It's that time again, for a big pile of books that I may or may not really read by September. What kind of weirdo would even try to read more than one fat classic? However, stop into any Barnes and Noble or Borders and they will have you feeling like it's really pretty essential to your summer experience. Somehow even though I don't go to those stores much anymore, it's become engrained in me to get really ambitious with a stack of really tried and true classics as well as some more readable memoirs, along with the requisite massive fashion magazines that come out in the Spring and some reference books I buy whenever I find a good one for the home art library. (See last year and the year before for more reading lists I was only partially successful with).
The pure tradition of having a summer reading list feels a lot like one of the other traditions I have been born and raised on: shopping for a new school wardrobe, which I will still fulfill every year until I die even though I'm not technically going to school anymore. Does it count for school staff? That's Fall anyway and we're in Summer right now, so let's get smart in the sun before we spend all the money we don't have. (That's me talking to myself).
The Daunting Reading List
I swear to you, I am not trying to be pretentious by putting books in here that are supposed to make me look fancy but that I am never planning on reading, like how most people put hardbound copies of Shakespeare's entire collection on their bookshelves. Come on, who can get through the downright impossible Elizabethan language and understand what the fuck they are saying? Unfortunately, I have to have my Shakespeare handed to me in cleaned up, modern language movie form, like that Romeo and Juliet movie with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. I know, I know. Anyway, YES, I really am reading, have started, or plan to read all of these books. Some might take me a year, but a few I have already finished!
Moby Dick by Herman Melville The classics seem like not only a good idea, (hey, they have stuck around through decades and even centuries and people still read them so they must be good, right?), but I am constantly worried that I might not get a cultural reference that is assumed most smart people would. No one wants to be the dumb one at the party, (even though I really don't go to parties), but I also want to know if a movie I would have otherwise thought original is a blatant ripoff of a classic masterpiece. So, yes, I am reading Moby Dick, and it is pretty boring.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller Naughty, naughty Miller. Damn, dude, try to get a plot in there while you are talking about every dirty whore in Paris in the 1930s! It's my readable book when I am sick of War and Peace and Moby Dick, (which is often), and I am really quite surprised that it was written at all eighty years ago during what I would assume was a sort of demure time despite the flappers and drinking and all that jazz. Ba dum bum. Anyway, he uses 'cunt' more than any author in the English language, and it's really rambling. However, with this book he really cleared the way for the rights of free speech and the end of morality clauses, and I can see where one of my favorites, Nabokov, takes his cues.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy What do I even need to say? This is still on my reading list from to years ago and I am still trudging through it! The thing is, I read Anna Karenina and loved it. I was hoping this would be more of the same, but the problem is that the peace part is great and the war part is soooo long. You really get the feeling Tolstoy was a history nerd, and if there were Napoleonic War reenactments during his time, he probably would have been out there impersonating the Glorious Russian Soldiers. I would really like to finish it, but honestly, I have to skip the war stuff whenever he starts talking about right and left flanks and each General and you know, war stuff. Is that sacrilege?
The Best American Essays 1997 Call the year completely random, but I would like to read more essays. I feel more connected to them, to a style that does not need to have some ridiculous made-up story, or a plot, or an arc. It's just so much more simple to write down something you know or think. And I would like to get some reading in because I secretly want to write them myself. I grabbed this off a church yard sale table for a dollar, and also scored a record box set of Gregorian Chants and a book on the artist, Andrew Wyeth, for a total of $10!
Peregrinations of a Pariah by Flora Tristan and Valencia by Michelle Tea What an awesome way to experience each memoir by ballsy, independent women two centuries apart from each other by reading them at the same time. I found the Tristan book at my favorite store, Issues, as it was handed to me by the owner, Joe- looks like a good one? Written in 1838, Tristan was a French woman who wrote for the London Journal and is described as a "Militante Féministe". This book chronicles her travels aboard a ship to Peru from France, (which took five months back then!), as she tries to claim her family's inheritance and also gain a divorce from her husband, a big Catholic no-no at the time. She writes with such passion and frankness that it is completely surprising that it was published almost two hundred years ago! (Also amazing- a quick search on wikipedia reveals she was the grandmother of the artist, Paul Gaugin- whoa!)
Now enter the late 1990s in San Francisco as dykes and misfits from all over the country flock to the grungy riot grrl gay mecca of the Bay Area. Michelle Tea, a celebrated feminist thrift-store-T-shirt-punk poet became a local legend with this and other works. In the very '90s Valencia she chronicles the quick ruination of her naive girlish self, and introduces the reader to "sex positive" leather-bound S&M dykes, the life of a prostitute, and fisting. Whoa!
It's amazing how self-absorbed both novels are as Tristan chronicles her every fainting spell and bouts of boredom and Tea drags one through every crush and mini relationship and post-breakup obsession. Both have a social consciousness and message, as well as a critical eye towards the hypocrisy of the times they live in. I definitely recommend reading them in tandem.
Swann's Way by Marcel Proust Recently my friend scoffed at me for answering, "He's Ok", to a question on whether I liked this Proust book or not. What I meant was, it's not like I think I could do better, but I'm giving a Twenty-First century response to something published in 1913. Like my experience with Shakespearean language, its hard to take in his slowww scenes about very internal experiences by the protagonist as a contemporary reader in our current time of very short, abrupt, fast-paced daily life. I mean, the beginning where he waits for his mother to kiss him goodnight as a boy takes him like fifteen pages! I'm not giving up on Proust, (or on any author who gets their own reference as in "it was Proustian"), but I don't know if I could handle all seven volumes which ultimately make up the whole work Remembrances of Things Past- this is just volume one! However, I already felt I scored a victory as I read Steven Wolf's blog which referred the madeline scene in Proust and I got it!
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky Am I trying to punish myself? Yes. I gave up on this after about thirty pages but recently my bookaholic friend, Mandy, told me to try it again because it's one of her favorite books. Ok, but only after War and Peace.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh Well, I grew up on this movie and I had the soundtrack, too. It made heroin withdrawals look like the worst thing in the world and I think it was single-handedly responsible for keeping me off drugs. One pass through it's written phonetic slang of marble-mouthed British kids, though, and I'm not sure I will be able to slag through it. I'll give it a shot.
I Bought Andy Warhol by Richard Polsky I originally gave this to my friend, Libby, as a Christmas present, so I am just borrowing it. Found at Issues, too, I had surprisingly never heard of it despite the fact it was only written ten years ago and features a honest, first-person account of an art dealer's history of making and losing money in the art world. It is very readable, but a little stumbly. I found that while he has some interesting anecdotes and it's great to get a view of the time period where pop and contemporary art really started making those collectors millionaires, he lingers on weird details and isn't the world's best writer. Even still, I think I will finish it. There's also a sequel, I Sold Andy Warhol.
The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City by Elizabeth Currid One of the only books left over from my thesis research that I still actually want to read, I'm hoping this one sheds a little light on the inner complex workings of cultural production and profit. I'm also hoping that from the title, she will be a little acerbic about New York as the hipster capital I recently saw first hand. (I seem to be the only one who objects to Brooklyn as the new 90210)
That leaves the following research books for art references and occasional perusing: The Art of Andrew Wyeth (from the church sale), Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China for headdress ideas and patterns, Pierre et Giles, an awesome pre-David LaChapelle photo duo of visual overload, and a Taschen book about the Still Life, which I originally bought for the Still Life class I was going to teach that was cancelled.
Now I'm tired and I haven't even touched my books. Haha.