seasonal reading recommendations
Were you aware? It’s nearly impossible to read a Victorian novel when your living space hovers around 95 degrees. Likewise, those massive tomes of English lit are pleasantly warming when you’re already wearing extra socks and four shirts to keep your cells from freezing in the winter. But summer reading doesn’t have to mean lobotomy-by-misuse-of-adverbs or, say, Dan Brown.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say everyone who’s reading this should pick up a Jennifer Egan novel. I just read The Keep, her Gothic thriller with, appropriately, themes of psychological self-protection, and Look At Me, her novel about image and identity. Both of them have kernels that make you think (if you’re like me, you’ll think ‘Yeah… Yeah!’), but said kernels are lovingly nestled into an environment of deceptively breezy writing, with unexpected humor, interesting characters, the whole lot.
Case in point, needing a paragraph of backstory: Judith Butler, in Giving an Account of Oneself, discusses how we form our identities in modern society. Namely, we understand ourselves using the cultural package of themes and motifs we inherited without really knowing it. Say, silver spoon or bipolar or rural America or working class or bookish or sensitive or talkative. We understand the same themes and motifs in other people, thereby creating a semblance of understanding. But to so nail down our identity that there’s no remainder, no room for incomprehension of self, no mystery to ourselves or other people of ‘who we are’, is to commit an act of violence. Likewise, to assume away the mystery in other people is an act of violence. For Egan, that kernel of mystery is the essence of life.
“And when I think of the mirrored room, as of course I still do, I understand now that it’s empty, filled with chimeras like Charlotte Swenson– the hard, beautiful seashells left behind long after the living creatures within have struggled free and swum away. Or died. Life can’t be sustained under the pressure of so many eyes.” — Look At Me.