JANET ORSI’Scam’ artist: Daedalus Howell, playwright and publisher of the irreverent, Petaluma-based Scam magazine, likes to play around in the summer.
Local writers share their picks for the best summertime reads
By Sara Peyton
SUMMERTIME READING evokes the remembered childhood pleasure of catching fireflies in the dark. It’s magical. And local writers–literary magicians spinning tales from words–indulge in summer reading just like the rest of us. We thought we’d take a peek into their literary closets to inspire our own summer reading lists.
With nose to computer screen and fingers affixed to the keys, finishing her next novel is uppermost in Dorothy Allison’s mind. Summer reading, though, means settling into something comforting. “I just re-read [Toni Morrison’s] Song of Solomon, which I do pretty regularly,” e-mails the acclaimed Guerneville author of Bastard out of Carolina and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. “I also dipped into [Louise Erdrich’s] Love Medicine, which is what I do when I am overwhelmed–re-read favorite books I know I will love again.” For a great summer fix, Allison recommends Bernard Cooper’s Truth Serum. This coming-of-age gay memoir recently received glowing reviews in the New York Times Book Review. “These are wonderful essays that read like short stories,” Allison writes.
Occidental fiction writer Robin Beeman needs three different summer books. Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean–from which Tim Robbins made his award-winning film of the same name–satisfies her reading needs during StairMaster workouts. At home, this novella and short-story author is diving into a classic, Gustave Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education. Set in the Paris of the 1840s, Education chronicles the love of a young man for a much older woman. “It’s interesting because he puts his own life on hold so he can be around this woman and long for her,” sighs Beeman. One of the few writers to admit to a guilty pleasure or two, Beeman always reserves time for what she calls her summer “chewing gum” novel. “I’m looking forward to whatever Elmore Leonard book comes out in paperback,” Beeman says.
Sonoma State communications professor Jonah Raskin spent his boyhood summers lounging on Long Island beaches, his head in a book. Realizing midway through college that he wanted to study literature instead of history, he turned to even more serious reading. “That summer I read all the classics from [Defoe’s] Robinson Crusoe to [Forster’s] Passage to India. I took notes and by September I was an English major.” When this summer unfolds, Raskin–whose new book, For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman, will be published this fall–plans to dive into Doris Lessing’s five-volume Children of Violence series.
“What’s nice about summer reading is that you have time to get involved in one big book and feel like you’ve lived with the characters for a long time,” he smiles.
Voracious readers will want to add these
tasty tomes to their summer reading list.
Petaluma playwright Daedalus Howell, 23, doesn’t remember reading much as a teen. “Back then, summer was for liquor and sun,” he cracks. His habits have changed, and now he recommends reading plays. Two summers back when Howell first tackled the genre, he read 300 plays. “You can sit on the porch with a glass of ice tea, read a play in an hour and a half, and get the same thrill you’d get from reading a novel,” he says, particularly recommending prolific playwright Tom Stoppard. Howell–a busy writer who publishes a satire tabloid called Scam and is never far from phone, e-mail, or beeper contact–is about to embark on a novel. His planned summer reading includes an old favorite. “I plan to completely deconstruct Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle for research and enjoyment.”
Howell’s close friend Trane DeVore, a Petaluma poet, keeps a stack of decidedly serious books by his bed. This summer he hopes to cozy up to Karl Marx and 20th-century German philosophers. For others not so philosophically inclined, he suggests books by Lorrie Moore. “I highly recommend Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? It’s about childhood love, the kind of love that isn’t sexual. It’s pre-sexual, but a fierce love.”
Hard-working Cydney Chadwick, the Penngrove-based fiction and poetry writer who publishes Avec Books, has never “summered” anywhere and can’t recall the last time she went to the beach. Still, when it comes to the literary scene, she seems to be everywhere. “I read no more or less during the summer months, nor do I read any differently,” she says evenly. Once finished with a friend’s dissertation, Chadwick plans to open one of the nearly dozen still-unread books lining her bookshelf. Among them, Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, feminist theologian Helene Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, and a biography of Heinrich von Kleist, a 19th-century German poet, playwright, short-story writer, and essayist.
Though not as long, Suzanne Lipsett’s list is equally intense. She’s the author of one of my personal favorites, Remember Me, an unusual novel about how a family copes with death of their young mother. This summer Lipsett is rereading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. “But if I wasn’t busy reading that I’d re-read Middlemarch,” she declares. “I recommend anything written by George Eliot.”
Sonoma State English professor J. J. Wilson, the co-founder of The Sitting Room in Cotati–a great place for air-conditioned summer reading comfort–has a list of books as tall as a redwood. At the top is Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. “This is one of the few novels nowadays that shows a black man taking responsibility,” says this non-fiction writer. “Sure, there are some great black grandmother types in the book nagging the hell out of him, but in the end the protagonist does what he needs to do himself, which I love.”
Jane Love juggles the careers of freelance editor, fiction writer, reading-group coordinator, and publicist for Copperfield’s bookstores while still savoring many kinds of reads. “When I was a girl, I liked to read the classics in the summer,” she remembers. “I was good-girl reader then. Later I kind of went through a period of gorging myself on the dark, psychological true-crime books by Ann Rule.”
These days, Love loves André Dubus. Published by Knopf, Dancing After Hours–the first short story collection by Dubus in nearly a decade–focuses on love, adultery, and sustaining a marriage. “He’s the greatest kept secrets of the literary word,” she reports, “a man that women and men alike resonate with.” It sounds almost too good to be true.
Summer reading. To some it means more time to nourish one’s literary soul, a lifelong pursuit. “By the time summer comes along, I’m reading books that won’t come out until fall,” says Andy Weinberger, co-owner of Readers’ Books and a dedicated but as yet unpublished fiction writer. “I don’t go in for light fare or beach books.
“Life is too short to furnish your mind with trash. That’s my view.”
From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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© 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual Valley, Inc.