The Best Non-Required Reading of the Summer (2011 Edition)

Jen Egan. Swoon.

It’s August: the wet armpit of a globally warmed world. Not to mention the economy is (once again) exploding and London is burning. It’s a good time to curl up in the A/C and get reading. We know that you’re jumping out of your skin to get going with all that lovely theory that’s headed your way. But before you feast your brain on Lacanian incomprehensibility, here are a few suggestions for the last few weeks of a scorching summer. (What to read…after the jump)

1) A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan): Last year it was Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story that everyone was falling over themselves to pre-order. This year, there’s no better place to get a hold on the “Fiction of the Moment” than Jennifer Egan’s brain exercising genre-bender. It’s about music! The future! There’s a PowerPoint Presentation Chapter! And Egan (above) is purty. Everything you need in a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. If you’ve already read GOONS, then why not make yourself an Egan egghead and read her 2001 Look at Me, a book that weirdly predicts things like Facebook and global terror.

To Infinity! And…you know…Whatever…

2) Twilight of the Superheroes (Deborah Eisenberg): We all know that the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. But few people really have a read on the significance of 9/11 and post-9/11 literature. You’ll find a lot of lists of “BEST BOOKS ABOUT TERRORISM AND 9/11 AND TRAUMA AND OTHER THINGS RELATED TO INTERPELLATION BY NATIONAL IDEOLOGY” this fall. A few might have the title story of this excellent collection on it. But just around none will have the whole book.

Which is a shame. Eisenberg is one of my enduring favorites: an author whose subtleties and whose patient exploration of ordinary life in the years after 9/11 are two things that set her apart from other practitioners in the genre of short fiction.


Do they have to make a movie out of EVERYTHING? (Yes).

3) Jonathan Lethem, once and future darling of the publishing industry: With news that weirdo David Cronenberg will direct the film adaptation of Lethem’s As she Climbed Across the Table it’s worth considering whether we should just all bomb Hollywood. Lethem now has three books under production (though from all evidence, work on Chronic City and Motherless Brooklyn has just about stalled), and it bears asking what makes Lethem such an attractive source for Hollywood material.

There’s a lot of Lethem worth reading (Motherless Brooklyn, Men with Cartoons, and Fortress of Solitude especially) and a lot of Lethem that’s probably not worth reading (You don’t Love Me Yet and allegedly, Chronic City). The best (especially for you soon-to-be grad students) place to start is with his genre-bending As She Climbed… the story of two star-crossed and emotionally hapless academics. It gets better. The book deals with the fabrication of an artificial “black hole” called “Lack.” Lack (COUGHLACANCOUGH) has a personality and preferences and desires. A perfect way to warm up for weirdo psychoanalytic theory.

Also, five bucks to anyone who writes their thesis on Lethem. I’ve been waiting for two years to see one.


La vie est merde….get used to it.

4) Treason, poems from Hedi Kaddour: If crickets aren’t enough to get you in a melancholy moood, try Hedi Kaddour’s collection Treason, which was fairly recently published in translation.

Kaddour visited UChicago in the Winter Quarter, and brought the ennui…hard.

The poems chronicle everyday life in Paris, but there’s a fantastically subtle inter-mixture of patriotic, nationalistic, and cultural *stuff* that just kind of gets in the way of people’s business.

A little Althusser in the margins? C’EST POSSIBLE. But whatev. These short poems make for very nice, and not at all heavy handed, reading.



One thought on “The Best Non-Required Reading of the Summer (2011 Edition)

  1. Pingback: Chicago: Home of the Used Book Stores | MAPHtastic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *