Thursday, May 25, 2006

What kind of crap are you reading this summer?

It must be the temperature; the higher it goes, the lower the standards sink. Like such a fuddy-duddy I sound, but still... how it is that summertime came to equal dumb, weightless entertainment has always mystified me. Yeah, I like to see girls in bikinis and shit blowing up just as much as the next guy. That's me, down there in the middle of the theatre, hooting at car chases and leering at Keira Knightley, mainlining Skittles and soda like heroin. (Oh, and in case you haven't heard: Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane.)

Still, when it comes to the reading, my habits tend to be inversely proportional to the rest of the world's. (I save the silly crap for the wintertime, when I'm so brain-fried by cabin fever that even a Clive Cussler potboiler could seem stunningly profound.) Last summer was the one I picked to dive into Swann's Way and War and Peace; the summer before, it was Heller's Something Happened and Barth's Coming Soon. I don't know what it will be this summer, but impossible behemoths like Gravity's Rainbow and Life and Fate are keening their siren song. (But please, friends and relations, if you catch me with schnozz a-buried in something gloriously disreputable like Carl Hiassen or Joe R. Lansdale, just pretend I'm mastur-- er, masochistic -- and look away.)

So over at Slate, currently in the midst of a welcome celebration of pulp fiction, authors chime in: Scott Turow is diving into Greg Iles, Michael Connelly and Ridley Pearson; Thomas Mallon is rolling around in Kenneth Anger; Rick Moody is soaking up a Motley Crue tell-all. There are snooty exceptions, of course. Michael Chabon claims that he doesn't "change what I read when I go to the beach or on a vacation. I just read more." Joyce Carol Oates and George Saunders politely refuse to answer the question, with Saunders' explanation being a particular standout (in that unmistakable Saunders fashion):

For my money, the best beach read is How To Get Sand Out of Your Private Areas, by Hitch C. Groyan. Ha ha! No seriously. The best beach book is I Floated Nearby, Full of Envy by Moby Dick. It's the heartbreaking, true-life story of a whale who longs to come up on the beach and befriend the wealthy, joyful people he sees there but can't, because he has no legs and is totally naked. Also, he is a little sensitive about his last name. In the sad conclusion, this cranky guy named Ahab kills "Moby" to make him into lantern oil, only to find that lanterns are no longer used. Then—I haven't read it in awhile—I think Ahab gets so depressed about the lantern thing that he cuts off his own leg, and then this crocodile keeps chasing him around, and the crocodile learns to fly and decides never to grow up, and asks the audience if they believe in fairies, and then gets arrested for using language insulting to gay people. It's sad, but it's also depressing, and really makes you think while totally bringing you down and making you want to have about six more drinks and go for a swim.
Not to be outdone, USA Today asks the same question of writers including Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Wally Lamb and E. Lynn Harris. Always the straight shooter, King, when asked about his summer selections, cuts to the chase:
Why these authors? "Because they're good!"

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