

    • Thanks for the recommendations; I’m not familiar with those two, so I’ll check them out. YAY new books!

      Congratulations on Whole30-ing! Hope you have a wonderful month.

      I LOVED The Museum of Extraordinary Things and, completely unbeknownst to be before I started it, it references Jane Eyre quite prominently. Bronte’s book is significant to one of the characters and the book gets passed around to other characters, influencing them, too. Hoe awesome is that!?

      • Lisa says:

        I just grabbed Hoffman’s Museum from the library shelf for this weekend – thanks for the recommendation, and *sobbing* about the references to Jane Eyre – how lovely. You must have been swooning!

        Glad your reading day was a success! Please let me know (if you get to read it/them) if you find The Raven Boys as lyrical, magical, and beautiful as I did! When I finish the books, I miss all the characters so much…

        Day One Complete; Day Two underway, and I’m even embracing my withdrawal headache! 🙂 YAAAAAAAY! Making Chocolate Chili for dinner. Thanks again, Melissa!

        • I *just* sent the first Raven Boys to my Kindle! For what it’s worth, I’m on Day 5, and I’m super cranky. My brain wants more grain-free cookies 😉 Ah, Whole30. It’s the best-worst. Enjoy your chili!

  • Lisa says:

    Hope your Reading Day was a glorious success!

    If you like a World War II setting and characters talking about writing and cherishing books you might enjoy The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The format is entirely letters written between the characters. I listened to it as an audio book and LOVED the accents for the various characters. (English accents (both city and country folks), as well as a few French accents and one American.)

    For Non-Fiction WW2 I loved The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (set in Holland/Germany) and more recently Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Hawaii/Japan).

    Thank you for sharing so much of your story both here and in your cookbooks! I appreciate your generous spirit. My daughter bought both of your cookbooks and I have used them so much that I need to buy her replacement copies 🙂 (I just took a large pan of roasted cauliflower out of the oven!)

    • Reading Day was everything I hoped it would be! The Museum of Extraordinary Things exceeded my expecatations, and it was the perfect book for Reading Day. I started it at 7:00 a.m. and finished it just before dinner at 7:30 p.m. So awesome!

      I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society a few years ago adn LOVED it! That’s a perfect recommendation; makes me think you totally ‘get’ the books I like. YAY!

      Thanks for the nonfiction recommendations. I need to check those out!

  • Janet O'Brian says:

    What was the “very noir thriller”?

  • Irene Penny says:

    Great book suggestions… I am going to check out the Phryne Fisher mysteries–right up my alley! My xFit coach introduced me to Well Fed and I LOVE the systematic approach to food prep, tasty recipes and your sassy writing style. Very cool & thank you!

  • Carrie says:

    Thanks for all these suggestions.
    Question for Dave – can you recommend a game for first time player? Something not too complicated?

  • Carrie says:

    2 or 4 people.
    Average age is 50!
    All nerds.
    Probably would prefer a game that could be completed in about an hour…

    • Ranging from simple to more complex:

      ‘Can’t Stop’ is a ‘betcha can’t stop after one’ kind of game where you test your luck with dice.

      ‘King of Tokyo’ (above) almost hits those requirements — it’s best with 3 or 4, and plays something like Yahtzee, but with more giant monsters.

      ‘Carcassonne’ is a lovely tile game where you and your friends build out a countryside with towns, fields, and roads.

      And ‘Forbidden Island’ is a collaborative game where you and your friends are trying to find a lost artifact while an island sinks away beneath you.

      You can find out how to play any of these games by going to YouTube and typing in ‘How to play X game’, where you substitute the X with the name of the game you’re interested in. ‘Review X game’ will also work if you just want to hear more.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • MichelleB says:

    Yay another Jane Eyre fan!! My favorite book of ALL TIME!!! I added your other suggestions to my shelfari book list…can’t wait to READ more this year! 🙂

  • Linda Sand says:

    I highly recommend the Maisy Dobbs mystery series set in 1920s England. Also best read in sequence. Daisy was a below stairs maid who became a private investigator and is every bit as unusual as Phryne.

  • Sarah Hosking says:

    What an excellent idea. The last few years my reading has been almost only non-fiction (usually how to improve something in my life). Novel reading now only happens on my slower summer vacations.

    Was just wondering when I could fit in a reading day when I realized my birthday is this Thursday!

    And, thanks to Well Food & the NomNomPaleo cookbooks, my fridge is stocked with enough Whole30 fare to see me through the day, yahoo.

    I too loooved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so will look over your reading recs again to pick a book for Thurs. So far, am leaning towards Book Thief or The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

    Have you read 84, Charing Cross Road?

    • Dave did a Reading Day for his birthday once and still talks about how much he enjoyed it. Happy (early) Bday to you! And happy Whole30-ing, too! Both The Book Thief and The Museum of Extraordinary Things are a wonderful way to lose a day in a story. You can’t go wrong with either one!

      I haven’t read 84, Charing Cross Road, but having just read the description, it sounds like I would love it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Sue says:

    This was such a great post. I’m sure it took you a while to put it together in such an informative and well-thought way and I appreciate it. I read it and put all the books I had not read or listed on my Goodreads list (which I probably couldn’t read in a lifetime, but we shall see). I love the idea of a reading day! One of my goals is to read more in 2015, so it would be good to do these every once in a while. Currently I’m reading Inferno by Dan Brown and while I like it, it isn’t quite the motivating read that Angels and Demons and Davinci Code was for me. I watch Inspector Lyndley and the Fisher Mysteries (and all the other British mystery shows on PBS and BBC), so reading the books sounds like a great way to go! 🙂 Mysteries are by far my favorites but some of these others sound quite compelling as well. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  • Julie R says:

    Thank you for the game suggestions. They are all on our wish list!

  • Donna says:

    I hope your reading day was a huge success, Melissa! I am currently making my way through my winter reading list. I finished A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout last week. Highly, highly recommend it! Currently working my way through Cutting for Stone.

    I’ve got 12 books on my winter reading list. But I’ll be adding A Room with a View and The Book Thief to the millions of books I already want to read this year!

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Stephanie says:

    Love this idea! Thanks also for the book recommendations. I added several to my TBR list for 2015.

    These were some of my top reads from the past year: http://www.stephaniesheaffer.com/top-14-books-2014/. 🙂

  • Tara says:

    You MUST read Kristin Hanna’s The Nightingale immediately. You will NOT be disappointed.

  • Snugster says:

    * characters talking about books or writing books or cherishing books.* I savored Howard’s End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill (look for an Ian Fleming appearance). Another savor is your The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat. So Good. Love your blog!