My Summer Vacation 2018
During my summer vacation 2018 I travelled the world and never left North Texas. How’s that? I read 40 novels and visited at least three other continents, eight other countries, and many other US cities, all from my living room. And I’ve tried to keep a list of the people I’ve met, but it’s well over 100, so I’ve quit counting. Oh, and I traveled back and forth through time. That is an important point I need to emphasize because when it came to Paris, that really sent my mind for a whirl.
So what did I read this summer and how did I pick the books?
My Summer Reading List
I have been reading straight fiction with a purpose since December 2016. My goal is to read 101 works of fiction in order to improve my writing as a fiction author. Already I have seen improvement in my work, but it was midway through this summer’s reading when a light bulb came on in my head and showed me that I need to work harder at raising the stakes and writing more passionately about the human condition. My perspective about writing, the innocence of telling a story shifted, and as much as I disliked reading Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, I have to admit, I think that’s the book that awakened me to what I just explained. I didn’t like his book because I thought he was a little too much like Henry James, and packed what he could say in four pages into 20. But the realness of the book, the human emotion, the rawness, that spoke to me, and I’ve seen it, looked for it, or been aware of it not being there in every book I have read since.
So what are the 40 books I read this summer?
1 A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
2 The Torrents of Spring, Ernest Hemingway
3 The Figure in the Carpet, Henry James
4 The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald
5 The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
6 Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
7 Animal Farm, George Orwell
8 The Overstory, Richard Powers
9 The Captives, Debra Jo Immergut
10 Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
11 Warlight, Michael Ondaatje
12 The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin
13 Your Destination is on the Left, Lauren Spieller
14 The President is Missing, Bill Clinton and James Patterson
15 Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler
16 The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah
17 Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Oscar Wilde
18 A Long Way From Home, Peter Carey
19 My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
20 The Pearl, John Steinbeck
21 The Human Stain, Philip Roth
22 The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante
23 The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
24 Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
25 There There, Tommy Orange
26 The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
27 The Woman in the Window, A. J. Finn
28 When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger
29 The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel
30 Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway
31 Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
32 Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett
33 My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
34 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
35 The Outsider, Stephen King
36 On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
37 The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
38 To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway
39 The Waters and the Wild, DeSales Harrison
40 Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
Where Have I Been This Summer?
In reading 40 books, you’d think I’d been to a lot of unique places, but that’s the thing, it seemed like I ended up in some more frequent locations, just at different times. But that’s okay. There were lessons to be learned in this regard as well, particularly when it comes to Paris.
And this happened by chance, it was not planned. You see, I have been making a careful study of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and their days in Paris in the 1920s and early 1930s. Add in Paula McLain’s perspective with The Paris Wife, told through the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, fictionally, then you have a pretty good idea of what Parisian life was like pre-World War II. Then when you pick up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and read about the Nazi’s invading Paris and rounding up the Jews, well, then your head does a weird emotional turn–probably something very similar to what it was like when the Nazis were taking over and rounding up the Jews and sending them away, shooting people in the streets, and it becomes hard to comprehend and imagine in juxtaposition to the color and magic described by Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
I would not have had this experience had I not invested so much time with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and McLain in advance and then read Hannah.
But this is just one instance.
I came to the belief that drunken women on pills should be its on genre in bookstores, only to realize that this is an old trope itself–Valley of the Dolls, which I’ve not read. Regardless, it is prolific in today’s modern literature. And it sells. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but it does. Ottessah Moshfegh’s book this summer hit the New York Times Bestseller list for one week with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window spent weeks this summer on the NYT bestseller list. (Both stories centered in NYC).
Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home took me on a road race in the 1950s around the continent of Australia and then got side tracked in an Aboriginal camp.
The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway took me fishing and bullfighting in Spain. I didn’t realize it got so hot there in the summer.
I re-read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and had forgotten about the racism and greed and evil that can come from having found a gem like that.
I made it to Africa with Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh. Though the book was somewhat confusing at times, it was nonetheless a good commentary on the news media.
Then there were the books on Maine–Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. How it was I managed to read them back-to-back the Lord will only know, but that’s how my reading adventures seemed to work out.
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything brought me to Ohio.
There and Back Again
What have I learned? I think in many ways, I’m still figuring that out. I have noted that I need to do more in raising the stakes in my writing. I’m not going far enough in my negation of the negation–I’m not getting to the very end. But like I said, The Human Stain helped me see this more clearly. I do not, however, see myself reading another “Roth.” The guy is just too wordy.
I read 14 novels in August. I’ve finished one so far in September. Off pace already. Right now I’m 20 pages into Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I’m wondering why in the world it was necessary to describe her getting a Hollywood wax job by page 16. Has including that much sexual detail become completely necessary to entice someone to keep reading a story that might not otherwise be able to stand on its own? Or is this something for a book club? I’m beginning to see a pattern in books for book clubs–lots of explicit sex, presumably to keep housewives interested in the reading to keep them coming back for more? I don’t know, because to me it seems like–well, it’s not the best of literature, that’s for damned sure.
Okay, time to do some writing for the day.