This morning I rolled out of bed and for once didn't have a stack of papers to grade before heading to work. I deviated from my usual breakfast in order to use the tiny amount of milk left in the carton for my daily cafe au lait, only to make the weakest, sweetest, vilest coffee I've tasted in a long time.
I laced up my shoes and set out for a walk down by the lake, queued up Death Cab for Cutie singing "Bixby Canyon Bridge," and headed straight for a little coffee shop a few blocks away, to order my replacement cafe au lait. The woman working there told me I looked familiar, so I told her who I am and what I do, and suddenly, she started talking books. Turns out we have some favorites in common--character driven novels like Kaye Gibbons' Charms for the Easy Life, and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. She recommended Rachel Kadish's novel Tolstoy Lied, reviewed here by Michael Dirda of the WashPo, (including annoyingly trite assessment of certain popular genres of literature). I'm moving this one to the top of my must-read-after-the-semester-is-over-and-my-reading-is-sorta-my-own list.
Anyway, my point is that book talk can bring people together and create an interesting, immediate conversation. So often people respond to what I do with some kind of horror that I'm going to start correcting grammar and diagramming sentences. Anyone who knows me well can (hopefully) attest that beyond a few quirks--hatred of the word "got," a predilection for long sentences, and a tendency to use bigger vocabulary words in proportion to the number of drinks I have--I'm not a grammarian or a martinet. In fact, today I reviewed thesis statements with my students by creating the silliest pseudo-argumentative sentences ever, like : "Our University should have a beach party because it's awesome," which I then proceeded to read in a valley girl voice for dramatic effect. Their revision: "Our University should have a beach party to celebrate the end of the school year." Perfect.
Now, back to the original topic: what other books should I read this summer? I like books without too much suspense or violence (despite my current reading of vampire books for a class next fall). I love complex characters, rich prose, human drama. I'm not opposed to happy endings but don't expect them. I don't like literary posturing (I'm talking about you, Jonathan Franzen!)