Monday, October 29, 2012

Seven Suggestions for your Reading Life During the Period Between The Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox

With the approach of the summer solstice, expect the usual trotting out of the seasonal reading lists. The newspaper, magazine, or revolutionary pamphlet you consult will no doubt title its list “Summer Reads” or “Beach Reads.” Please feel free to a) vomit a little and b) wonder when summers and beaches learned to read. The summer reading list will usually include frothy, light selections, designed to accompany rum, fruit juice, and heat stroke. Although you may not be aware of this fact, and pardon me for pointing it out, you are in need of rescue from this drivel. Your reading life is yours to do with as you please. There is no need for the book to be as soporific as the beverage or as balmy as the weather. If you are fed up with the usual fare of mediocre books that will be turned into bad movies, give my prescription a try.

            1.     Read about someone who is more interesting than you are.

The following people are more interesting than you are: Socrates, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Martha Graham, Spinoza, Martin Luther King (tackle Taylor Branch’s magnificent trilogy), Orson Welles, Robert Oppenheimer, Oscar Wilde, Abraham Lincoln, any subject Antonia Fraser has chosen to write about; Antonia Fraser, John Waters, Christopher Hitchens, Bayard Rustin, Mark Twain, the Mitford sisters (even the fascist ones), Leon Trotsky, Eartha Kitt, Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, people who were alive in the 1930s.

The following people are not more interesting than you are: Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Palin, any book featuring the author on the cover, with tattoos exposed; Isadora Duncan, Ulysses S. Grant, unfamous people writing about their eccentric childhood; people who were married to presidents; people who became famous because of their heredity, their appearance on reality television, their weight loss/weight gain, or all of the aforementioned; people who left politics to spend more time with their family, the Bushes, the Clintons.

2.     Read a dirty book.

I admit, this one is tricky. Dirty means different things to many people. Here are a few measures for dirtiness: You should be a little embarrassed to be seen reading the book in public – either because of the title, the cover or both -- but it should not plant you on an FBI list as a suspected child pornographer.  If Maurice Girodias published it, you're good to go.

A word of about BDSM fiction.  If you want to read these books, by all means do. There is Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy if you want to get your fairy tale freak on, but on the whole, the genre is a bit boring.  For every 2 pages of sex, often you have to endure 10 pages of people getting into costume or moving scenery about.  If you find this stimulating, then your next reading selection will be a snap. Find the warranty for your most recently purchased electrical appliance and go to bed early with a glass of wine and some aromatic oils. 

Here are a few good writers who can pen a dirty scene or two: Henry Miller, Kathy Acker, Jim Thompson (if you want some psychosexual/homicidal action, he is your man), Anais Nin, Michel Houllebecq, Philip Roth (overrated, but quite dirty in parts), D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, Nicholson Baker, Charles Bukowski, the list goes on.  You don’t really need my help finding dirty books, but I am happy to oblige.

            3.      Avoid books written by happy, well-adjusted people.

I cannot stress this enough. Happy people or worse, people who discover happiness after a personal journey, never write interesting, amusing, insulting, or great books.  A good writer is someone you should be a bit worried to let into your house. At the very least you should want to lock up the prescription drugs and the exciting underwear and check the levels of the booze bottles before admitting entrance to him or her. Frowned-upon authors on this list include but are not limited to: Mitch Albom, the Dalai Lama, whoever writes those insipid Chicken Soup things; Elizabeth Gilbert, any book that includes the word “bucket” in the title, books that tell you how to be a better person.  It should be understood that books about how to obtain happiness are right out. Really, you don’t need to read these books because all of them say the same thing: learn to live with the status quo. Thomas Paine and Che Guevara were not the cheeriest of men, and they cracked the world in half.

            4.      Avoid books about chaste or reluctant vampires.

You really don’t need me to explain this, do you? All right, fine. The whole lure of the vampire genre is the element of suspense. Will he bite her? How freaky will it be? What will happen to her hair? Will someone stop him in time? When will the stabbing commence? The theme of the reluctant vampire has been done to death. Moreover, a reluctant vampire has no respect for the craft of vampiring. This is a fault. If the vampire is not willing to give the comely virgin a great, big, deep… um, “bite”… then what good is he?

            5.     Whenever possible, read books written by authors who have done time.

William Gass in his essay “The Writer and Politics: A Litany” writes: “prison is a splendid place to put authors. It gives them a sense of grievance.” I really must agree with Mr. Gass, a very good writer who did a short stint in the Navy brig. There is something about getting tossed in the clink that really brings out the wordsmith in people. Writers who are jailed solely for their moral or political views are okay, we will let them count for this exercise, but ideally you want someone who got nicked for multiple offenses.

            6.     Re-read a book you liked when you were in high school.

This does not mean read something that was assigned in high school. Read something you remember loving and see how it holds up to your adult mind. Some books you won’t be able to get through for the tedium, and others will be so new and interesting that you will shake your head and wonder what you thought you were reading when you were fifteen.

7.      Heading into the 4th of July, exercise your First Amendment rights and read    something that has been banned, burned, the subject of a precedent-making lawsuit, or all of the above.

The following books fit the bill: Ulysses, Naked Lunch, The Public Burning, Lolita, Tropic of Cancer, Nineteen Eighty-four, Alice in Wonderland, Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials, Rights of Man, Madame Bovary, Howl, and the list goes on.

You’re welcome.

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