The End of Summer

Well, not according to the almanac. But when I was growing up, “Summer” was from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

(Cue up Phineas and Ferb).

And even though I am a bit older than in those wonderful days, I yet think of Summer as a time to lighten up, relax, get your act together for School to start in the Fall.

Especially, it was a time for reading.

Back then, I still had a swing that hung from a thick pole supported by two very convenient trees in our front yard. Days when I would get off the bus from school, I would be found in that swing, usually reading some book or another, until my folks got home from work. It was a habit that hardly changed until I went off to college.

And in the Summers! Other than the obligatory summer job, I spent my time in that swing reading everything I could get my hands on. Because… well, if I have to explain, it would be futile to do so.

So, flash forward to today, when I am retired and a great-grandpa. I again have a swing, not one of a notched board resting on a rope loop, but a porch glider, suspended by chains from the rafters. It is very comfortable, except for a brief time in the late afternoon, when the Sun peeks in to spy on me, and I retire to the cool of the house until just before sunset. The other hours are spent reading, just like 60 years back.

All of which is preface to mentioning my 2015 Summer Reading List.

Summer is not the time for serious study. It is a time for the fluff and dandruff of literature: Something which goes well with wine coolers or quarts of ice cold beer.

(This doesn’t include Shakespeare On Sundays, since most people do not consider the Bard to be light reading.  But, I was raised on King James English, thanks to my beloved Baptist Grandfather, so that language is “normal” for me.)

I can’t count Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, as it got read before memorial Day.  Ditto for Connie Willis’ wonderful sendup, To Say Nothing of the Dog.

But for the rest of summer:

Started off with The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, in which our intrepid Inspector Grant exonerates Richard III whilst incapacitated in hospital.

Then to Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hichens. Surprisingly the late Mister Hichens and I agree wholeheartedly on this topic.

Next came The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, which I understgand made a splash in financial circles a few years back. I can see why. As an admonition to think beyond the immediate and to have reserves, it is an adaptation of “Hope for the Best but prepare for the Worst.” Which is always good advice which nobody ever follows, especially when some catastrophes are inconceivable.

Afterwards  was The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is both a timely meditation of Eternal Values and a literary acid trip (if you are too young to know what that is, just as well.)

Then came Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. Orwell, as a young man, before his social investigations and his trip to Catalonia to fight Franco, had a rough time of it for several months, which informed his later work, and scarred him for life. A nice middle-class boy having to tramp from one wretched condition to another was both abrading to his soul and something which gave him a ferocious insight. And he realized how short-term his problem was compared to those who had no way out.

For a refreshing pause, I took up Gilead, then found as I got deeper into it that Marilynne Robinson was one of those who doesn’t play fair. She prattled on about seeming inconsequentials, and then sandbags you when least expected. In a good way, or maybe I am a masochist in these matters.

For a truly terrorizing trip laced with far too much prophetic insight, and fanciful technology (considering it was written in 1907), I traveled with Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson and The Lord of the World. It has a “happy ending”. Really.

Years of avoidance guilt at not having read The Stranger by Albert Camus finally got me to open its pages. Having read some of Camus other works, I was prepared for it. But as I came to the end of the novel, it seems to me that if the intention was to declare how “absurd” LIFE is, it failed. The narrator was absurd. The narrator was a monster walking about in a human suit, and the tears of the old priest who tries to help him understand his condition are too realistic to be a sneer by A.C. Other things prompt me to believe Camus thought “Existentialism” was an absurd response to the world. (Maybe part of why he was shunned by the others?)

By chance, I discovered a copy of The Neon Bible, John Kennedy Toole’s “other novel”. Written when he was just 16 for a contest, it has much of what made A Confederacy of Dunces so appealing. It also makes one mourn he could not have done more.

Of course, I had to do something a bit more substantial, and so I read Laudato Si’ in paperback (having read it online as soon as it came out.) It is now marked all over with a pencil. On my second go-through, I must concur with Thomas McDonald’s assessment of ‘conservatives’ who denounced it, “Conservatism is Roadkill.” It is so perfectly in line with everything the Church has taught back through Leo XIII and St. John Chrysostom to the Prophets of the O.T.

And finally, to end my summer fluff, I found at the local St. Vincent de Paul store, a battered paperback copy of another Josephine Tey work, A Shilling for Candles, also with the estimable Inspector Grant.

Most fitting to end as I began…

It’s been a wonderful Summer.

This Fall is, however, another kettle of mackerel.

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