Summer Reading: Week 6

16 July 2006

Since there has been a lot of dead time in the writing center, and because a discussion of the Great American Novel on Christopher Lydon’s Open Source peaked my interest on a number of books, I’ve decided that I shall read one book for every two weeks of summer break. So far I’m a little behind.

I started with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Like Fitzgerald’s short Babylon Revisited, it deals a lot with characters dealing with relationships in the past; Jay Gatsby is obsessed with recapturing his past relationship with Daisy, while Charlie Wales is concerned with making up for the way his relationship with his wife ended. Both pieces capture the Modernist movement’s concern with finding a new construct to replace the individualist construct that had flourished during the roaring twenties only to be dashed by the Depression. Many looked to develop something new, while others like Fitzgerald looked back to older traditional values.

Next I started David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Just as I was starting to get into the diary of the narrator stopped, and a new narrator was introduced. At about the same time I had been reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and it began to get interesting. It was about 4 weeks into the summer break, and I’d only finished one book, so I decided to stick with it.

Smith’s book has wonderfully charming characters. Some how she found a way to bring me to identify with each character, from the fifty-something mother of three to the twenty-something African American spoken word writer. I felt like I inhabited their bodies in a way that was exhilarating and enlightening. While allowing her readers these experiences, Smith uses our understanding of these characters points of view to explore opposing positions. No opposing points of view are explored so much as the beliefs of liberals and conservatives. Smith’s characters offer persuasive and insightful observations of both, the best of which comes when a liberal character offers their recognition of the strengths of conservatism to her even more liberal husband. I’m not sure what to make of the books exploration of infidelity. I’ll have to think on that. It pains me to read of long loving marriages being destroyed by indiscretion. I will have to check out Smith’s White Teeth some time soon.

So now I have to finish Cloud Atlas, and I also picked up Charles Burn’s graphic novel Black Hole. It’s about a sexually transmitted plague for teens that wreaks havoc on suburban Seattle during the mid-70s. It’s gotten a lot of critical praise, and so I’m excited to read it. I’m going to try and read it this week. If I finish it in time, this will be the sixth week and I will have read three books. I’ll be back on schedule.

Summer Reading List:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  3. Black Hole by Charles Burns
  4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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