See you in September: What we’re reading this summer

Ah, summertime. To me, that means pretty much one thing: summer reading. If only my boss would hand me a stapled list of titles in June with SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER across the top, right? Le sigh. Summer means freedom. Even if you don’t have time off, there’s something about these months—the sheer length of the days, the sweltering heat, and the way barefoot-summer-night-fun is offset by the dull endlessness of a July afternoon—there’s something about summer that just begs you to do nothing. Or better, as my friend Albert Camus puts it, “The hardest time was summer, when the heat killed even the sweet sensation of boredom.” Okay, Albert is talking about the heat in Algeria, but it sounds an awful lot like summer in Texas to me. Sometimes the A/C just doesn’t cut it.

Making our lists: The New Yorker’s Top 20 writers under 40

I love lists. If someone writes a list of their favorite styles of pickle, I’ll check it out, test their conclusions, and develop my own theories of pickle. A colossal waste of time, but I don’t care, nor do I think I’m alone. So, when the New Yorker came out with their list of 20 American writers under 40 that will become, or already are the key writers of their generation, I was intrigued.

David Lipsky, on the road with David Foster Wallace

In 1996, Rolling Stone Magazine sent David Lipsky to interview a brash new writer, a genuine and enlightening new voice who had recently written electrifying features for Harpers and other magazines. According to Lipsky, reading those early articles was, "like hearing for the first time the brain voice of everybody I knew: Here was how we all talked, experienced, thought. It was like smelling the damp in the air, seeing the first flash from a storm a mile away. You knew something gigantic was coming."

Free Writer’s Workshop with Dennis Tafoya

“You can’t fight gravity.” This has become one of my favorite lines in hardboiled fiction. Up there with Eddie Coyle’s monologue about his double set of knuckles and the source of A Drink Before The War’s title, it’s spoken to a gut shot victim in The Wolves of Fairmount Park - the latest from Dennis Tafoya, who in just two books is proving to be a major contender in crime fiction. He uses all of its gritty standards, taking it past standard genre fiction. Much like that line the emotion of his books linger after the immediate impact.

Gertrude & Alice

Gertrude & Alice, Diana Souhami’s biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas is wonderful. Whether you’re interested in modern art, modern literature, or modern love, the book will entertain and inform you with every bit of Souhami’s nostalgic, reverential writing. However, the book really takes off when the talented biographer gets out of the way. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Reading Beyond Borders: Yasunari Kawabata and the Rise of World Lit

We all love world literature, don’t we? We love to read translated literature that crosses oceans, cultures, norms, and expectations. But it hasn’t always been like this. There was a time when we stuck our heads in the sand and ignored all but a few foreign writers: Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens…etc. Even the so-called European High-Modernism of the 20th century was popularized by Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein, three Americans who wrote in English. Now we know how myopic we were. The world is full of incredible writers not writing in English. I’m glad we live in a shrinking world where we have that wonderful invention which Jorge Luis Borges predicted and Al Gore created: the internet. Now it’s easy to find a list of African writers. Two clicks and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ngugi Wa’ Thiong O’, Ben Okri, and Naruddin Farah show up in front of me. And while it’s wonderful to celebrate the ease of our options, it’s important to remember that it wasn’t always like this. Japan, until midway through the 20th century was an isolated literary treasure chest. Then in 1968, Yasunari Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for literature and America began noticing.