Summer Reading List
As a kid, my grade school would give awards in September to those students dorky enough to squander the precious summer months by reading books. The kicker is, I read loads of books, but was too lazy to put together a page long summary of each book I had read. What a pain in the ass. Besides, the librarian at Vose Elementary, Mrs. Hamilton, would never reveal the exact nature of the award, making me suspicious that it was something along the lines of a bedazzled bookmark or a rubber stamp in the shape of a paper clip.
Right, so summer is drawing to a close and maybe I’m looking to make amends for past practices of sloth. Here in Dublin the tepid showers of the season are fast being replaced by autumn’s colder rains. I didn’t find myself lolling on the beach over the last few months, but I still managed to find quite a bit of leisure time to take in some recreational reading. In an effort to appease the ghost of Mrs. Hamilton and possibly win a Dukes of Hazzard pencil case, here’s the run down on some books I read this summer.
Next week’s post: what I did on my summer vacation.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco:
The only thing I knew of Eco was that he had written In the Name of the Rose, later to be turned into a movie that had that one super hot scene of Christian Slater in his monk’s robe getting it on with some peasant wench on a bearskin rug in front of a fire…er, something like that. Oh, and James Bond was in it too. No need to read that one since I had seen the film. Instead, I picked up Queen Loana, based solely on the fact that it contained loads of colourful* pictures and it was on sale.
Tracing the attempt of Yambo, a stroke victim, to recover his lost memories, Eco explores the extent to which we are moulded by what we read as children and young adults. Secluding himself in his childhood home and surrounded by mementos of his past, Yambo re-examines everything he read between the ages of roughly 4 to 15. He slowly begins to piece together bits of his forgotten past and even solves a mystery. However, the question of why he is named after what sounds like a soup containing ham and sweet potato remains shrouded in uncertainty.
The Twilight Saga, Books 3 & 4 by Stephenie Meyer
I have absolutely no memory of what happened in this book beyond the vampire and the werewolf didn’t seem to get along. Seriously, I’m sitting at my computer right now retracing the progression of the series. Let’s review. Twilight, we meet vampires and a moody teenaged girl in Washington State. New Moon, vampires leave, girl stays, werewolves show up. Eclipse, some kind of trouble. Breaking Dawn, see below.
Okay, this is where the series went off the rails. Up until now I was all about the angsty longing of Bella for Edward and the subsequent rush of adolescent hormones once they get together, but marriage? Pregnancy first time outta the gate? Monster babies that chew up their mother’s womb? WTF is going on? I’m afraid it all got way too loopy for me. I foresee a generation of young girls growing into very young women and longing to get knocked up so they can go live in a specially constructed cottage and have hot sex with their vampire grooms each and every night. Eventually, their half-breed child will grow up to be not a child, but a really attractive friend. No one will get fat, everyone will have great clothes and sports cars available only to the Saudi royal family will be hers for the asking. Good luck!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt:
Here’s an example of something I rarely do, I reread a past favourite. First published in 1992 when I was teetering on the brink of my twenties, this book had a major impact on my desire for higher education and my dietary habits. After reading it, I found myself craving cream cheese and orange marmalade sandwiches and wondering if a course of study in ancient Greek might be a good way to go. (Turns out, classics might be the one major that is even MORE useless than either art history or film studies. Thank God I dodged that bullet.)
Following the doings of six undergrads at a fairly prestigious New England college (modelled on Tartt’s alma matar Bennington), The Secret History explores how this secretive group of classics students find themselves embroiled in murder and the subsequent cover up. Split into two halves, before the murder and after, this is a fantastic addition to your reading list, be it summer or otherwise.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers:
I ignored Eggers’ freshman effort back in 2000 based solely on the fact that everyone was talking about the amazing autobiography by this 30 year old guy. Cute, funny, self-deprecating and sincere. Hot girls in glasses were all in a tizzy at his readings. The force behind Might and McSweeney’s had segued his quirky style from periodical to prose. I wanted nothing to do with it. What a bunch of sheep. But then in July, a friend of mine gave me a dog-eared copy and said she didn’t really get it. I was in. It was confusing? Hard to follow? Well then, I was going to get to the bottom of it. What I found was the compelling story of Eggers at the age of 22 and the death of his parents, within 30 days of each other, and the scramble to establish a new life for Eggers’ 8 year old little brother.
Balancing humour, pathos and brutal honesty Eggers never spares himself even when he appears confused, narcissistic or down right in over his head. The self-conscious involvement of the opening acknowledgements might be unforgivable if they weren’t so completely entertaining. Later copies of the book include an addendum, Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, which offers answers to all the questions that arise in the original text. Well worth the read.
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño:
I was given this book by a visiting guest over the summer. Since I still have a fair bit of hero worship for this guest, left over from our high school years together, I had great expectations for this read. Also, it was featured in some video by ultra-hipster, Jason Schwartzman. God, I was going to be so in the know. Turns out, this is a story about poets in Mexico during the 1970s. If there are three things I hate, it’s poets in Mexico during the 1970s. People don’t seem to bathe much, there’s talk of political art, and everyone wears really tight jeans, or at least I think they do and jeans in hot weather make me uncomfortable. However, there are lots of explicit bits where poets get busy with other poets…so I guess that was kinda good. Nonetheless, I stopped after page 157.
*These spellings speak to the authenticity of my residence. Also, I’m too lazy to figure out how to reset my spell check to American English.