By Scott Dickensheets
Here’s what we’re gonna do. Instead of suggesting books you should read this summer, because how would I know?, I’ll tell you what I plan to read — hope to read — foolishly believe I’ll actually read — in the next few months. (It’s hard, people; the heat messes with my brain.) Since I haven’t read any of ’em yet, I can’t recommend them on any basis except that something about each has goosed it toward the top of my to-read pile.
Okay, I’m mildly contradicting myself first thing, because I have read 10 or 15 pages of Martin Amis’ The Pregnant Widow, which I was relieved to discover is not, in fact, about a pregnant widow. It is about sex, but that’s not why I want to read it; it’s also about rich, textured language, which is why. (Also, it’s about sex.) Newly out in paperback, its story involves randy young Brits experiencing a hot, wet Italian summer back in the 60s, when sex was still incredible and filled with meaning. If that’s not enough British fiction for me, I have a copy of Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot idling at the ready, although I fear it might actually be about Flaubert’s parrot.
Flaubert was French, which I mention solely because it transitions smoothy into Disaster Was My God, Bruce Duffy’s forthcoming (July 19) novel about that other great French literary prospect, Season in Hell poet Arthur Rimbaud. Duffy is an acclaimed and brainy writer — he previously novelized upon the life of Wittgenstein — and Rimbaud is a notorious figure (transformed poetry by age 20, then quit literature for African gun-running), who inspired such great performers as Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith and Eddie and the Cruisers. So it should be heavy duty.
When I want some light duty, though — and I surely will, summer being the season of escapist reading — I’ll turn to Death Likes It Hot, one of the mystery novels Gore Vidal wrote under the name Edgar Box back in the 1950s. It stars a dashing PR man, which is how you know it’s fiction.
No one noticed this book when it came out late last year: The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story From Buchenwald to New Orleans. In it, journalist Mark Jacobson tries to learn the origin of a lamp with a shade made of human skin. It screams Nazi, of course, and Jacobson runs down that angle, but he also uses the occasion to investigate death, hatred and evil. Jacobson’s a good reporter and a great stylist, so I expect the book to be filled with terrific place descriptions and nicely drawn characters. I’ll probably augment that by reading Rescuing Evil: What We Lose, Ron Rosenbaum’s 22-page essay, available as a Kindle Single, about the pitfalls of trying to ameliorate the concept of evil.
My pal Steve Friedman’s memoir of life and bad behavior in the trenches of romance and the Manhattan media world, Lost on Treasure Island, comes out any minute and will show you a good time: breezily self-lacerating one moment, bleakly revelatory the next, and funny throughout.
A trio of books coming out in late August or the first of September will let me end the season in a blurt of — I trust — quality reading. Christopher Hitchens’ Arguably collects a batch of his essays on politics, which I don’t always agree with, and literature, which I don’t always understand. But I almost always enjoy watching his mind work. Tom Piazza’s Devil Sent the Rain is a collection of essays about about America, music and, if I’m reading the title correctly, New Orleans, about which he’s written before.
And the book I’m most curious about: Colby Buzzell’s Lost in America: A Dead-End Journey. Expanding on a transcontinental ramble he took for Esquire magazine, Buzzell’s book should be a ground-level look at our country, through the haunted eyes of a former soldier wracked by his service in Iraq and wondering what America is all about. Some quality about Buzzell’s prose, something I can’t pin down and analyze, has stuck with me since his Esquire days. Can’t wait.