It would be hard for a summer to be worse than last summer, but even given its modest competition, this summer still feels like the most pleasurable one I've had in years. I haven't taken any big vacations, and though I've gotten a fair amount of work done, no huge hurdles have been lept or grand visions acquired. Really, the most notable thing I've done is read.
Now, I read all the time, but usually I'm reading in catch-up mode: gotta get this book read for class on Thursday, or that one before my reading group meets tomorrow--or this other one in order to finish off my article revisions. Such obligatory reading can still be quite pleasurable, and I've spent long lovely hours in bed with a cup of tea and The Faerie Queene or in a coffee shop with a notepad and some volume or other from Cambridge University Press. Still. . . it's obligatory.
But this summer, for all my to-do and to-read lists (and my tiresomely Protestant tendency to see all projects as self-improving ones and thus Not To Be Shirked), I felt that I actually had time to explore. My fellowship allowed me to look at all kinds of random Early Modern shit; prepping for my new fall class sent me through dozens of articles and perhaps a half-dozen books; and spending a month in a city where I knew no one gave me an excuse to work through several scholarly books only tangentially relevant to my own research.
I'd characterize all of the above as relatively fun reading--on the grounds that anything not immediately necessary must be fun--but this summer I also did more leisure reading than I have in years.
A couple of months ago Prof. de Breeze had a great post on how little leisure reading he himself does these days. It was a post I related to, as I'd been worrying about the declining number of novels (&c.) I've been reading over the past few years; a couple over winter break and a couple over the summer, usually, tending to fall into two categories: either Classics I Should Have Read Long Ago or temporarily engrossing but ultimately forgettable contemporary fiction. I was starting to wonder whether maybe I just wasn't a leisure reader any more--or whether there was something about my life that made contemporary fiction feel less relevant.
As someone who has always read and whose livelihood depends on students who themselves identify as readers, that possibility was disturbing but not unplausible; I'd long since stopped reading the short fiction in The New Yorker, at least in part because it felt the least urgent: given the finite amount of my reading time, I concluded that the nonfictional stuff was what was interesting, topical--and much more likely to come up in dinner-party conversation.
So I'm pleased to report that, this summer, I got my leisure-reading groove back. This is what I read:
August Wilson, The Piano LessonSome of the books I read were merely good--a fun way to pass the time and a means of shoring up, ever so slightly, my claims to familiarity with the current literary scene. Others, though, reminded me of what made me a reader and a writer in the first place.
Richard Russo, Straight Man
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End
David Mamet, American Buffalo
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
Tom Perrotta, Joe College
(Plus eight to ten Hernandez Brothers comics and the opening chapters of The Yiddish Policeman's Union.)
And if that isn't a justification for 14 weeks away from the classroom, I don't know what is.