Most vacations are made infinitely better by a good book to inspire mental wandering. Augment your free time (if you're lucky enough to have it) with these books, written or recommended by the panelists at the Vacation Matters Summit. (U.S. residents will also want to check out Ken Burns’ new documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, airing September 27 on PBS.)
Affluenza by John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor
A smart, concise look at the spread of affluenza, "a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." De Graaf is the editor of Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, a handbook of sorts for Take Back Your Time, containing 30 essays.
Work to Live by Joe Robinson
Robinson is a work-life balance coach for major corporations and the latest edition of his book has the latest stats on productivity and vacation plus tools to reassess your work life.
Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska
Andrews is the author of Slow is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre, and a charismatic speaker who dispels the “hairshirt” myth of simplicity with humor.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi has been a leading voice in positive psychology for more than a decade. His seminal work, which was updated in 2008, talks about achieving flow, the state of being fully — but calmly and happily — immersed in a task, a phenomenon that can’t happen without focused attention. For a preview of his arguments, check out his 2004 TED talk.
Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Can't Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone (Stanford Politics and Policy) by Jody Heymann and Alison Earle
This highly anticipated book (available November 18) details a Stanford University study that compared work-life balance policies and working conditions throughout the world.
American Mania: When More Is Not Enough by Peter C. Whybrow
Whybrow is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, Los Angeles. His observations on the America’s consumer culture have roots in neurobiology — for example, the instinct to be cruel came before the instinct to be kind and therefore the latter needs more nurturing — and are complemented by an economic perspective.
Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson
A history of our dwindling attention spans and a call to refocus on qualitative experiences.
Allies of the Earth: Railroads And the Soul of Preservation by Alred Runte
Runte brings to the forefront a case for American rail that tends to get lost in facts and figures — the joy of traveling through open spaces and designing transportation that is harmonious with landscape.
The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley
A whopping 960 pages on the 26th U.S. President through the lens of the experiences and people that influenced his conservationist policies.
A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster
John Muir was the father of the U.S. conservation movement and the first president of the Sierra Club. Muir’s ideas on the value of nature, and his successes are particularly relevant now as we try to protect what’s left of our natural resources.
American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short by Robert Wuthnow
Wuthnow dissects the narratives that contribute to America’s mythos, and advocates reflective democracy. “The mythic dimensions of culture need to be taken seriously enough for us to reflect on their meaning. In doing so, we gain the chance to decide whether these are the assumptions we want to govern our lives.”
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich
A wide-ranging history of public celebration, Dancing in the Streets also explores why repressive cultures try to control such rituals.
I would add to this list Elsewhere, U.S.A. by Dalton Conley, which explores the evolution of time poverty and its effects on the American psyche, and is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
This article is part of a weeklong guest author series on sustainability issues in travel and tourism. Read more:
Vacation Matters: North American Summit Looks at Time Poverty and Vacation Law
Carissa Bluestone is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. She helped create Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, and continues to consult on Worldchanging’s book ventures. A former editor at Fodor’s Travel Publications, she has spent 10 years in the travel publishing world, editing and contributing to guidebooks and online publications.
Image: flickr/Adria Richards, Creative Commons license.
Thanks for such a wonderful collection of book recommendations. I look forward to reading many of them. I was struck by your parenthetical comment, urging us to read these books in our free time, - "if you're lucky enough to have it." Ironically, I think that what some of these books are pointing to is that having free time is not a matter of luck, it's about consciously constructing our lives so that we have it, lest we just continue to feed the more, more, more ideology that is creating so much suffering in our world. Seems like a small point, and yet stories about our lives are often hidden in our language. I think that comment supports the idea that having free time is a luxury, which I don't agree with and you probably don't either. Creating time to read books, take naps, live slowly, do nothing are powerful ways to change the world.
Just a follow-up. I read your piece on Vacation Matters and the ensuing debates over increased vacation time. I realize your "lucky" comment was probably referring to that - if you're lucky enough to be granted essential free time by your workplace. You obviously get the importance of unstructured time. Thanks.