Shelf Centered

A Self-respecting List

Ah – the mere suggestion of summer reading conjures seaside images of sunscreen and paperbacks, parents at their leisure as children fortify sand castles to their hearts’ content. Summertime has long been considered reading time. Lists of the best beach reads abound. But not everyone spends the summer lounging on golden shores. And not everyone wants to read what the big publishers are hyping this season. While many lists might feature Picoult and Patterson (James, not Marcy), you won’t find them on mine.

What you will find are a few books I’ve read and wish to reread, in addition to those I’m eager to start for the first time. Or finally finish(!) Here’s a sampling of my list. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.

1) Once upon a time I purchased a used Penguin Classic edition of Crime and Punishment (back when Penguin was still Penguin). There was always a sidewalk vendor near my bus stop in Amherst, Mass., and I would usually find some book I wanted as I waited for my connection to Northampton. I fell under the spell of Dostoyevsky that summer. Not on a sunny beach, but on the bus ride home each night. The thing is, I didn’t want it to end, so I just stopped reading it around page 500. I’ve never read it since. I think it’s high time I see how it ends.

2) I’d also like to revisit my old pal Paul Bowles. I associate him with a sort of eternal summer. His eccentric expatriation is the stuff of legend. And his Tangier abode served as a rather strange salon for the beats abroad. A former composer of classical scores, he marched to the beat of his own drummer (all the way to North Africa). The Sheltering Sky is a must reread for me.

3) Just as Bowles’ masterpiece is a dark meditation on the premise of travel, Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act is a treatise on the subject. Rick’s mission in this enlightening travelogue seems to be the education and eradication of the “ugly American.” Good luck with that, Rick.  

4) One of the countless books I haven’t read, but want to, is The Goldfinch. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done so. I read Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, the first week it came out. I still have the copy she signed for me. If you haven’t read her novels, give them a go. A disciple of Dickens, she’s a natural in her own idiom. A potent concoction of SoGo (Southern Gothic) and cloistered ivy tutelage, Ms. Tartt is a rare bird indeed.

5) Last but not least – lest I be remiss I must include – John Ashbery’s latest offering, Breezeway. Ashbery is one of the most celebrated living poets, and, at 87, shows no sign of letting up.

What? You didn’t think I was going to include a collection of poems? Come now. No self-respecting list would be without at least one.  

-Andy Mitchell


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