Summer Reading

Having gotten myself and my stuff by various paths back to Southern California (though I am at a loss to say we all arrived in one piece, as said stuff has yet to be unpacked, and cannot be unpacked until a date by which the promise of moving-company reimbursement will no doubt have passed), and having dealt with the year’s worth of nonsense mail that piled up in the office, and having passed on the manuscript of my Stupid Book to a couple of friendly readers, and having done what organizational tasks can actually be accomplished at this point —

— having done all that, I recognized this weekend that I exist in the blissful and much too rare state of having Nothing in Particular to Do. And thus, I spent the weekend lying around reading summer novels and watching summer DVD releases.

I read one book that has topped the bestseller lists for some weeks, which I found moving and fluid, and wildly inappropriate as a birthday gift for the aunt to whom I’d sent it last month.

I read another, recommended to me by the highest of authorities (authorities whom, it may interest you to know, have now moved on to the book above) but, while the book was a fast-paced, congenial read, it has nonetheless caused a significant revision in my list of the top-ten fictional characters I’d most like to slap around.

I also watched two movies recently released on DVD, one of which I found thoroughly charming, if perhaps not quite worthy of an entire companion DVD of “special features,” and the other of which left me with a bad taste in my mouth, the acrid after-effects of a very very High Concept that simply doesn’t pay off (despite a brilliant performance by a former Dancer, of the Dirty variety).

The end result of all of which is more reading, catching up on some things I meant to read two years ago, and anxiously anticipating the release of some other things yet to come.


  1. Have you read Colson Whitehead yet? I found The Intuitionist interesting and compelling, but was just blown away by the scope of John Henry Days when I finally read it earlier this summer. It’s ambitious, in a good way.

  2. I actually read both of them last summer (and was just talking to somebody about them yesterday). I, too, was impressed with the scope of John Henry Days, which I quite enjoyed. I was far more compelled by The Intuitionist, however, in its play with the — would it be a metaphor? — of the elevator realm, in its play of postmodernist motifs (the ideological nature of empiricism, for instance) against a backdrop almost ruthlessly modernist, and in its attempts to imagine Lila Mae’s otherness from multiple perspectives, making the book about (as Val Smith would say) not just race, not just gender, but both, and more.

    But it could just be that The Intuitionist played into stuff I was already thinking about. John Henry Days was great, but didn’t really intersect so much with the things already in my head.

  3. Interesting that you bring this up, Steve — I just finished JHD. I liked it (particularly liked the whole sendup of the Village Voice culture in the ‘80’s — I remember that sense of those bylines and personalities being so important, I’m sure I would have suffered a massive deflation had I the chance to go and work there), liked its choice of subject and its scope, but it had nothing of the hold on me that The Intuitionist did. That novel was amazing in that it took one hilarious/clever idea and used it to smuggle in a much more serious story, which was also extraordinarily compact in the telling. JHD, unfortunately, suffers by comparison.

    Which is too bad, because it is a pretty good book — better IMHO than, say, Lovely Bones, which I read with interest but came away feeling like there wasn’t anything to think or talk about as the result of reading: not to slam it at all, but I think by halfway through the text the author’s vagueness about heaven and her uncertain control of the 14-year-old narrator’s voice combine to make the whole thing seem rather weightless.

    Still, it’s a damn sight better than most of what’s selling like hotcakes, so more freakin’ power to her, I think.

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