It's Travis' Turn column: A summer reading list
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
Summer is finally upon us (almost) and each year the same kinds of articles crop up online and in magazines: Top 10 Beach Reads, The Five Books You NEED To Bring On Vacation, etc.
While I am a big fan of reading, I don't particularly care for these kinds of lists, given that reading can be a year-long activity and not something you only do to fill the time when you're away from home.
For this reason, I've decided to compile my own list of books — books that are good to read any month of the year, at any time. If they're not my favorites, they're very close.
1. "In Youth is Pleasure" by Denton Welch
OK, this one actually is my favorite — my favorite novel, anyway. It concerns the doings of a 15-year-old boy, Orvil Pym, who is on vacation with his father and two older brothers. While the story, if you want to call it that, is about what he does on this vacation, the underlying theme seems to be that not only does Orvil not know he's gay, but he doesn't know such a thing even exists. (The reader is never let on to this fact of life, either.)
Written in a clean, precise style, the book is wonderfully descriptive and funny in a way that few books are. If you don't want to take my word for it, none other than William S. Burroughs named Welch as the writer who most influenced his own work.
Burroughs wrote, "Denton Welch makes the reader aware of the magic that is right under his eyes, for most of the experiences he describes are of a commonplace variety: a walk, a tea, a peach melba, rain on a river, a visit to an antiques store, a picture on a biscuit tin, a bicycle ride, adolescent tears."
2. "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley
Forget the movies, with their shambling, inarticulate monster. The monster of the book is downright chatty, spending several whole chapters talking about the places he has been and just how he feels about having been brought to life against his will.
While I can't say the book scared me (the only book ever to do so was about the Hartford circus fire), it contains many unforgettable scenes and images, and builds to a climax that is surprisingly emotional, and ultimately tragic. It's so much more than just a simple monster story.
3. "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay
Even though it was written in 1841, this book is as fresh today as it ever was, for the simple reason that while technological and social circumstances may change, people don't. A classic of debunking false beliefs, the book goes after psychics, haunted houses, economic bubbles, swindles and group hysteria.
The text isn't dry, which is also a welcome change from many other books of the era, and many other books covering the same subjects. It's funny and snarky, almost cynical. But when it comes to discussing these subjects, objectivity is almost offensive.
4. "The Portable Dorothy Parker"
Speaking of snarky and cynical humor, you don't get much snarkier than Dorothy Parker, particularly in her book and theater reviews, some of which are included in this volume. (For example, she writes that she "thwowed up" after reading "The House on Pooh Corner.")
Yet she is also capable of perceptive writing about serious subjects — such as in her best story, "Big Blonde," which deals in part with a failed suicide attempt.
Dorothy Parker is perhaps not as well-remembered as some of her contemporaries, or thought of as a wit and nothing else. This is a shame, and a perception this book goes a long way toward reversing.
5. "This is Orson Welles" by Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich
The back cover refers to Welles as the "world's greatest storyteller," and the interviews in this book make that claim difficult to refute. Welles is thoroughly engaging while holding forth on a variety of topics not limited to the mediums in which he worked: Film, radio and theater.
A talent like Welles comes along once in a generation, if at all, and it's nice to be able to read his own words to get a better picture of his creative process. It's a shame more books like this don't exist for other artists.
Well, that's it for my summer reading list. I'll expect your reports on my desk when school starts again in the fall.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.