May 30, 2016

Summer reading.

A slide show — open without a subscription — of many old New Yorker covers on the theme of summer reading.

1. Why is summer reading considered different from other reading? I remember when the idea was you finally had a lot of leisure time, so you'd read something big and long, like Doris in "Goodbye, Columbus":
2. Maybe it has to do with suntanning, that eminently passive outdoor activity. You're specifically not swimming, and you need something to do with your mind. Frankly, swimming can be boring — if you're doing lanes and racking up calories burned — and I would want a nice waterproof iPod with an audiobook.

3. I tend to walk on land as my main summer exercise, so I get by with my iPhone, and I like an audiobook of something long and historical. History goes with walking, because it's a progression in time and place, and I'm finally getting to the end of the fourth volume of Robert Caro's biography of LBJ and overlapping it with a history of ancient Rome. I still associate the path alongside Lake Mendota — after the summer of 2014 — with "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."

4. The best of the New Yorker covers is, I think, “Summer Adventures,” by Joost Swarte, from 2015. Do you agree? But I'm also fond of the very simple Sempé, just a woman lying on the face of the earth, looking into the clouds, which highlights the aspect of reading that is the part where you're not reading but thinking about what you have read (or is she just failing to read or forgetting what she's read?).

5. I like the 2007 cover “Big City Thrills,” by Adrian Tomine, even though it relies on a stereotype of New York tourists — boring, dumpy people with belly bags and frumpy shorts — because you can tell — though you can't see any words — the book the alienated girl is reading is "Franny & Zooey." The sightseeing bus is passing Radio City Music Hall, but it's "Catcher in the Rye," not "Franny & Zooey," where the main character goes to (and hates) Radio City. ("The Rockettes were kicking their heads off....")

5. I like that a little white dog — not the same breed — appears on the oldest cover (1937) and the 2014 cover.

6. The 2007 and the 2009 cover present an aesthetic issue I've been thinking about. When art depicts buildings (and other objects), you are — to some extent — displeased when things appear structurally unsound or gravity defying. In real life, any structure that's standing has taken proper account of reality, but you might nevertheless find it aesthetically displeasing if it looks unstable or liable to fall. That same standard carries over to works of art. This is only a general rule, and sometimes the defiance of gravity is delightful. I'm on the line as to what I think of the man climbing a stairway of books in the 2007 cover. Seems anti-book, no? The 2009 cover has a hammock attached to nothing and palm trees set in tiny flowerpots. That could annoy me, but I interpret it to mean that the woman is reading an escapist fantasy of some kind, an interpretation reinforced by the line of foliage at the bottom, which evokes the bottom edge of the well-known Rousseau painting "The Dream" (which may also explain the unnatural position of the figure).

7. When did summer reading change from big projects like "War and Peace" to escapist fare (or whatever it is now)? I googled "What kind of reading is summer reading?" and what I got was a lot of stuff about the importance of keeping children reading over the summer so they don't lose whatever ground they've gained over the school year. Why don't adults worry that they'll forget how to read if they don't keep forcing themselves through printed verbiage?

8. And yet you've come this far.

9. Good for you!

10. Lists should be 10 — don't you think? — for stability and an aesthetically pleasing sense of structure....

30 comments:

robother said...

Yeah, a list that stops at 6 or 7 reeks of writer's fatigue. Show us you care, even with empty filler.

Carol said...

I've become so addicted to the Internet that I had stopped reading actual books. I checked out Liberal Fascism but it just sat there until I returned it. But I finally finished Coming Apart, the 10,000 Year Explosion, Eternity Street (violence in frontier LA) and a book on Glenn Gould & his favorite Steinway. Yay for me. There is nothing like a real book to take you away from the here and now.

But it's hard to keep the supply of interesting books going. I like novels but can't get into sci fi fantasy Harry Potter shit that everyone else seems to like now.

John Christopher said...

Althouse, I'm on your wavelength as I began the SPQR audiobook on Friday. I would never read such a book, but love the audio versions, just as I did with the Caro LBJ books a few years back.

Martha said...

Shakespeare. My summer '16 reading. Just completed first of two part Wellesley edX course on Shakespeare Young Love and now started Part 2— Old Love. Supplementing the courses with Harold Bloom's SHAKESPEARE: The Invention of the Human.
Can't go wrong reading Shakespeare.

Ann Althouse said...

"I've become so addicted to the Internet that I had stopped reading actual books."

I know the feeling!

Recently, I blogged this quote from Scott Adams: "It is not unusual for me to write more books in a year than I read. The reason for that is that — I hate say it because I've written a book — but most books can be summarized so easily. I only read nonfiction, and you can get the good bits of the nonfiction pretty quickly without reading the book. So I'm a voracious reader, but I'm on the internet, picking up the best of everything, instead of just one good chapter followed by 12 chapters of filler."

This is the great value of audiobooks, however. You're usually doing something else at the same time, such as getting some exercise.

Terry said...

The Romanovs 1613-1918 by historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. People should know more about Russia before the USSR.

mikee said...

Summer reading differs from the reading one has to do at work as a manager or executive in that it is done for pleasure rather than pay. Summer reading is an activity of the elite, who get to take time off from work long enough to enjoy a good read.

Laslo Spatula said...

Sisero Wong, Strip-Club Bouncer.

Yeah, I'm half-Chinese. What the fuck does that matter?

I'm thinking of writing a book about my experiences being a strip club bouncer.

A lot of funny shit happens at the strip club. Fat guy shits his pants during a lap dance, stripper accidentally pees a little on stage: that kind of thing, for starters. Get the reader hooked.

And there's always the vomit; I could tell a dozen stories about vomit. Two of those stories would involve Miss Stacey and Thai food from across the street, but I think I'll save that for the book.

Okay, just a hint: Miss Stacey was backstage and found half a roach in her take-out Thai food, and realized she must have eaten the other half. Like I said: vomit. She thought she was done vomiting before going on stage, but it turns out she wasn't. Good times.

Miss Stacey also had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, not so good for lap dancing, if you connect my dots. Poor girl: seems like something was always coming out of her, one end or the other.

Being half-Chinese, I can expound upon the difference between whites and blacks at the strip club. The blacks aren't afraid to talk dirty to the girls, for one: they'll call out a girl for having a stinky ol' ass.

White guys, they all talk sickly-sweet to the girls, like they could maybe be their Knight in Shining Armor or something; later on when they've blown a hundred-forty bucks and the stripper is gone they'll just mumble the dirty shit.

And whenever one of the girls is feeling that stalker vibe, it always turns out to be a middle-aged sweaty white guy. I mean, who else but sweaty middle-aged white guys would try to collect autographs from strippers?

And then there is the actual bouncing: shit can get violent when naked women are involved. I even had to toss a guy in a wheelchair once; after I helped him back into his wheelchair the fucker maced me. Handicapped people can be real assholes.

Anyway, I think it'll make a great book; maybe they'll even turn it into a movie.

As long as I'm not played by fucking Jackie Chan,

I am Laslo.

FWBuff said...

@Martha, I've been thinking of making this a Shakespeare summer also. I like to pick an author and binge-read his or her works during the summer. I've done that in recent years with Hemingway, Cather, Austen, and Wodehouse.

Robert Cook said...

"Summer reading is an activity of the elite, who get to take time off from work long enough to enjoy a good read."

Anyone who really wants to read can find time to read, even if it's only 15 minutes a day. I find these days that most of my reading of books occurs primarily when I am riding the subway to work and back home. That's about 15-30 minutes each way, (depending on whether subway traffic is delayed or not, and whether I'm on a local or express train). Yet, I progress through books one after the other this way with satisfying speed. I've never been one of those book-a-day or several-books-a-week readers, anyway. (I can't understand the pleasure in racing through a book at that pace, even if I were capable of it.)

Big Mike said...

Scott Adams should try Ian Tattersall's The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, which describes the story of paleoanthropology since the first fossils of H. neanderthalensis (thought by some to be the skeleton of a Cossack with rickets) were discovered. Who were the players? What did they believe and why did they believe it? What do we know today and why do we think we know it?

For me, the book is worth it in large part because of the illustration contrasting the Neanderthal skeleton with the H. sapiens skeleton. It isn't just the brow ridges and "bun" at the back of the skull that distinguishes the Neanderthals from us -- the rib cages and pelvis bones are completely different as well.

A totally fascinating book.

Eleanor said...

I think the idea of "summer reading" has its start when we're school children. During the school year we spend a lot of time reading books chosen for us, but when summer comes, we get to choose for ourselves. I always fought against the idea of "required reading" over the summer for the kids I taught. You won't turn a kid who hates to read into one who loves to by giving him assigned reading over the summer, and a kid who loves to read will do it anyway.

Big Mike said...

@FWBuff, IMAO Shakespeare is better seen than read. Two scenes jump out at me. The first is when Mark Antony speaks at Caesar's funeral -- Brutus makes the same mistake that Trump's opponents in the Republican primaries made, thinking that the crowd will understand the logic behind what they did. Mark Antony works on the crowd's emotions, whipping them up to the point where people with the wrong name are as much in danger as the conspirators themselves.

The second is in the Scottish play, when MacDuff learns that his family has been murdered at MacBeth's orders. An ordinary playwright would have MacDuff responding by storming up and down and swearing dire revenge. Instead he asks "All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?" He cannot believe it; he's stunned at the news. He cannot put his mind around it.

And that's how it is in real life, as anyone who has dealt with a real tragedy knows.

No, don't read Shakespeare. Go see him.

Quaestor said...

S.P.Q.R. sounds interesting. Please forward your opinions when you've finished listening. Last summer I devoted a month's worth of drive-time listening to a unabridged narration of Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In fact that project took the whole of June and a sizable bit of July since the audiobook runs a solid six and a half days of nonstop gab. Gibbon may have been writing on the vast subject of Rome without the benefits of modern scholarship, but his prose is remarkably lucid and surprising witty. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Quaestor said...

The first is when Mark Antony speaks at Caesar's funeral -- Brutus makes the same mistake that Trump's opponents in the Republican primaries made, thinking that the crowd will understand the logic behind what they did.

Reading Julius Caesar as opposed to hearing it performed does help one understand the funeral scene better in at least one respect. While it is true that Brutus makes an good case for the assassination (at least on first inspection) he makes the error of talking down to the plebs. His remarks are a rare example in the Shakespearean canon of pure, unadorned prose. In stark contrast is Anthony's speech, perfectly structured iambic pentameter. On the printed page their contrasting styles leap out at you. Anthony wins the day by appealing to the emotions of the crowd and by addressing them as if they're aristocrats.

Bill Peschel said...

Quaestor, FFIW, I read SPQR earlier this year and recommend it highly. It's idiosyncratic in places, and Beard regularly points out in her narrative where the facts are thin on the ground, but it's a great overview of the rise of the Roman state, and how the politicians in each era learned how to advance themselves.

It's like talking to someone who really knows her stories and wants to give you the high points without it turning into a lecture. In fact, now that you mention it, I'll have to read it again.

Otherwise, I am reading a bunch of space shuttle memoirs (I'm in the middle of revising a novel on the subject), but nothing to recommend yet.

I also just finished my wife's copy of "Agnes and the Hitman" by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Think "Ruthless People" crossed with some of the harder edges of "Pulp Fiction," but not going into Gimp territory. I thought it was hilarious, and a lot of times I had to stop reading to finish laughing. Light fiction, but really, really sharp and fast-moving. The collaborated on three books, and I started the first one now.

Sydney said...

Of the covers, I think I prefer the 2016 cover. I like the play of the shadows, and she isn't reading a book- the pages are blank. Maybe it's her journal or sketch pad, which she sketches in while listening to audiobooks.

Michael K said...

"Last summer I devoted a month's worth of drive-time listening to a unabridged narration of Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

That's interesting. Where is the audio?

We once, many years ago, drove from Spokane to Los Angeles. Two of my kids were with me, one was 12. We listened to "Clan of the Cave Bear" and, when we got home, there was still about 15 minutes of the last tape left. They ran into the house to listen to that bit.

I'm going to drive to Oregon this summer. That might be a good companion.

Michael K said...

"I've never been one of those book-a-day or several-books-a-week readers, anyway."

I read several books at the same time. I'm reading "The Rising Sun" by Toland, and "In Search of the Indo-Europeans" and The Horse, The Wheel and Language" in different rooms of the house. I don't carry books from room to room.

The latter two are references from the bibliography of "The 10,000 Year Explosion, which I've read four times as it is so densely packed with information.

I've also got "Lewin's Genes XI" sitting here for when the urge takes me. I have discovered that "Genes XII" is now out so I had better get to it.

Freeman Hunt said...

You can get Great Courses courses as audiobooks on Audible. There are some great ones.

I have been thinking about getting SPQR. I'll be interested to hear an opinion.

The actual book in my purse right now is The World of Odysseus by M.I. Finley.

Martha said...

FWBuff: I too love to devote entire summers to a deep dive into a particular author. Two summers ago I read all of John Updike in tandem with the biography UPDIKE by Adam Begley. Reading Updike's short stories in chronological order is a road map to contemporaneous events in Updike's life.

Big Mike: yes Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard on stage but the experience is so much richer after studying the text (in my opinion). I did not take any college level Shakespeare courses while I was a college student —I was a pre-med student intimidated by English majors. So taking a few formal courses online before launching into the rest of Shakespeare on my own is a long delayed treat.

Michael said...

Let me recommend Richard Evans' "The Coming of the Third Reich" in lieu of the Shirer book. The only audiobook I have ever finished was of Blood Meridian. I am not sure it would have been as enjoyable if I had not already read the book.

Michael said...

If you enjoy the Mary Beard book you should see the Youtube series she does on ancient Rome. Excellent stuff. You should read the TLS if only for her column.

Big Mike said...

@Quaestor, good point. However it only makes the comparison all the more apt.

rcocean said...

Have you listened to Volumes 1-3 of Caro's LBJ biography?

If so, you deserve a medal. They seem to average about 700-800 pages each.

I stopped after Volume 1.

William said...

Borges wrote a story about a mapmaker who drew maps on a 1:1 ratio. His studio was quite large.......I'm reading Robert K.Massie's book Dreadnought. It's about the events leading up to WWI, and Massie puts me in mind of Borge's mapmaker. The Massie book is over nine hundred pages long, and it's a long slog to get through. I'm pretty sure that this time next year I will have no memory of the armor requirements on battle cruisers versus battle ships, which his book discusses at length, and yet I continue reading. My wrong headed determination to finish the book rather mirrors the wrong headed determination of the diplomats who led Europe into a suicidal war.

Terry said...


Blogger Michael said...
If you enjoy the Mary Beard book you should see the Youtube series she does on ancient Rome. Excellent stuff. You should read the TLS if only for her column.

I think that Beard's Youtube series on the Romans should be viewed with a little caution. She tries to equate Roman people with modern equivalents. She wants us to feel as though the Romans are like us. But they were fundamentally not modern people. The cultural gap between modern Europeans and the Romans is greater than the gap between Modern Europeans and modern Chinese.

Quaestor said...

I'm reading Robert K. Massie's book Dreadnought.

One of my favorites. Dreadnought is primarily a diplomatic history of Anglo-German relations from the marriage of Princess Victoria to Crown Prince Frederick to the outbreak of war in August 1914. Be sure to follow up with Massie's Castles of Steel.

tim in vermont said...

I am starting to read books I have heard mentioned on Althouse. The Sabres of Paradise, currently. Having just finished Dune. I call it the "Light Sabers of Paradise," since it seems to be sort of source material for a lot of Sci Fi, including Star Wars, it's fascinating.

I also am listening to Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies one lecture at a time separated by a few days. I like to let them sink in before I start the next one.

tim in vermont said...

I think the greeat courses thing is going to turn into a life-long habit.