Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sweet Pile of Mine

Summer is not the best time to read things. When you live in a cold place like I do, these three months of the year are the only time to be incessantly out of doors, submerged in water, and/or scantily clad. Summer in nature's nondescript Illinois is not the most beautiful thing in the world, but it is damn better than winter. And reading serious stuff is hard to do when everything's wet, sandy, or smeared with sunscreen.

This summer I have tried my best to keep some books on the table. I mean literally on the table. My coffee table is where my pile lives. My sweet, sweet pile. I mostly look at it, or through it; sometimes I read from it. The result of keeping a sweet summer pile like mine is a bunch of half-read books. Bookmarks, receipts, and random card-like items of sentimental value stick out of each volume, all curiously right about the middles of the spines.

In past years I have written on "summer looking," which I think is what actually happens when we try to "read" in the summer, and on "winter reading," which I think should replace "summer reading" as the title (and intentions) we give our list of need-to-be-read tomes. Let's be honest, unless you have a pressing outside requirement to read things in summertime, like a fall comprehensive exam or a September GRE date, most of us forgo most of our intended summer reading in favor of more shut-eye, more sun, or more of doing nothing. And those volumes we do take up, well, we can certainly absorb some things from them by sweat-aided osmosis, but I highly doubt we are processing the texts with all the proper brain-centers functioning.

Here is my current pile rundown, with some notes.
  • The Delighted States: A conceptual sort of book on what happens in literary translation. Weird stuff, steamy stuff, it's fun so far. The back cover is even up-side-down, like the back of a manual in two languages.
  • Rhyme's Reason: A manual on poetic meters and other poetry terms recommended by a grad student friend. I'm hoping it will help me to appear not quite as ignorant as I am, since I'm good at memorizing the vocabulary of a thing (the thing being poems).
  • Ulysses: I don't think I have to explain why this one is still sitting in a pile.
  • Great Expectations: I don't have to finish this one I suppose, because obviously at this point I've already read it. But that was fifteen years ago. In 2008 I read some Hawthorne I hadn't read in twelve years, so I know there's much to be gained from rereading as an adult (what was first read as a juvenile semi-delinquent), even just for fun. For some reason I'm finding Dickens really funny.
  • The Kristeva Reader: I probably don't have to explain why, in summer, this one still sits as well. Heavy stuff man, when your mind's all expanded and shit.
This seems awful, as many of these books have been there for a month or more. Though in my defense, of course there are more books that have been skimmed in the warm months, or re-opened to reference something. The five books listed here are just what happened to be on the table today (sandwiched with an issue of Better Homes & Gardens, and a notepad that has yet to accumulate many notes). With literature students, a good portion of our books are always rotating off the shelves to the tables and desks and back, and in and out of our lives.

Now, I am not saying that it's impossible to read outside, or in repose, or even with one eye shut. I read a bunch of Bishop Berkeley lying in my front yard, meeting all those conditions. Victorian novels, as I've mentioned in the seasonal reading posts referenced above, make for most excellent outdoor reading. It's just impossible to read Kristeva like that. Not to mention the difficulties of making notes while the book is held overhead to block the sun. You'd need a space pen.

When the cold months come back around (and there are so many of them) the books will no longer collect dust, and while they will still form a pile quite often (required reading usually sets about 4-5 books in motion at once), their miscellaneous bookmarks will march steadily toward the back covers, without much interruption. In the fall and winter the body is covered, the mind turns back inward, and the intellect seeks stimulation from books; the same intensity of stimulation which was once sought by the skin from the sun, water and breeze.

I poked around some other readers' blogs while writing this. I am disturbed by all the summer reading lists. Even after blogging on this three years in a row, no one has taken my recommendations! I am sure many of those summer list books will be held over for when school starts again. The more you do, the more you can do. But when there's nothing to do? Enjoy it.

So, what's in your pile?

1 comment:

  1. Being a children's librarian I usually have a difficult time getting out of "Tween-YA" literature. This is partially because of my job, I have to read them to recommend them, and partially because I do enjoy them.
    That said I am trying to read some adult books this summer. I just finished, "A Thousand Splendid Suns" which I knew would break my heart the minute I read the first sentence. It did.
    I also want to read, "The Book of Lost Things"
    "In the Company of the Courtesan"
    "The Handmaid's Tale"
    "A Lion Among Men."
    Some friends of mine are determined to make me read the Sookie Stackhouse books. Last summer I made a point to read some adult books and some non-fiction. I read "Columbine" which was very good but gave me nightmares.


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