I set myself a loose goal for this summer: to read at least fifteen books. It’s nearing the end of June, and I’ve already finished twelve (It helps that I have a long bus ride to my job). Since I’m trying to decide between In the Night Cafe and Look Homeward, Angel for my next read, I figured it was about time to do a quick recap.
First Time Reads:
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
I bought this thinking “Oh yeah, I would love to read a Noah Baumbach movie.” I wasn’t wrong, per se, they share a lot of the same tropes. Since this was Chabon’s earliest novel, it has a different style from previous works of his that I’ve read. It wasn’t quite as enthralling as The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but not quite up to par with Wonder Boys. However, it was a novel that took place during the summer, when I really wanted to embrace the season as fully as possible.
Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson
Joyce Johnson is a really cool lady, who I’m surprised I only found out about this year. Her memoir discusses what leaving her parent’s house at age 17 meant during the fifties, but she was seeking independence and adventure. She was a member of the key circle of the Beat Generation, having an on and off affair with Jack Kerouac for a few years. Most notably, Johnson discusses how the women of the Beat Generation, as artists and as people, were not given the same respect by the men. It’s a wonderful memoir of defining oneself as a woman before the women’s liberation movement began.
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
I really enjoyed Kelly Link’s short story collection Pretty Monsters when I read it last summer, so I was very excited to pick up one of her older collections. Link has the ability to create strong, bizarre little narratives that are just a little bit spooky. I didn’t really love this collection, but I did enjoy it.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Thanks to Midnight in Paris, I was set towards reading more things that took place there. A not so secret part of this reading goal was to try to read more classics, and I hadn’t read any Hemingway novels yet. I wasn’t terribly interested in it until they got to Spain, and I’m not so sure what this says about me…
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
When I was stuck in LaGuardia, the book I had brought for my trip was almost over. I ran to the last Hudson News that was open and grabbed SSTL as soon as I saw it– I had meant to for awhile. And it is really depressing. It gets a lot of commentary that compares it to 1984, which is fair and I can appreciate that style and the point of the novel. It’s just… not what I would have wanted to read while on vacation.
Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffeild
Now this is exactly what I would have wanted to read on vacation! It’s a book about one of my most favorite things — mix tapes!– and how making them helped Sheffield to relate to this friends and family, most notably his wife. The majority of the essays are about their marriage and how he felt after her death. It’s a really excellent read about love and music and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this summer.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
To be honest, I don’t remember this one too well. It’s all short vignettes centering around a Latino neighborhood in Chicago, but beyond that I’ve got nothing.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
This book felt like getting through a marathon. Thanks to Minor Characters, I know that Kerouac was too much of a whimpering artiste to let an editor touch his manuscript when, lo and behold, it would have been so much better if it had been edited down a bit. Nothing sticks out from On the Road, no phrasing amazes me. The only thing I thought terribly interesting was how the number of coffee stains on the pages dwindle after the one hundred mark. Not even desperate hipsters could get through this book.
Paper Towns by John Green
I didn’t consciously decide to read through John Green’s novels, but that’s what happened (somehow). Of the three that he wrote by himself, Paper Towns is my favorite and the one that I would objectively call the most put together. It references Walt Whitman and breaks the Manic Pixie Dream Girl identity, but it’s also a beautiful work of a novel. Green’s writing style is amazing throughout and he has these perfect little metaphors thrown in at just the right places.
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Contrasted with his other two, solo novels, An Abundance of Katherines is a romantic comedy, about a child prodigy trying to grow up into a genius. It also involves a road trip and a fabulous supporting character in Hassan. And if you like footnotes, trust me that this book is for you.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I read this before I had seen the Miyazaki movie, and I remember that this one had a more coherent, if complicated, plot. Re-reading it proves that this is mostly true, but it shares more similarities with the film than I would have guessed.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Explaining why I like Looking for Alaska so much involves one of the books main themes- “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”- and the fact that I first read it when I was fourteen. The novel is about Miles, who goes to boarding school in order to find an adventure that he hadn’t found for himself in Florida. He becomes the sort of person who drinks, smokes, plays pranks, has sex and forms friends nearly effortlessly. And in all the weirdness of being fourteen and approaching high school, the events of Looking for Alaska represented my own Great Perhaps. If you strip my sentimentality away, it’s still a sweet novel about love and loss.