Summer has arrived, and suddenly you no longer have textbooks to read, notes to study, or papers to write. Why not do some reading you’ll actually enjoy? You’re off to a fine start by reading this post, but perhaps you’re looking for something on a larger scale. You really want something that comes in paperback. I could write a novel for you, but it seems far easier for me just to recommend some books I enjoyed.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
They’re making a movie about this one, perhaps you’ve heard. The plot on the surface is simple upper-class melodrama, but Fitzgerald writes it in some of the most masterful prose I’ve ever read. Think “Paul Thomas Anderson directs the Kardashians.” The Great Gatsby addresses wealth, inequality, and the possibility of the American dream, because those were the big issues of the 1920s. And look where we are today. Hemingway wrote of Fitzgerald that “his talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.” It’s on full display in Gatsby, and none of the other work I’ve read by him comes close to being as well-written. None of the other work I’ve read by any author comes close to being as well-written. I have low expectations for the movie because it will inevitably leave out what made the book so good: not the scenes or characters, but the words.
But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.”
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Like Gatsby, it’s been a few years since I’ve read this, but I constantly find myself returning to its lines. If Fitzgerald’s florid prose was a bit too much for your taste, Heller’s style might be more up your alley. This is a hilarious book about World War II. Heller satirizes the absurdities and paradoxes of war through a unit filled with bizarre, preposterous characters. While a comedy at heart, Catch-22′s sincere moments do not falter, and serve as needed reminders that the laughter serves a purpose. The book jumps through its own chronology and cast of characters until all the punch-lines have their set-ups and all of the nonsense becomes clear.
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino
Speaking of books that screw around with structure, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is one of those knots that only poses more problems the more you attempt to untie it. The main character is someone trying to read this book, only to consistently be stymied by a litany of publishing errors and and bizarre events. By the end of the book, the reader has made his way through bits and pieces of ten different fictional novels, each written by different fictional authors in different styles. It sounds complex, mainly because it is. If that’s the sort of thing that appeals to you, you’ll love this book.
“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.”
The Plague, by Albert Camus
Quite simply, this is the best book I’ve read in the past year. You might remember the name Camus because you read The Stranger in high school. In The Plague, he tells the story of a Algerian port town beset by the Bubonic plague, but more importantly he tells how times of crisis and absurdity reveal the true nature of man. This is a story that works on its own level, but The Plague also doubles as an allegory for the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Looking back, I think it might just have something to say about the fearful week we spent here in Boston just last month.
“But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has served in a war, one hardly knows what a dead man is, after a while. And since a dead man has no substance unless one actually sees him dead, a hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination.”
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I should warn you ahead of time that this is an 800-page book. I read it over a month-and-a-half span around Christmas. But reading (even e-reading, as I did) an 800-page book is an entirely different prospect than reading something of average size. You aren’t going to spend that much time and effort on something that you don’t enjoy, and the extra time you spend with it gives you ample opportunity to find something of merit. So perhaps I’m biased when I say that I loved this book. Dostoevsky uses the grand scale to examine an estranged family and their motivations, and he tosses in some arguments about religion and philosophy for good measure. The story hinges around a murder, but the cast of characters is what really stands out in my memory. Dostoevsky had planned for a sequel to follow this, but his death prevented that from happening.
”…imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale…but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature…and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears—would you agree to be the architect on such conditions? Tell me the truth.”
About the Author (Author Profile)Ryan is studying journalism in the college of communication. He hails from Rochester, New York, and is slowly growing tired of explaining that it's really quite far from NYC. He watches far too much sports and likes to think of his life as a really long (and occasionally boring) book. His guilty pleasures include most of the music from the 1980s and every movie Sylvester Stallone ever starred in.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Careless and Confused | Culture Shock | May 13, 2013