Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Summer Reading

This summer I plan to read. It use to be a regular ritual of every summer to pick a book or a group of books in a theme. This summer might be Moby Dick. In doing some past research I read a few chapters and like it. The book is 135 chapters long but it's more like 135 short stories all around the theme of whaling. Being a slow reader 2-4 short chapters a night will carry me through the whole summer.

Of course the monster of all literary rambles is James Joyce's Ulysses. Like all of James Joyce's works it's twisty and complicated -and at least for me easier to understand when someone else reads it aloud than reading it myself. It's a rare person who can honestly say they have read it from cover to cover. As luck should have it I person know one man who has read Ulysses several times. Chris isn't one of those overly educated culture snobs, he writes very accessible articles for an online jazz magazine. Though he might someday teach a college level class on the book.

Some of the most influential events of my life came from reading. When I was fifteen I spent some of my summer spare time reading Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 as a group. Each book complement each other with a distinctly different vision of a possible dystopia.

Being so impressed with these three authors I went on to read some of their other books. Aldous Huxley's books would later teach me about the wide spectrum of perception. Ray Bradbury would expand my sense of what's possible through fantasy fiction. Most of all George Orwell would have the biggest influence on me.  1984 is Orwell's most popular book , it's one of his most entertaining but I began to appreciate his other books more.

At the end of  1984 is a short essay on the origins and development of Newspeak the official language of Oceania and the English Socialist Party (Ingsoc) .  On the surface of it, it seems like a dry little essay that sounds perfectly plausible. It was reading in between the lines where you can see the real power of language.  The written word gives every reader the opportunity to commune with every writer and jump over the barriers of time and space (and Orwell demonstrated how Newspeak was a way of destroying that portal of communication).

It would be years later that I would read Orwell's three most personal books the Road To Wigan Pier, Down And Out In London And Paris and Homage To Catalonia.  The Road To Wigan Pier is maybe Orwell's most underrated book but all three together make a powerful statement on a man who lived his beliefs and didn't practice some armchair intellectual pontification of how the world should be. Orwell was a lifelong socialist but also he was a razor sharp critic of socialism's failings.  Somewhere he comes to the conclusion that every ideology is incomplete and the biggest enemy of any political movement is itself and the extremists in its own ranks.

One summer I was involves with the major renovation of a huge high school building in the suburbs of New York City.  I don't want to mention the exact location but there was a hideous building made entirely of concrete. It was a heat sink and by 10 am every morning the building was hotter inside than it was outside. By late afternoon the temperature difference was a good twenty degrees. At night when the streets cooled off the building radiated heat like a warm body until well past midnight.   

Because it was a school building there was a strict deadline to get the job done on time. The contractor had workers around the clock on site. My job was involved with contract compliance and inspections, that meant there were long hours with little to do. The only advantage of being there was the school library. That summer I read The Grapes Of Wrath by Steinbeck, The Ground Was Our Table by Steve Allen and How To Talk Dirty And Influence People by Lenny Bruce.  

The Grapes Of Wrath is a well known classic but The Ground Was Their Table by Steve Allen was a surprise. Steve Allen was comedian and talk show host but before he became famous he travel and labored with migrate farm workers.  The book is warm and funny with a deep social awareness.

Even more surprising was Lenny Bruce's book.  Lenny Bruce is remembered for the stand-up comedian that said "dirty words". That's not really true.  All the comedians of that time had an after mid-night route filled with off color jokes and all the four lettered words people regularly used -or at least wanted to use.  What got Lenny Bruce in trouble was his willingness to make fun of powerful people. Those very same people had Lenny Bruce arrested over and over again on obscenity charges until he was so tied up in court he couldn't make a living.

There is an agricultural connection with How To Talk Dirty And Influence People. In one of the chapters Lenny Bruce reminisces of when he was a young man and was taken in by an elderly farm couple. I don't want to spoil it for you but you may never look at farm fresh or organic eggs the same way after reading that part.     

Another summer I spend a good portion of my free time reading Phillip K Dick novels. He's one of the best science fiction writers of all time. In the last thirty years about a dozen of his books have been made into movies but the average person still has no idea who he was. Unfortunately Phillip K Dick died just before  Hollywood discovered the rick body of work the man created and it was ironic because Phillip K Dick wrote very unconventional stories that were opposite of the Hollywood mentality.  If you saw The Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Minority Report or A Scanner Darkly then you saw some of Phillip K Dick's stories that have been adapted for the movies.  

So that summer I read A Man In A High Castle (arguably one of the best sci-fi or mainstream novel ever written), The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch  and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep was the story behind the movie The Blade Runner. The story in the book and the movie are the same but the attitude and styles couldn't be more divergent. One is an action adventure story, the other a very cerebral detective story that isn't searching for a fugitive but instead tries to find out what is the essence of the human soul.   

Well so much for light beach novels. There is no right or wrong in choosing what to read.  I just personally like making an adventure of it. Though people seem to be reading less, this maybe the golden age of literature.  So much is easily available and so much is online or a simple download away.  Like sports, a good book can be a shared experience that opens up a world of tangents and conversations. 

Happy reading.

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