Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Reading List Wrap-up

Admittedly, I was not a reader as a kid. The story is more horrifying than funny; something close to the criminal rather than the tragic. The point is, I was not a reader in my youngest of years. I bring it up only because I remember kids who complained and moaned at the chore of it or delighted with joy at the prospect of a summer reading list. During our summer breaks from school, some kids were expanding their minds with timeless literature while I was wasting away my summer mired in remedial math with the other flunkies. But that was then.

I find it odd that reading comes easier to me in the summer. I'm not a head out to the beach sort of person. I do not spend my time floating down the river in lazy inter-tubes sipping canned beer. I am not a sunbather, sports spectator or poolside reveler. In fact, I kind of hate the summer. I don't know if it has anything to do with my tour of the middle east, or my holiday in summertime Tucson. I can't stand the heat, and what's more, I don't like the crowds of people. In short, I am a stick in the mud.

We all have our retreats. I love to read. At least I have that. I am busy making up for the lost time as a kid when I could have expanded my mind and thought the thoughts a young person must think. It's no real compensation for a misspent youth, I know, but rather than a misspent adulthood I got a book in my lap.

As I sit here at my computer, I can see the wide world of Southwest Portland outside my window. I hide away all summer, and in Portland, summer wasn't all that long. I welcomed the birth of my son, my fortieth birthday, the payoff of my graduate school loan and the publication of my novel Dysphoric Notions. It's been a short summer, yes, but a very busy time.

And I read plenty of books.

I tried Henry James. As you may recall, I wanted to revisit it because I was told I should wait until my forties to read it. In some ways, I enjoyed The Turn of the Screw. However, I would not recommend Henry James to anyone, and I will not be reading any more of it. I am glad I tried it, and I held true to what I said I was going to do back in 1996. As I look at my summer reading list, I am grateful that I endeavored to read Henry James first. I suppose that has something to do with personality, I read what I figured would be the biggest challenge first.

Something odd happened to me during my reading this summer. I started to make connections. Strange s connections. Zsuzsa Bank's book The Swimmer proved to be one of the most beautiful and haunting books I have ever read. I am so impressed with this book that it is still on my mind. She paints a wonderful picture of Hungary post the 1956 revolution. In my reading of this book, I often took breaks to do a little Hungarian homework. Within the framework of what was going on socially and politically Bank writes a story wrought with the kind of conflict that good fiction is all about. And here is the connection: thematically and the mythologized family The Swimmer shares so much with The Painted Bird, and The Street of Crocodiles.

I was tickled to read J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. I chose this book only because of the beautiful volume and dust jacket. Yes, I picked this book out of all the others because of the condition of the spine and the cover. It's nice to find a first edition of a book in such pristine condition. As funny as that may seem, whoever owned the book before me was a heavy, and I do mean heavy smoker. As I turned each page, the smell of old tobacco was at times gross and other times baffling. This novel, as you may know is an account (somewhat autobiography, and somewhat fiction) of Ballard's time in an internment camp in Japanese occupied Shanghai during World War II. What about connections? Well, I also read Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills which is Japan shortly after the war, Nagasaki to be exact. These books with youth and the backdrop of WWII are interesting enough, but what about reading them concurrently to build a different understand of world events from 1937-1945? Here is my grouping: Herman Raucher's Summer '42 (American, stateside), Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird (Polish, Nazi-occupation), Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills and Empire of the Sun.

What about titles for a funny connection? I read Antonio Skarmeta's The Postman. Of course this slim volume made me want to revisit Pablo Neruda's poetry. But what about this: James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Charles Bukowski's Post Office and pair these with Eudora Welty's short story “Why I Live at the P.O.”? These have nothing to do with one another thematically, except the titles. Many lists are made by more arbitrary methods.

Here was my summer reads:

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Vintage International: New York, 1988.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. Vintage International: New York, 1984.
Skarmeta, Antonio. The Postman. Hyperion: New York, 1987. Trans. Katherine Silver.
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Konemann: Koln, 1996.
Neruda, Pablo. Neruda at Isla Negra. White Pine Press: New York, 1998. Dennis Maloney, ed.
Capote, Truman. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Vintage International: New York, 1993.
Kotzwinkle, William. Seduction in Berlin. G.P. Putnam and Sons: New York, 1985.
Thompson, Jim. The Getaway. Orion Fiction: London, 2005.
Kosinski, Jerzy. Being There. Bantam: New York, 1988.
Hughes, Langston. The Panther and the Lash. Vintage International: New York, 1992.
Ballard, J.G. Empire of the Sun. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1984.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Bottle Imp, 1893.
Bánk, Zsuzsa. The Swimmer. Harcourt: Orlando, FL, 2004. Trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo.

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