Summer Reading 2016

woman reading

Geez, Louise, this blog needs some resuscitating. Again.

I have been very, very busy with my summer reading, so some things have gone neglected. The stacks of books have grown so tall, in fact, that I have my eyes on winning the top prize in the adult summer reading program at my public library. All the lines are filled on a folded paper form, and I am quite pleased with myself. If I were 9 years old, I would be digging in a treasure box for a Lisa Frank pencil set this very minute.

I have since read the fine print, and there is no grand prize.

So what they are telling me here is that prizes are awarded by a drawing, not by an impressive volume of reading. What they are also telling me, then, is that some slacker who reads only one dog-eared copy of 50 Shades of Grey this summer while on a girls’ weekend to the Gulf of Mexico while sipping mojitos can easily sweep the prize box, while I sit here next to a stack of books and no prize.

It’s OK. I know who the real winner is. The winner is this girl. In return, I would like to award a few of my own prizes from my summer reading list thus far:

  • Quickest readThe Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
  • Most bizarre readGone With the Mind by Mark Leyner
  • The “I’m Now Going to Sound Smart at Dinner Parties” read—(a tie)Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works by Jay Newton-Small AND First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
  • The “Can’t Wait for the Movie Starring Jason Bateman” readThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

While The Rainbow Comes and Goes deservingly earned the accolade of “quickest read,” I need to set the record straight. The speed in which I read this book (one day) had nothing at all to do with the reading level or font size or skimming. In fact, the reading level was very Cooper-like, the font size was not “large print,” and I do not skim. Skimming is beneath me. Either read or don’t read, I say.

My interest in the Vanderbilt mystique began lo some 37 years ago when I bought my first pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans through a layaway plan. I was a disciplined consumer—disciplined by the pathetic wage earnings of $1-1.50/hour, made by babysitting spoiled kids whose parents had to post-date checks for $9 during the Carter administration. The jeans came with a prohibitive price tag of $35. Having Gloria Vanderbilt’s name gold-stitched onto my 13-year-old butt was a mark of vanity and financial recklessness, yes, but it was also an announcement that I was willing to do what it takes to earn the money over several weeks so that I could slap that denim on my size 3 rear end. (I would pay even more today to be able to make that same statement with some modicum of legitimacy. But I digress.)

“The rainbow comes and goes” is a line from Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” When you pair designer jeans with a fashionable top, or an early 19th-century poem, well, you really have yourself something. An excerpt:

The rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the rose;

The moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare;

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where’er I go,

That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

The only thing more beautiful than this here poem is a pair of dark denim designer jeans, paid for on installment at Casual Corner. That pair of jeans was a testament to a tireless work ethic and an insatiable desire to fit in among the other girls in the halls of my junior high. Beautiful.

But back to Anderson Cooper and his book.

A consequence to my dogged dedication to own my first pair of designer jeans is that my loyalty to Gloria Vanderbilt runs deep. She introduced me to high fashion, after all. Today I watch Anderson Cooper with such jealousy and curiosity. He’s a Vanderbilt, for heaven’s sake, but he doesn’t act like it. I won’t go into all of the ugly and sad family history that Cooper lays out with the transparency of Waterford crystal because, frankly, you need to read for yourself. This isn’t Sparknotes. But I will tell you that Gloria Vanderbilt somehow managed to give Anderson Cooper the wherewithal to do what he was led to do. She didn’t smother him or consider his successes and failures an extension of herself. She gave him space. His living and his choices have not been part of her performance. She is fiercely independent, and she has allowed Anderson to live likewise.

And that leads me to a work of fiction that we could somehow manage to view as a nice companion piece to The Rainbow Comes and Goes. Nothing is more fun than analyzing families and parenting. NOTHING. Kevin Wilson delivers a whopping tale of a family who is at once exhausting and peculiar and just. like. us. And by “just. like. us.,” I mean, like you and your family. My family is perfectly normal in every way. The rest of you have a lot of work to do.

OK, I think they’ve gone now. My kids never read this far. So I can come clean and tell you that The Family Fang explores, in a most extreme way, every single parent-child relationship, even in my own family. I don’t care who you are. The parents are performing, and the kids (like it or not) are part of the performance. My parents did it to me, I do it to my kids, they will do it to theirs, and so on. It wasn’t until about 2/3 through this book that I made this connection. You will likely draw your own conclusions, which is what everyone should do when they read. As I tell students in composition and literature: There is no right answer.

If you are a parent or have ever been a child of parents, you perform. This whole thing is an act in some way. We are either trying to conform or trying to stand out. Either way, it’s a performance. I’m not sure, but I think we are wired this way. It ain’t pretty, but we can’t help it.

The Family Fang is one of those rare books that left me angry that it was over, that I had read through it too quickly. Wilson’s storytelling leads to a lot of rereading and reading aloud. It’s that funny. And that poignant. And then funny again. There needs to be a yield sign or pause button every few pages so that the reader doesn’t speed right through and miss the scenery. It’s fabulous.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope the movie version doesn’t screw it up.

I am not going to baby you people and go book by book on my Summer Reading List, outlining the plots and dissecting the good and the bad. Besides, as I have pointed out, I have read a lot this summer. But what I have done, good reader, is add a page to this blog—a page that lists a few book recommendations for anyone looking for some non-required reading.  Look for it under “Book Recommendations.” Think of it as my gift to you. Your money is no good here. No layaway needed.

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