After a year off, it’s back: The Summer Reading List. Here’s hoping you were able to get through last summer without us. Contributors this time around include veterans like Cynthia Connolly and Gary Baddeley, as well as newcomers like Tim Mitchell and Val Renegar. Many thanks to all who sent me their suggestions. Enjoy!
note: All of the book title links on this page (and there are a lot of them) will take you to the selected title in Powell’s Bookstore.
Hans Fjellestad, Director, Moog:
Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson (Feral House):
A look inside the strange and densely bureaucratic realities of living and working in Antarctica. Some Joseph Heller flavor, but hard to explain. Definitely bleak and funny as hell. Maybe a nice choice for your next afternoon in the sun.
How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer (Harper Collins):
From British-Israelism to Serbian anti-Muslim paramilitary units, there are some really unexpected connections here. It’s a fun read and more about cultural attitudes and globalization theory than the actual game. But after all, it’s WORLD CUP time!
Gary Baddeley, Publisher, The Disinformation Company:
Roy, as usual I don’t have much time to read any books other than
our own, but that’s fine because we have some cool new books. Just
about to drop is Number Freaking: How To Change The World With Delightfully Surreal Statistics by Gary Rimmer. We plastered every toilet at Bookexpo America with a caution flyer about one of the number freaks inside the book: one about how 45,000 Americans are injured by toilets every year, and it was the talk of the convention!
Val Renegar, Professor of Communication, San Diego State University:
Here is what is going in my suitcase for my six weeks of vacation time:
Theorectial Writings by Alain Badiou (Continuum).
Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson (Riverhead).
Veronica: A Novel by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon).
On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Penguin).
My Life In France by Julia Child (Knopf).
Shibumi: A Novel by Trevanian (Three Rivers Press).
Patrick David Barber, Designer:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Penguin):
This book has begun to inform a nationwide discussion about what we eat and where it comes from. I’ve read parts of this book already in article form in the New York Times magazine and elsewhere; and I’ve skimmed sections sneakily while my partner was reading it. In May we participated in the Eat Local Challenge, whereby we attempted to eat food that was grown within 150 miles of our house whenever possible, and the resonances with this book and the way it is infiltrating our culture were rich and plentiful. What am I saying? You gotta read this.
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books):
Got this at the library and had to return it before I could get all the way through it. A well-researched book about what the author calls Nature Deficit Disorder, a malady suffered mostly by today’s young children (for example, one San Diego youth who prefers the indoors to the outdoors because “that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”). A sobering look at some disturbing trends, and one thing I found surprising was just how rich the author’s research and information was, since the premise pretty much fits in the length of a subtitle: Kids don’t go outside enough. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and it’s interesting stuff. I know, sounds like some light beach reading, right? But it’s worth a read, especially among the old-enough-to-have-kids, computer-user set, which is to say, most of you who are reading these words.
And now the books of note which I’ve actually read recently, which, speaking of deficit disorders, are all graphic novels or comics.
The Asterix series by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo (Orion):
I’ve been checking these out from the library and mostly reading them in the cool confines of said library directly after picking them up. (I also have a formidable collection at home.) I never knew where my childhood dreams of peaceful pre-industrial life came from. Rereading these books makes me realize that they came from here. The world of Asterix is a pretty nice place to be, where no one is suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, or much else.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin):
This graphic bildungsroman has received rave reviews far and wide, and it lives up to the hype. The whole thing is executed masterfully, from the story’s graceful, flashback-inflected arc, to the beautiful two-color graphic renderings, to the author’s impressively font-i-fied handwriting, to the utterly stunning cover and dust jacket. One two-page sequence, of a conversation between the protagonist and her father, in a car, about their sexualities, is one of the most effective, jaw-droppingly intense pieces of storytelling I’ve ever read, graphical or otherwise. Bechdel’s magnum opus, and a hell of a work to follow up. What’s next? The Dykes To Watch Out For version of Factotum?
Blankets by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf):
I suppose we can call these books “Autobiographic Novels of the Artists as Young People,” which has a nicer ring to it than “künstlerroman.” This is another detailed story of one comics artist’s life, from childhood to adulthood. I read this directly after Fun Home, so it’s hard not to compare them (indeed, I found out about this book because of a discussion between Thompson and Bechdel on Powells.com). The artistic styles, and the stories, are quite different, though. Thompson’s story is as dark and cold as his Wisconsin upbringing– even the panels that are set in a sunny afternoon have a dark shadowiness about them. While I can’t say that I enjoyed this book as much as Fun Home — it’s not as solid from a purely literary standpoint — that’s faint damnation if there ever was any. I gulped down the 800 pages in a few hours one night. Highly recommended.
Tom Georgoulias, Contributing Editor, frontwheeldrive.com:
The Rabbit Factory: A Novel by Larry Brown (Free Press).
JPod: A Novel by Douglas Coupland (Bloomsbury).
ReadyMade: How to Make [Almost] Everything: A Do-It-Yourself Primer by Shoshanna Berger and Grace Hawthorne (Clarkson Potter).
I’m jumping the gun on JPod since I’m about three-fourths of the way through it, but assuming he doesn’t throw it away in the last quarter of the book, it’s worth reading.
Tim Mitchell, B.A. in English, Writer and Humorist, Television Panelist, Dilettante and Libertine:
I don’t know if you only want current books, but here are the books/poetry/short stories that I think everyone should read sometime in their lives (Note that I’m excluding obvious and popular works, like Naked Lunch).
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Penguin):
Forget the controversy. This book is miles above The Satanic Verses.
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):
The John Huston film does this novel justice, and like The Godfather, is about equal to the book.
Philip Larkin: Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):
In my opinion, the only poet to write more than three great poems. Apologies to Dylan, T.S. and W.B.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?: Selected Early Stories (Ontario Review Press):
Short story by Joyce Carol Oates. Hey, you can read short stories between naps, eh? This one should not be missed.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (Vintage):
Either you get it, or you don’t. The film completely ruined this book by letting too many people get it.
Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carrol (Orb):
Disappointed his fans. Good. Great book from an author who actually has something to say.
Neuromancer by William Gibson (Ace):
Defined the cyberpunk genre, and made the tag “computer geek” a symbol of pride. Without this book, there would have been no Matrix, etc. Trivia: Gibson had never owned a computer when he wrote the book.
Falconer by John Cheever (Vintage):
He also wrote a strong contender for best short story, “The Swimmer.”
The Bible No, seriously. The Bible is the jumping off point for an extraordinary amount of English literature. Just don’t feel obligated to read “Chronicles.” I don’t think the Pope has read that whole damn chapter. I also suggest you ingest your hallucinogen of choice when you read “Revelation.”
The Preacher series of graphic novels by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (Vertigo):
Yes, all of them. I won’t play nor give the game away, but an Englishman and an Irishman teamed up to write one of the best works of fiction about America that I’ve ever read.
roy christopher, Editor, frontwheeldrive.com:
Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts by Mary Orr (Polity):
I’ve been reading this one off and on over the past several months and plan to finish it this summer. Orr explicates the work of four key thinkers in the area (i.e., Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Howard Bloom, and Gerard Genette), as well as the French critics who explored the concept (i.e., Jacques Derrida, Marc Angenot, Paul Ricoeur, and René Girard). Orr certainly set out to make this the definitive introductory text on intertextuality. I’m also referencing Graham Allan’s Intertextuality (Routledge) along the way (Intertextuality is one of my recent a pet research interests).
I just got Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker (Verso) and it looks to be a great introduction to this unsung feminist firebrand. Acker has been, in turns, revered as notorious and notoriously overlooked. Many think she embodies the epitome of the literary punk rock ethos, and many others know little about her or her work. I’m one of the latter, but I’m using Lust for Life as the door into her world.
Derrida by Amy Ziering Kofman and Kirby Dick (Routledge):
Last year, Routledge put out this book of the script of the Derrida documentary. It includes essays by directors Amy Ziering Kofman and Kirby Dick, a lengthy interview with Derrida, a ton of http://frontwheeldrive.com/images from the filming, and an introductory essay by Nicholas Royle, as well as the full text of the film. This over-sized book provides a great companion piece to the movie and will make you look smart if you leave it on your coffee table.
Speaking of companion pieces, if you like the movie Donnie Darko, then The Donnie Darko Book (Faber & Faber) by Richard Kelly is a must-have. It has a long interview with Kelly, the full shooting script and stills from the movie, all of Roberta Sparrow’s book, The Philosophy of Time Travel that exists, and more. If you find the movie the least bit bewildering, The Donnie Darko Book helps clarify what’s going on.
I’ve also been trying to catch up on some missed classics and modern fiction (e.g., Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer, etc.), and I just finished Watership Down by Richard Adams. Not enough can be said about how effortlessly Adams entrenches the reader in his world of rabbits. It’s a perfect summer adventure. Next, I have my eye on Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney, Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
The “to be read” stack also contains Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang (Picador), Stargazer: The Life And Times of the Telescope by Fred Watson (Da Capo), and Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin), among others.
Michelle Pond, Da Capo Publicity:
I am an intern at Da Capo Press and Lissa suggested I recommend a book for frontwheeldrive.com‘s 2006 Summer Reading List. Fred Watson’s Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope traces the history of the telescope, from its origins with Tycho Brahe (Denmark’s “lord of the stars”) to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope; offers a glimpse into the future, when telescopes could conceivably save us from asteroids; and captures the intensely competitive life of the modern astronomer. Stargazer acquaints us with the biggest and the best telescopes.
Cynthia Connolly, Photographer and Artist:
I have not been doing too much reading, except reading the historical signs on the sides of the roads in Virginia. I advise to read the magazine called Orion and to drive and look up to the trees and sky and contemplate what to do next.
[Above, Angela sits among the many books at Adams Avenue Bookstore in San Diego, California.]
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.
Editor of Boogie Down Predictions (Strange Attractor, 2022), author of Escape Philosophy (punctum, 2022) and Dead Precedents (Repeater, 2019).