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Geek Reads 08/11: Beat the Summer Doldrums

Yes, it’s that time of year again–that sticky, slow, monotonous period in the middle of the summer where everything seems to come to a standstill. The excitement of the beginning summer has long passed, and you’re probably working somewhere to make yourself useful, or taking classes, or researching, or doing something to occupy your break. Or maybe you’ve found yourself sitting around with nothing to do. And it’s not quite time to start shopping or packing up for college quite yet. So how can you stay entertained during the inevitable boredom of mid-summer?

Pick up a book, of course! Okay, maybe you aren’t the reading type–and in that case, it’s really hard to force it unless you are willing to go out of your way to give it a shot. But if you’re anything like me, you love books but somehow manage to not get around to reading everything you want. For as long as I can remember, I’ve drawn up a summer reading list every year of nearly twenty books, and I never get through more than two or three of them–if any. This year, however, I’m determined. I’m actually getting through my reading list (although, for the sake of ease, I’m rereading some old favorites instead exploring new books). In any case, I’d like to think the four books I’ve accomplished so far deserve enough merit to be shared with you all, and they’re diverse enough that at least something here must appeal in some way to most people:

Revolutionary Road–Richard Yates

This title might ring a bell from the 2008 film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, based on the book. Revolutionary Road provides a haunting look inside an outwardly perfect 1950s home. The suburban lifestyle was just beginning to take off during this era as more people began achieving “the American Dream”, and those ideals provide a backdrop for the story. Although the story deals with the rather heavy topic of happiness (or lack thereof) in marriage, Yates’ lyrical prose makes the novel very simple to take in. The social significance of this book is often compared to another American classic: Revolutionary Road is to the 1950s what The Great Gatbsy was to the 1920s. Despite the initial sappy appearance, this novel is a romance story gone wrong–in all the right ways. While the book’s themes may not resound with everyone, there’s no doubting that it’s a beautifully crafted piece that deserves to be read simply for its prose alone.

Me Talk Pretty One Day–David Sedaris

In the realm of humorous short stories, David Sedaris reigns king. All of his collections draw on events from his unique, colorful life, and never fail to cheer me up. Sedaris has a magical way with words that draws out laughter from even the most serious of people. I’ve read tons of his work, and few books inspire me to be a better writer as much as Me Talk Pretty One Day has. Time Magazine named Sedaris “Humorist of the Year” in 2000 after the release of this book, and I’m still yet to discover another author that can make me laugh out loud, without fail, every time I read something they’ve written. In this book, Sedaris discusses everything from growing up in suburban North Carolina, to his drug-induced dabbling in performance art after college, and adjusting to a new lifestyle after moving to France with his partner. Sectioned into 6-10 page stories, this book is perfect to take along on summer trips–you can read as many or as few stories as you want at a time, and you’re guaranteed to laugh at some point.

The Virgin Suicides–Jeffrey Eugenides

I think I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book, and it never fails to leave me feeling both melancholy and content at the same time.  A short novel, The Virgin Suicides chronicles the lives of five teenage sisters in 1970s and their experiences with sex, school, and as the title implies, suicide. While topic of death is certainly no laughing matter, Eugenides manages to make the story both haunting and darkly funny at once. Told from a unique first-person-plural perspective, The Virgin Suicides is quick and easy to read–but it leaves you thinking after. Maybe that’s why I find myself reading this over and over: I’m looking for answers that don’t exist. While the story itself is about the girls, it is told by the boys who knew them, making the novel uniquely relatable to both genders.

If you like The Virgin Suicides, check out the 1999 critically acclaimed film that made its title a household name. Also try Middlesex, Eugenides’ 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning novel about an intersexed person growing up in Detroit (this too is one of my all-time favorites, but requires a much greater intellectual and time investment).

I Am America (And So Can You!)–Stephen Colbert

Okay, so this next read is a bit politically-charged. Stephen Colbert, as we all know, is fiercely conservative. And he has this nation’s absolute best interests in mind when he speaks.

Phew. Now that our political leanings are out in the open, I can proudly say that this book is one of the most well-thought out, well-written, well-meaning books I’ve read in recent years. Colbert’s straightforward approach to all of the problems in our country, beautifully interplayed with experiences from his own life, makes for a wholesome book. It’s actually funny that I was given this book to me by one of my more left-leaning friends–he seemed to be under the impression that Colbert was actually satirizing the right-wing! How absurd! I Am America (And So Can You!) is obviously a very serious, although at times humorous, book that all Americans should read at some point in their lives. It’s a real eye-opener, and it turns the giant cloud of politics into an intensely enjoyable reading experience.

As you can see, I’m a big fan of what might be considered “modern classics”–that is, books from the 20th century and beyond that have considerable literary merit. However, I’m also always on the lookout for good humor and satire (cough). And finally, I try to avoid reading anything too heavy in the summer. Summer is about enjoying time you wouldn’t have during the school year, and that time shouldn’t be spent stressing over a book that forces you to get too mentally involved. Most of these books, while certainly engaging, don’t require you to think very deeply, and also allow for frequent breaks (I’m the kind of person that stays up all night reading books like this that I find too interesting to put down, but I realize not everyone is crazy like me).

So see if something up there catches your fancy. If nothing else, it’ll give you something to do during your mid-summer sluggishness. And maybe you’ll end up finding a new favorite book to go back to every time you’re a little bored–reading something I love always beats the doldrums for me!

Do you have any good books you’ve read this summer, or that are waiting to be read on your list? And do you have any other ways to beat the summer sluggishness? Share your thoughts below!