Summer (Bedside) Reading: Week 1
Oh the days of summer reading. The dreaded list of books, handed to you by teachers on your way out the door, practically panting and sprinting into the glorious, gleaming sunlight, and humidity (if you grew up on the East Coast) that meant you were free, even if it was just for 3 months. In some cases, more like 2, (ahem, a June 23rd last day of school? Are you kidding me?). In addition to the highway robbery that is an almost July release date, you were often left stacked with busy work and that damn list that you loved to hate and that, later, you hated to admit you loved.
Or was that just me? If it was, don’t tell me. I did, after all, end up majoring in English.
But now…what would I give for another chance at summer reading and childhood summers in general? Probably most things. But, since that really isn’t the way that things work, instead, I’ll take the summer subway commute, count it as my outdoor time, and like it.
In lieu of a real summer break (sorry), I’d like to offer you a real, adult, summer reading list. The classics will always be the classics, and if you still have your school summer reading lists, digging them up right about now wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Boo Radley, Nick Carraway, and Hester Prynne might even thank you for it. Holden Caulfield definitely will not thank you for it.
I’m not going to recommend any of those books though. We’ll leave it to your old high school teachers.
Rules of Civility
By Amor Towles
What’s so great about this novel is actually a couple of things.
First of all, the names. The protagonist’s name is the wonderfully alliterative Katey Kontent. But, as I’m sure you can expect, she’s anything but. Also the names like Bucky, Wallace, and Tinker make for a good laugh (and moment of gratitude toward your parents for not naming you that, unless they did, and in that case, good luck).
Second, is the wispy, meandering nature of Katey’s life. It strikes incredibly close to home, as someone in their 20’s, with all those loose ends, unanswered questions, sweet, but naive visions of adulthood, and, of course, doomed relationships. It brilliantly captures the serendipitous coincidences that often mark your decisions when you’re young, stupid, and beautiful. (Ain’t it the truth, Katey.) There is something eerily refreshing about how untied it all seems, wandering from place to place, in search of cheap champagne, hoping to meet someone, but the right someone. And how time, and even more importantly, chance, can send our lives sharply and brilliantly in another direction.
Third, taking some inspiration from the inspiration of the country’s first leader, George Washington, this book is an ode to the necessity, and often frivolity, of the Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in in Company and Conversation. Frankly, as a New Yorker, it certainly makes me long for a little more civility. Especially when it comes to principal number 15: Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean, yet without showing any great concern for them. I think we could all benefit from a bit of hygiene, but guys, let’s not be obvious about it. Cutting your nails on public transit is just never okay.
And finally, the glamorous electrically charged 1938 New York City that Towles creates is enough for anyone to wish their way back in time. And a glossy sheen-ed, champagne popping, smokey jazzed romp through the upper echelon of New York society is just what you need this summer, isn’t it?