Summer books: The case for serious reading in the season of leisure
Recently, reminiscences of these long-ago days have been introduced dwelling to me with a pang: In late April, I drove to Lorain, Ohio, to assist my sisters filter out the home the place we’d grown up. For three days, I boxed up my outdated books, papers, letters and varied childhood treasures, then packed them into an growing older Mazda SUV. There wasn’t time for nostalgia, although, since 1031 West twenty ninth St. can be bought at a sheriff’s public sale on April 26 for the nonpayment of taxes. It went for $66,000. As to how and why this traumatic occasion happened — nicely, that’s one other story, as Kipling says so usually in “Plain Tales From the Hills.”
Since returning dwelling, I’ve been step by step sifting by means of these packing containers, most of them containing landmarks alongside the path of my early reading. Here, for occasion, is a big (7 by 10 inches) paperback of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo” as “Especially edited and abridged for The Golden Picture Classics by Edward Robinson” and “Illustrated by Hamilton Greene.” Published in 1957, it value 50 cents. I later saved as much as purchase three different Golden Picture Classics: “Robin Hood,” “The Three Musketeers” and “Around the World in 80 Days.” How I cherished all of them once I was 9!
The following 12 months, I apparently couldn’t resist a pair of novels titled “Cheyenne and the Lost Gold of Lion Park,” by Steve Frazee, and “Maverick,” by Charles I. Coombs, each based mostly on then-popular TV exhibits. Their shiny plasticky covers highlight the actors who starred as these western heroes: Clint Walker is proven at a campsite cleansing his rifle, whereas James Garner strides purposefully down the picket sidewalk of some dusty western city, likely en path to his subsequent poker recreation. For the longest time, I daydreamed of turning into knowledgeable riverboat gambler, even going as far as to discover ways to deal seconds from an in depth examine of “Scarne on Cards.” James Bond, you’ll recall, consults this identical John Scarne basic earlier than his epic bridge recreation with Hugo Drax in “Moonraker.”
Most of my childhood books will finally be given away, although the well-cared-for Raymond Chandler paperbacks will be a part of a run of that author’s first editions now on my cabinets. After all, it was in this 50-cent Pocket Book from 1965, titled “Trouble Is My Business,” that I first encountered the celebrated opening of Chandler’s “Red Wind”: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”
If any story belongs in the class of “summer reading,” that novella will surely make the lower, together with Albert Camus’ existential fever-dream, “The Stranger,” and W.F. Harvey’s horror-suspense story, “August Heat.” Still, I virtually actually didn’t learn “Red Wind” in the summer time. At no time did my father wish to see me with “my nose in a book” and by no means when the climate was good. “Reading,” he insisted, “is for the winter when you can’t go outside.” Besides, Dad would repeatedly level out, “you’re way too flabby. You need to put on some muscle.”
All these years later, I nonetheless discover it surprisingly arduous to learn for pleasure throughout the summer time. Shouldn’t I be making hay — or at the least slicing grass — whereas the solar shines? To reasonable my guilt, from June to early September, I consequently gravitate to serious, substantial books, the form that — on the floor at the least — appear extra like work than play. For instance, in July, I’m planning to assessment a brand new translation of Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” Maybe I’ll even get to Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene,” one of the titles on my “Better Late Than Never” bucket listing.
Yet, occupied with all this, ought to any of us waste our summers on the fashionable and ephemeral when lengthy stretches of empty time in July and August are perfect for sustained reading, even for analysis? After all, few pleasures equal the satisfaction of slowly (if by no means fairly) mastering some tiny nook of the world’s information. A couple of years in the past, two of my pals, neither in holy orders, truly spent a summer time reading Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica.”
That stated, serious reading doesn’t essentially imply toting volumes from the “Great Books of the Western World” to the seashores of the Eastern Shore. You may, for instance, chart a summer time round the maritime adventures of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, beginning with “Master and Commander.” If your job has shrunk your life to little greater than what the French name “Métro, boulot, dodo” — subway, work, sleep — you may most likely use the sparkiness of just a few Georgette Heyer romances or P.G. Wodehouse comedies.
Or how a few deep dive into the Battle of Gettysburg, the historical past of girls’s suffrage, Hollywood in the silent period, the Renaissance witch-craze or the teachings of Taoism? The bold may even survey excessive spots of Twentieth-century British fiction. Imagine 10 weeks spent with Ford Madox Ford’s “The Good Soldier,” Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall,” Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory,” Robert Graves’s “I, Claudius,” Ivy Compton-Burnett’s “Manservant and Maidservant,” Malcom Lowry’s “Under the Volcano,” J.G. Ballard’s “The Drowned World,” Anthony Burgess’s “Earthly Powers” and Angela Carter’s “Nights at the Circus.” By September, you may look again on a summer time price celebrating.
Still, summer time doesn’t technically start till June 21, so earlier than buckling right down to Dostoevsky or Spenser, there’s simply sufficient time for me to revisit one or two favorites from my early adolescence. Somewhere in all these packing containers introduced again from Lorain are two or three collections of Don Martin’s cartoon-stories from Mad Magazine, one of which incorporates his Karbunkle and Fester Bestertester basic “The Hardest Head in the World.” I’m additionally on the lookout for “Dealer’s Choice: The World’s Greatest Poker Stories,” edited by Jerry D. Lewis, and science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein’s seasonally applicable, and attractive, “The Door Into Summer.” But most of all, I wish to snigger once more over Max Shulman’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and his even funnier novel, “Barefoot Boy With Cheek,” the latter now a fairly unimaginable account of zany collegiate life. After all these years, I nonetheless do not forget that its backwoods hero, Asa Hearthrug, throughout moments of excessive emotion, invariably exclaims, “Huzzah!”
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