Summer Reading

17Aug10

Country Driving by Peter Hessler

A Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl

Sentimental Education by Gustav Flaubert

Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

This summer I have read so many books.  That’s what I get to do when I don’t have my students and their work to take care of.  I read a few terrible novels, but was saved by the books mentioned above.  Country Driving was given to me by my father because Peter Hessler was his student and he loved the book.  It was an indelible portrait of China in the first decade of the 21st Century.  Using driving and the sudden explosion of the automobile and highways as the organizing principle, it is an astonishing portrait of everything from laws of the road to country life to the factory towns.  I couldn’t put it down.  A Romantic Education is simply a gorgeous memoir.  Hampl came to Hofstra to speak in the fall and ever since I’ve wanted to read her work.  Her insights and the beauty of her language are spellbinding.  For my book group we are reading Madame Bovary and Sentimental Eduction. I haven’t gotten to the first.  Sentimental Education I have now read three times.  Every time I read it, it is new all over again.  This time I appreciated especially the use of descriptive writing to capture the mood and meaning of the characters.  I was led there by reading James Wood’s How Fiction WorksMy Hollywood: I love Mona Simpson and became a writer because of her, in part.  Here, she captures the relationship with the babysitter that all mother’s, in one way or another, must negotiate.  I felt as though she wrote the experience I lived, so able is she to tap into the universal.  And lastly, my cousin Charles recommended I read Our Town for the best description of consciousness in literature.  He suffers from ALS and can no longer speak.  The third Act, reading it, was  as though Charles were speaking to me, generously inviting me in to understand what all of us seem to so often miss.  I have been thinking about the play since I read it in June, at 2AM, unable to sleep.  I think about it when my children disrupt me from something that seems utterly important, that isn’t of course, to see something that they find utterly important.  Sometimes, I confess, I find all their demands a sort of tyranny, but then I’ll think about Our Town and will think of having a long conversation with Charles, of how brief this all is — their childhoods and the demands and the beauty of my complete presence , for them, as hard as it is to achieve.  My first impulse after reading the play was to send it to everyone I love.

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