Summer Reading

In the weeks between the end of classes and the beginnings of summer jobs and projects, I decided to take on a long-awaited activity: reading for fun.

I read all year long, but when you’re reading with a pen in hand, making notes in the margins for potential comments to make in class, it’s just not the same. To me, reading for class is joyful work, but it is still, in some sense, work. When I read for fun, there are no post-it notes beside me, or between the pages of my book, with questions hastily scribbled, like: “Potential research paper?? Ask prof. ASAP.”

So, over the past few weeks, I got down to reading. First, I discovered a pleasure reading lounge in the basement of the library, with couches and so-called light reads stacked on the shelves.

Then, I pulled one off the shelf, and started reading. My pattern went something like this:

The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard. I’d been told this was worth reading over a year ago, since a publisher had recommended it to a writing friend, whose manuscript the publisher though it resembled. I thought my friend’s manuscript was better, but I admired (in some ways) what Pittard was doing here. Told from the first-person, plural “we” perspective, it followed a group of high school boys who eventually become husbands and fathers, as they speculate about what happened to a girl they once knew, who disappeared while they were in high school.

The tone was wistful and eerie at the same time, and the imaginative yet real speculations kept me reading till the end. I quibble a bit with the idea of using the first-person plural here; while in the beginning, the group of boys seems to function as a cohesive “we,” as they grow older, the group begins to split, the personalities become different, and the “we” gets more confusing. I found myself wondering, mid-way through: To whom is Pittard referring, and when and where are they?

I tried not to be too critical, though. After all, this was my first fun read.

-This led me to Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. A sensation when it first came out back in 1993, I was too young at the age of 7 to know about all the hype, or the subsequent 1999 Sofia Coppola movie. But I knew that the story was told from the first-person plural point of view, and I wanted to see how someone else did it. How would this “we” function?

It turns out, the story was just as eerie as Pittard’s, but more grounded. It deals with real events (as opposed to speculation) as a group of boys watch them unfold. The five Lisbon girls are troubled, and the boys feed the reader pieces of information as they find them and reflect on them. Instead of taking place over a lifetime, it takes place over a year. This set-up eliminates the problems that Pittard encountered in my opinion.

– But this brought me to the real gem: Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. Perhaps because it was about a girl graduating from college in Providence (where I went to college) as she grapples with the after-effects of her literature major on her psyche in the real world, I was hooked.

The story follows Madeline, her science major boyfriend, and philosophy/religion major friend, as they deal with the first year after graduation, each finding (and losing) his or her own way.

Having just finished a seminar on literary theory, I laughed out loud when Madeline reminisced about her childhood literary heroine, Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline, and what the little girl “who lived in an old house in Paris covered in vines” would say, faced with Brown University’s reading assignments.

After an angst-ridden several chapters watching Eugenides’s Madeline contemplate Foucault, it was gratifying to hear her muse: “And to writers like Camus, Madeline just said, ‘Poo poo.’”

So, perhaps, in a way, with my book-a-week three weeks, I didn’t escape university life as much as I thought. If you study what you love, or have a job you love, can you ever really escape it, though?

I am grateful I could choose my own books for a few weeks, and read them at my leisure, critiquing them when and how I felt like it… and just sitting back and enjoying The Marriage Plot, my favorite of the three.

First published about a month ago by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press newspapers.

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