Please suggest something beautiful, appropriate, challenging, and substantive to read in a beautiful place--California setting a plus, but not absolutely essential.
In a couple weeks, I will be headed to Santa Barbara (California) for a few days to meet up with my husband, who is a visiting researcher at UCSB for a few weeks. He has been rhapsodizing about the place, describing it in paradisical terms (and if any jaded West Coasters think "paradisical" hyperbolic, please keep in mind that we are Midwesterners who have just survived yet another dreary prairie winter).
I expect to do lots of touristy things and bird- and sea-critter-watching, but I also hope to spend some time just hanging out on the beach while he's working, and for that (and the longish time I will spend in flight and in airports) I need some reading material worthy of what I expect will be my gorgeous surroundings.
I read pretty widely, but I tend to prefer what someone else has described as "fruitcake books
" (great term!). What I'm looking for here are books that you think are perfect, or very nearly so. Uplifting, but not necessarily "feel-good"--more humanistic than anything else. Books that are so vivid and so suffused with place that they transport you there, that are impossible to put down, and the end of which you deeply regret reaching, but when you do reach the end, you put them down believing that they are perfect
Some of my favorites (these are pretty well-known): Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War
or A Winter's Tale
, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain
, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera
, anything of Louise Erdrich
's, Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop
Non-fiction is also great--Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light
about his travels in Afghanistan, Douglas Preston's Cities of Gold
, in which he traces the route of Coronado across the Southwest in pursuit of the Seven Cities of Cibola, Wallace Stegner's The Hundredth Meridian
, or Erik Larsen's The Devil in the White City
come to mind, although I'd rather not read about Chicago right now, or about serial killers--I want something that, while it doesn't shy away from the dark and disturbing, ends up giving the reader something to hope for, as I'm kind of burned out on life and I need that right now. (So, not Ron Rash's Serena
--for the moment, I've had enough of large-scale sociopaths and predators from reading about the Koch brothers and their minions.) And no subway reads or anything resembling Eat Pray Love
or The Kite Runner
I hope my query isn't terribly redundant--I've also read this question
; however, I suspect that the capacity of metafilterites for great--and specific--recommendations is infinite. As I said, in particular, I'm looking for beauty and hope and possibly California (Thomas Pynchon
novels and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert
are currently my only real literary connection to the place). As I'm traveling light, I'd like works that are available on Kindle, but if it's really, really all-engrossing, I'm willing to lug along a physical copy.