Guest Blog: Book Stack Style: My Summer Reading So Far

I’m so glad for another guest blog from Amelia Brubaker!   I find her reading list and thoughts about it fascinating, and I’m also grateful for her kind words about PRAIRIE EVERS.

Book Stack Style: My Summer Reading So Far

I love everything. Stuff interests me terribly. I say “terribly” because recently this has affected my reading life in a hectic, stressful sort of way. I’ve started carrying around a stack of books and trading one for another when I get antsy. Maybe the reading load in school has changed me this way—so I always feel like I need to read something else. (Because that is what being an English major is like for most of the year.)

At some point, when I noticed that I couldn’t spend five minutes peacefully reading the same book and I was actually worried that the stack that had accumulated on my typewriter was going to damage the platen, I realized that what I was doing simply wouldn’t work. (I’d been grabbing everything interesting from my bookshelf—which is a problem when everything interests you.)

In the end, I had to decide to stick with books I thought would help me write my thesis. I had to forgive myself for letting a couple books stay on the shelf this summer—which was painful. (Zora Neale Hurston and Jack Kerouac are both authors I usually revisit every summer. Both authors are incredibly musical—which always grabs my attention. Also, reading Kerouac always makes me want to hike and drive places, and that is what summer is for. It usually works out, but not this summer.)

Here are the books I’ve stuck with, and can recommend, so far:

1) This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey by Steve Almond: This was my first official read of the summer because it’s really, really short and I was really, really tired from the school year. I bought my copy after I went to a reading Almond gave at a local bookstore in Moscow. (Which was lots of hilarious fun and good reading—if you have the chance to go to a Steve Almond reading, do.) It’s a split-part book; one half is essays and the other half short fiction, all around a page or less. I really enjoyed the essays—they were full of good ideas for any kind of writer. (And did I mention cheeky? Cheeky like a good writer/writing teacher can be. Lots of fun.)

2) Six Nonlectures by ee cummings: There are some guilty feelings associated with this book. I specifically requested it for Christmas, received it (thanks, Mom!) and stopped reading after ten pages when break ended and school life resumed. (To be fair, I was also reading The Idiot at the time…and didn’t finish that one, either.)

Now that I’ve read it properly, I’m really glad to own a copy of it. The “nonlectures” have brilliant ideas on writing in the midst of cummings’ autobiography. Here’s a sample I couldn’t resist copying (original punctuation preserved):

“Every artist’s strictly illimitable country is himself.

“An artist who plays that country false has committed suicide;and even a good lawyer cannot kill the dead. But a human being who’s true to himself–whoever himself may be–is immortal;and all the atomic bombs of all the antiartists in spacetime will never civilize immortality.”

Inspired, much? Buy a copy. You won’t regret it.

3) The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: This is a repeat read for me, but it’s one that needed to happen. This book was the third poetry book I’ve ever purchased (after a Barnes & Noble copy of Emily Dickenson in 8th grade and Allen Ginsberg’s Complete Poems as a sophomore.) I first read this book in its entirety when I bought it—not having a clue of what I was actually reading 95% of the time. I was drawn in by Thomas’ music—the beat and rhyme schemes seemed like a puzzle back then.

I’m glad I decided to reread it from beginning to end, now that I’m better equipped to puzzle over the “what” as well as the “how.” I’m taking my time, too—Thomas’s work doesn’t fill a bible-sized volume like Keats or Ginsberg, but I’m still only three quarters of the way through it after spending two solid months reading. (Want a sample? Fern Hill is worth a few lazy summer minutes, at least.)

4) The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath: It’s not unusual to be in love with Sylvia Plath, if you’re a poet. And I am completely in love. I was hooked after my first poetry professor read “Poppies in October” in class. I found an old copy of Ariel at a used book store, and, more recently, invested in a used copy of her complete work. Most of Plath’s anthologized work comes from Ariel—for good reason—but it would be a mistake to ignore her other stuff. Here’s something to chew on, from “Tale of a Tub.” The last two lines are pretty insane:

“In this particular tub, two knees jut up

like icebergs, while minute brown hairs rise

on arms and legs in a fringe of kelp; green soap

navigates the tidal slosh of seas

breaking on legendary beaches; in faith

we shall board our imagined ship and wildly sail

among sacred islands of the mad till death

shatters the fabulous stars and makes us real.”

5) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh: I finished volume one of a three-volume set before my reading was interrupted by travel. One of the downfalls with this set is its size—it’s not something you want to read on a plane or haul in a suitcase.

The complete set makes for a good read if you have an interest in van Gogh’s autobiography and want to hear about his experiences in his own words. Beware: the guy could write, and didn’t live life halfway—he went through some rather zealous stages in his life.

6) The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky): I bought a new copy of this book over Christmas break as a present to myself. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I read “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Demons” and became a huge fan of Dostoyevsky. I began reading it over break, and almost finished it, but had to abandon it once the spring semester began. I promised myself I’d finish it this summer, and I’m almost there! So far, The Idiot isn’t my favorite of his work. But I have enjoyed this translation—the other translations of his I’ve read have been by Constance Garnett.

7) Percy Bysshe Shelley Selected Poetry (ed. Neville Rogers, 1968): Funny enough, Vincent van Gogh led me to Percy Shelley in his own odd way. Letters from van Gogh’s time in London mention Romantic poets—Keats, specifically, and I don’t remember whether he mentions Shelley or not…) His mention of the Romantics sent me to my Norton Anthology, from which I read all the Percy Shelley available (excluding “Prometheus Unbound,” because it was an excerpt and I can’t stand excerpts!) Having exhausted all the Percy Shelley available to me, I went to Bruised Books in Pullman, WA and bought an old, yellow copy of his “selected” poems. True, it’s an incomplete volume. It has excerpts from a couple longer poems—which I really can’t stand. But it had “Prometheus Unbound” in its entirety and can fit comfortably in my purse without weighing me down (something I’ve come to appreciate after realizing that some of my “complete” volumes are almost impossible to drag around with me.) And it’s simply a pleasure to read old books like this one.

8) Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood: I don’t want to embarrass Ellen by praising her new book in a guest blog, but I’m going to anyways. Young adult novels are not only for young adults. As long as the story is compelling and the characters are convincing, I’m sold. And Prairie is just that. She is as unfiltered as a child is—sometimes to the point of unintended insensitivity—and her experience as a weird kid with few, close friends is completely convincing. (This coming from someone who was a “weird new kid” several times.)

Other great young adult books that adults should read and love this summer (or any time of year): Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen (which still holds the place of my favorite book EVER,) Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade and Jack’s New Power by Jack Gantos (which are right up there on my list of favorite books as well).

9) Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger: This was an old, slightly beat-up thrift-store find that cost fifty cents, took less than a day to read, and will remain part of my personal library for years to come. If you can suffer through the angsty antics of the characters throughout the book (which really are trying—I’m not a fan of former precocious-child-stars turned bored-

20-somethings,) a real gem is waiting for you at the end. The final message seemed important for a writer, or any artist, for that matter. Don’t ask me to explain it—it would ruin the story.

10) The Best American Poetry (2009): I really enjoy this series. Books in the series are pricey if you buy them new (16 dollars) but you can usually find clean, used copies for a great deal less. And they are packed with outstanding work. The highlights for me in this particular book included Suzanne Cleary’s “from The Boy’s Own Book: A Compleat Encyclopedia of All the Diversions Athletic, Scientific, and Recreative, of Boyhood and Youth, by William Clarke,” “The Great American Poem” by Billy Collins, “The Way of All the Earth” by K. A. Hayes, “What I Think of Death, If Anyone’s Asking” by Maud Kelly, “The Insect Collector’s Demise” by Jude Nutter, “Heartlines” by Alexandra Teague, Carolyne Wright’s “This dream the world is having about itself…” (which almost made me cry in an airport—if you feel like crying in an airport from something other than frustration, I suggest reading this poem;) and “Never to Return” by Matthew Zapruder.

This concludes the list, so far.

So, what does the rest of the summer hold? Maybe reading a textbook or two before classes start. That’s sensible, right?

But honestly, that’s not me. I really want to treat summer like it’ll never end. And my friend did give me a beautiful old copy of Crime and Punishment. And I also have that copy of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. And I really wanted to finish Huckleberry Finn. And try to fit at least one Vonnegut in there somewhere…

–Amelia Brubaker

Category: Books 2 comments »

2 Responses to “Guest Blog: Book Stack Style: My Summer Reading So Far”

  1. Jennifer

    Why all the guest blogs? Why is Ellen not writing?

  2. ellenair

    Because Ellen is immersed in summer at the diner right now! : ) And also she’s lucky enough to know a poet/baker’s assistant (of other summers)/graduate student in poetry who’s willing to write some fun guest blogs, so that my blog doesn’t completely flatline!

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