Mark Ballard’s Vacation Reading List

Mark Ballard is the President of BankChampaign.; he writes about investments at Mark’s Investment Blog.


Most of the time I have to read boring economic reports and forecasts, financial statements from the 200+ companies I follow for our clients, and regulatory guidance from the Comptroller of the Currency. So when I go on vacation, I like to find books that are as far removed from these financial publications as possible.

Vacation reading is always for pleasure. Whether its crime novels from Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, fantasy books in the Game of Thrones genre, or comedic novels like Matt Ruff’s Fool On The Hill or his Sewer, Gas and Electric, I just roll wherever my mood leads me.

Skink - No Surrender by Carl HiassenThis vacation, I rented a house on the southern coast of Portugal with a group of friends. Lots of pool, beach and boat time allowed me to indulge myself in one of my all-time favorite writers Carl Hiaasen. On this particular trip I read five of the seven books in his Skink series.

Skink you ask?

The books in order are: Double Whammy, Native Tongue, Stormy Weather, Sick Puppy, Skinny Dip, Star Island, and Skink – No Surrender. Each one has a separate storyline that can only be described as comedic crime novel. The main characters in each novel are different, but each has a set of minor characters that are tangential to but also critical to the resolution of the plot. The central minor character is a man called Skink (but also occasionally called Governor and/or Captain).

Double Whammy by Carl HiassenSkink is the assumed persona of Clinton Tyree, ex-governor of Florida from the 1970’s, who has gone off the deep-end and now resides in the wilderness of Southern Florida, whether it be the Everglades or in the swampy areas of the Florida Keyes.

The novels all include eccentric native Floridians and their interactions with transplants from the North. Skink’s sole mission in life is to try to preserve as much of undeveloped Florida as he can. While Governor, he tried to pass legislation that would freeze all development, cut back on tourism and protect what remains of the native landscape. Naturally, he ran afoul of special interests, politicians, developers, and bankers (we always get a bad rap, eh?) who joined forces to fight his efforts. One day he snapped, left the capital, and ended his term in office by having his personal body guard, Jim Tile (who is in the present books as a Florida State Trooper, marginalized by being one of the few African Americans in that career), drive him into the sunset.

Stormy Weather by Carl HiassenLiving in the wilderness, Skink is described by Hiaasen as tall, muscular, deeply tanned with long silver hair with a glass eye that is somewhat larger than his normal eye and crimson in color. Many of the female lead characters in the series are attracted to him despite his antics (eating road kill, shooting at tourist busses, and tormenting all sorts of developers who try to pave over what is left of Florida’s undeveloped land).

Skink is generally involved in resolution of the central crime of the novel and somehow always manages to fade back into the wilderness after he saves the day and the environment. Much of the time, his immense collection of books (which are stored in junker cars abandoned in the marshlands), many of which are first editions, come somehow into play as does his love of 1960’s and 1970’s classic rock music.

If you are looking for a new read that doesn’t tax your mind too much but that does provide some laughs and leaves you curious about what happens next to Skink and Jim Tile, I can definitely recommend these Carl Hiaasen books as an enjoyable way to spend a vacation or just some down time here at home.

–Mark Ballard

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About iprh

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1997 to promote interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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