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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Older but wiser: Random picks for summer reading

    According to tradition, if you read at all over the summer, you’re supposed to spend your days engrossed in “”chick lit”” – chiefly identifiable by their covers, which inevitably feature blurry photos of women with their faces obscured or magazine-style caricatures of women wearing sunglasses and eating chocolate – on a beach towel while gazing serenely out on the ocean.

    But we’re better than that. (We don’t even have an ocean here anyway, just a lot of dirt.) Here are some suggestions for summer reading that don’t even remotely resemble chick lit. They didn’t come out this year, but they’re still good.

    If you want to know why we’re in Iraq:

    “”The End of Order,”” by Charles L. Mee. At the end of World War I, the leaders of all the victorious nations got together in Paris to carve up the world, molding modern Europe and the Middle East in the process. The story’s been told many times, but historian Mee’s 1980 account – with its quick, cutting, almost cinematic chapters flashing by faster than you can read the labels on the champagne bottles – is narrative history at its best.

    If you want to feel better about not writing a book yourself:

    “”Out of Sheer Rage,”” by Geoff Dyer. Dyer had always wanted to write a book about his hero, D.H. Lawrence. So why couldn’t he get started? This hilarious, weird book is an account of Dyer’s repeated failed attempts to write his book. Something always comes along to distract him.

    If you want to know why Elvis still matters:

    “”Dead Elvis,”” by Greil Marcus. Rock critic Marcus’s classic study of “”Elvis after death”” features weird cartoons, song lyrics (“”I saw Elvis!”” shouts George Bush Sr. in a 1992 novelty hit), tabloid clippings and rambling musings on the “”termite-like”” presence of Elvis in culture. Best moment: Marcus’s angry review of Albert Goldman’s muckraking biography of Presley, which he accuses of “”cultural genocide.””

    If you like a good conspiracy theory:

    “”The Crying of Lot 49,”” by Thomas Pynchon. In swingin’ ’60s California, bored housewife Oedipa Maas stumbles on an ancient, worldwide conspiracy involving revenge tragedies, frustrated inventors and the U.S. Postal Service. Or is it all in her head? Or is it just one big elaborate put-on? Decide for yourself.

    If you want to read a good biography:

    “”Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination,”” by Neal Gabler. Despite the amusingly Riefenstahl-esque title, this is a fascinating and well-researched biography of the eccentric genius who may have had more influence on American culture than any other man. Fast fact: Disney didn’t like Donald Duck and often wondered aloud if they could get away with killing him off.

    If you want to feel better about being a terrible bore:

    “”The Fall,”” by Albert Camus. An anonymous narrator, sitting in a bar, reveals the story of his life to a hapless bystander. Gradually, he reveals the extent of his complete amorality. Short and to the point, this is a damning portrait of human nature at its worst – and it’s kind of funny, too.

    When you can’t get a date:

    “”Lolita,”” by Vladimir Nabokov. This book may turn you off to romance altogether; it’s the anti-chick lit classic of all time. Nabokov’s famous story of how middle-aged professor Humbert Humbert wins – and loses – the “”nymphet”” girl of his dreams is funny, shocking and sad. (Don’t miss Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1962 film, either.)

    If you just want to cry:

    “”Under the Volcano,”” by Malcolm Lowry. If you want to be talked out of taking that last drink, this is the perfect antidote. Lowry’s tale of a self-pitying consul drinking himself to death in Mexico is sad and unsparing. (In case you were wondering: Yes, there is a volcano in the book.)

    If you just want to laugh:

    “”The Code of the Woosters,”” by P. G. Wodehouse. “”If not actually disgruntled,”” declares Bertie Wooster, Wodehouse’s eternally clueless innocent, “”he was far from being gruntled.”” In one of Wodehouse’s best novels, Wooster runs afoul of “”amateur dictator”” Roderick Spode, and only the ever-loyal, ever-resourceful valet Jeeves can save the day.

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