Posts Tagged ‘Beach Reads’

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty. 

     Once again I find myself indebted to our intrepid and resourceful leader, Mr. Michael Stelzer Jocks, this time for coming up with the idea of a Beach Book List, and also for weighing in on the type of book he favors for such a List.  Indeed I’m emboldened to confess I’m in perfect agreement with his idea that beach books should be DEEP and challenge the mind, or body, or spirit, or gestalt, or personhood, self-image, mindset, or paradigm.  Of course this doesn’t mean I mean you can’t read trash or trivia; it’s simply to say work on supplementing trivia with a challenging tome or two—like Michael and me. 

       So here’s my list.  I must point out, however, that all the books have in common that I’ve read them before, yet now feel strongly I should read them again, mainly because, sad to say, I don’t remember very much of what’s in them. 

       “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara is the first book.  It’s about the battle of Gettysburg Imagerelying heavily on letters written by several of the generals who participated in the war.

        Image“The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin is the second book on my list.  It’s not for biologists, but historians who wonder whether historical events are primarily matters of fate or free will.    

          “The Birth of Tragedy” is by Friedrich ImageNietzsche is my third book.  The title gives a good indication of what it’s about, though I’m fairly sure there’s a lot more in it as well.

         Image  “The Art of the Novel” by Henry James is my fourth and last entry.  Here too the title tells what the book’s about though James’ use of the word “art” seems a bit misleading for in that short three letter word most important issues pertaining to literature eventually get raised.

              My last entry should probably include a prayer rather than another read for I’m fairly certain I’m going to need some outside help to make sure I do indeed read the above list of books.  I say this feeling compelled to acknowledge that to date I can’t remember a single summer when I’ve managed to read all the tomes I placed on my halcyon summer’s Book List for the Beach.       

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

During the summer, I’m easily distracted. If I sit outside with a book, it won’t be long until I’m itching to do something else that takes advantage of the nice weather.

Therefore, my ideal “beach reads” are short stories, personal essays, and poetry, because an entire piece can be read from start to finish rather quickly. Also, unlike stopping between chapters in a novel, the flow of a larger narrative isn’t being interrupted by putting the book down.

Here are some of my favorite collections of shorter works:

SedarisWhen You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Sedaris is one of the preeminent living humorists. His essays about his life are hilarious, introspective, and relatable. This may not be his most famous collection, but I rank it as his best, in part due to the brilliant essay “Old Faithful.”

SaundersCivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders

George Saunders’ fiction is intelligent, weird, dark, disturbing, thought-provoking, and very funny. This is likely his most famous collection and a good entry point to his work, but add the story “Sea Oak” from his collection Pastoralia to your reading list; I consider it to be his weirdest and most laugh-out-loud funny story.

Dorothy ParkerThe Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker is viciously witty and hilarious. Her fiction and poetry is characteristically brief, yet packs a deceptive amount of depth. This collection contains her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Read it and you’ll be quoting Dorothy Parker in no time.

Chuck IVChuck dinoEating the Dinosaur or Chuck Klosterman IV by Chuck Klosterman

Reading Chuck Klosterman’s nonfiction is like sitting in a bar having drinks with your odd, yet super intelligent friend: you never quite know what he’ll say next – it may make you laugh, piss you off, make you think, make you tell him to shut up. Whatever the reaction, you’ll be interested and engaged in the conversation.

FierceFierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from the New Yorker by David Remnick and Henry Finder (Editors)

This anthology is packed with a lot of  short, funny pieces from a variety of authors. The hilarious “Here’s a Really Great Idea” by David Owen is one I share in several of my classes. I’ve also taught Steve Martin’s “Writing is Easy!” (Yes, THAT Steve Martin.)

 

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

Students who take classes with both of us usually agree: MSJ = smart and serious, JJS = smart and not-serious. I’m not so sure about the “smart” part, but they’ve pretty much got us pegged as far as teaching styles, music, books, general disposition, and overall proclivities. While MSJ provides the straight dope on historical subjects like WWI, slavery, and the Holocaust, I teach lit with as much sex and cursing in it as I can get away with (Don’t hate. It can be done smartly and hilariously to a delightful affect). While he reads NON-FICTION (read in a big, deep, serious voice), I read hip-hop journalism for my class and contemporary fiction with my book group (read in a “Yay!” voice). While he listens to what we affectionately refer to as “sad bastard music,” (you know, Bon Iver on heavy rotation), I’m always getting in trouble when one of my downloads comes up on our iTunes shuffle with the kids around (What? DMX isn’t appropriate?). Unless it’s JT. Then, we get down.

So, when it comes to the whole “beach reads” discussion, I’m with him on the “read something smart” tip, but I’m so NOT with him on the “read something serious” tip. Here’s what I’ll be reading in the beach chair next to his:

  • Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her”. Did I mention that I like smart and hilariousImage cursing? I also like stories about people doing the wrong thing. Diaz’s narrator (and, probably, alter ego) Yunior (whom I met in the also-awesome “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”) is a lying, cheating mother-f’er, and I love him. THAT’S how good Diaz’s writing is.
  • ImageKRS-One’s “The Gospel of Hip-Hop: The First Instrument”. Because how can I claim any kind of street credibility (in hip-hop OR in philosophy) without reading The Teacha’s treatise? I’m following this up with The RZA’s “Wu Tang Manual,” because, why the F not?
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.” I know, I know: “But, that’s a ‘guy’s Imagebook’!” “But, it’s so violent!” and, “But, his depiction of women?!” The same is said of Fincher’s film which, quite possibly, is my favorite movie. Dudes, chill. This book is FEMINIST, y’all: it’s a comment on excessive machismo, and it’s also super anti-consumerism and supremely shit-disturbing, which I LOVE. Plus, you’ve got that image of Brad Pitt (sans shirt) beating the crap out of someone. That’s the stuff for a beach chair.
  • ImageAnais Nin’s “A Spy in the House of Love”. Seriously, forget “50 Shades.” The first book was fun but, after that, WAY too much authorial effort went toward the plot. We all know what we’re reading it for. It’s summertime.  It’s hot. Get yourself some real erotica. While Henry Miller gets all the props for the books you’re not supposed to read, Nin’s got the chops. Her diaries are great, too, but, in this novel, Sabina gets to do the stuff that Miller only lets men do.

So, friends of MSJ and JJS, when you’re heading to the beach (or, in our case, the pool, where we claim to be hanging with our kids, but, really, we’re just lazing in the sun with our books), you could get all serious and learn lots with him (which is totally cool, really), or, you could get all not-serious with me, and read stuff you’re not supposed to.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Art as Experience, by John DeweyImage

When I look at something extraordinary that has been made by a human (or humans), I think, wow! People are capable of remarkable things. Art amazes me, and I want to know more about it. Also, I find Dewey’s work exceedingly readable.

ImageThe Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, by Epictetus

I never tire of Greek philosophers because when it comes to the essential truths of human experience, 2,000 years seems to be no time at all.

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.Image

I studied primarily British Literature in college and graduate school, so I never read much Faulkner, and feel I ought to correct that oversight.

ImageHouse of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski,

Two of my favorite students have vehemently recommended this book. Since they both read the texts I assigned, it is about time I return the favor by reading something selected by them.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This book is on my 16-year-old nephew’s summer reading list, and he’s asked me to read along with him. This is the right nephew for me to have, to be sure! I am thrilled by the opportunity to discuss literature with Alexey!

Book club selection, TBD.

I belong to an outrageously fantastic book club. Known affectionately as “The Lady Woolfs,”we are nine ladies, six local and three long-distance members. If you have the opportunity to join a preposterously perfect book club, by all means, take it.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Last week, I wrote a Turtle post calling for a ‘Beach Read Revolution’. In that blog, I made the contention that “beach reads” should not be fluffy, forgettable works, but instead entertaining contributions to literature that make the reader ponder life and humanity.  Naturally, I thought we should follow this call for revolution up with some Turtle beach read ideas.  Hence, each day this week, the Flâneur’s Turtle ‘Hall of Fame’ bloggers will be providing their own personal beach read lists.

For my list, I would like to point out that I am going about this in an unorthodox way. Most beach read lists are made up of books that have already been read.  Mine will center on books that I plan to read this summer.  You, dear reader, will also notice that my revolutionary beach read list has a theme as each book is either a family chronicle, or a series.  So, without further ado, here we go:

  • The Family Moskat by Isaac Bashevis Singer – I have been wanting to read something by Singer for a couple years, and this is his novel that intrigues me the most.  It is the story of a Eastern European Jewish family 220px-TheFamilyMoskatliving in Warsaw during the 19th and early 20th century. I am fascinated by the Eastern European Jewish experience during the modern era, and Singer was a novelist who powerfully explored that experience. I am excited to start this one.
  • 9780307834317_p0_v1_s260x420The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima – The Sea of Fertility is a cycle of four novels (Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of  Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel), centered on the changing world of Japanese society from the early twentieth century to the post-Second World War occupation.  I read Mishima for an undergrad class years ago, and instantly was taken by his powerful, yet beautiful style.  Though I don’t agree with his political outlook, his poetic language is second to none.
  • The Red Wheel Cycle by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn – I believe there are four novels in this cycle, but only two have been translated into English; August 1914, and November 1916.  Both august1914books investigate the Russian experience during the First World War, and the Russian Revolution of 1917.  I am going to give Solzhenitsyn a second chance this summer. In undergrad, I read his famous work One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and was underwhelmed.  With a better understanding of Russian history today, I think I will now appreciate his work.
  • images (13)The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning – I will admit, I know nothing about Olivia Manning or her novels.  I just stumbled upon these recently, and I was intrigued.  The trilogy is the tale of a family living in Bucharest during the beginnings of World War II.  I find the mid-twentieth century history of Central and Eastern Europe enthralling; I have come to appreciate that this history has greatly shaped the world we live in today.  So, why not give this classic series a try?

 

Well, that should keep me busy for the summer months.  Perhaps in September I will revisit these books with reviews for you, dear readers.  Perhaps.  Now, off to the beach with I. B. Singer!

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

As the weather warms, and the sun becomes radiant, I know what is coming: ‘Beach reads’.  NPR will do a story about the best ‘beach reads’; Facebook friends will share lists of  the ‘hottest summer reads’;  bookstores will John Lavery (Irish Painter, 1856-1941) Girl in a Red Dress Reading by a Swimming Pooldisplay the most scorching books of the summer.  Well, I am here today to proclaim ‘ENOUGH’!  I have had it with the ‘beach read’ status quo. We need a literary revolution.

Let me be clear, I have nothing against bringing books to the beach.  I myself have a book with me at all times. When I go to the pool, I bring a book.  When I go to the playground with my kids, I bring a book.  And yes, when I go to the beach, I bring a book.  So, it is not the idea of ‘beach reads’ that irks me.  What annoys me is the notion that ‘beach reads’ must be mind-numbing, poorly written pap. ‘Beach reads’ have become the reality television of the literary world.

I ask myself, why do Americans willingly waste hours and hours of relaxation reading books that are turned out by authors who are formulaic and, as most will admit, absolutely forgettable? I realize the answer that most give to this question: ‘Beach reads’ should be entertaining and should allow the reader to ‘lose himself’.  I understand, I really do.  But, this points to the central kernel of why a revolution is necessary.  Though publishing houses, bookstores, and our mass media disagree, entertainment is not the antithesis of quality.  Unlike the deadening ephemeral nature of today’s ‘beach reads’, great literature lives and breathes beyond the three months of summer because it is so entertaining. Don’t believe me? Pick up Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby this month, and feel the life pulsating through the pages. Grab Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in July, and discover the definition of a ‘page turner.’  In August, just try to put down Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

As with all revolutions, this one has a utopian undercurrent. I hope this summer, millions of Americans will be laying on the beach, lost in Phillip Roth, or Richard Wright, or Yukio Mishima, or Toni Morrison and gain insights into humanity.  What better time to be meditative on the human condition then when you are lying under the scalding sun, breathing in the scents of summer?  Perhaps Franz Kafka can be our revolutionary forebear? Over a century ago, Kafka wrote to a friend that:images (12)

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy…? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”

Okay, maybe Kafka goes a little far, but the basis of his idea is correct.  Books should stay with us after we close the cover.  The ‘beach reads’ of today are the opposite of this ideal.  They are particularly marketed as the art of the forgettable.  Like so much else in our society, ‘beach reads’ are intended to be disposable.  So, I say, let’s dispose of them!  Bury your latest Faye Kellerman in the sand!  Toss your Richard North Patterson into the waves!  It is time for a revolution, and this revolution will not be reality-televised!