There are a few things I didn’t get around to this summer, reading wise. Erm, make that a lot. OK, fine. There are, approximately, a whole ton of books (and magazines and journals…oh, the journals) that, despite my best intentions—and admittedly unrealistic ambitions—I did no more than glance at this summer.
Books I couldn’t (and still can’t!) wait to read this summer—books like Brando Skyhorse’s The Madonnas of Echo Park, Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, and Christie Hodgen’s new novel—all sitting pretty and pristine on my bookshelf, unread. In the living room, the stack of untouched New Yorkers on the coffee table has moved beyond decoratively erudite (does such a thing exist?) to plain old unsightly. And beside my bed, a Jenga-tower of half-read books and magazines has reached such epic and architecturally-unsound proportions that hitting the snooze button in the morning not infrequently results in some exceedingly unwelcome 6 a.m. crashing. Sigh. All over the house, all summer long, these piles have been accumulating, like (lovely) little cairns of summer reading failure.
Of course, to my mind, this is part of the allure of summer reading—and of summer in general: the making of Big Plans only to let those plans melt away in the haze of days too hot and lazy to do much of anything at all. I know I’m not alone in this. For every person who will actually finish Infinite Jest this summer (We’ve got two in the ASF office. Just saying.), there are at least a dozen others who are staring down another 400 (or 800) pages and wondering if it’s better to just cut their losses and go get a Slurpee.
And so, summer readers, I’d like to direct your attention to Bernard Malamud’s story “A Summer’s Reading.” First published in The New Yorker in 1956, the story centers around a young man named George Stoyonovich who, aimless and unemployed, boasts to his admiring neighbors that he will read 100 books before the end of the summer. He fails, of course. As the summer passes, in fact, George does anything but read, finding that it’s the idea of reading—the idea of the person that he might become after reading 100 books—that holds the real power.
It’s an older story, set in Depression-era New York, but Malamud’s evocation time slipping by in the swelter of days that are at once too languid and too quick still feels right on.
So check out “A Summer’s Reading” (you can listen to a podcast of it here) and take heart in knowing that sometimes not reading is what summer reading is all about.
Any books you didn’t read this summer that you wish you had? What’s on your list for fall?