What I read on my summer vacation

By Pete Beatty

I really hate books. One, you always have to buy a whole bunch of them for class. Two, they’re expensive as shit. $100 for one book? No book is worth $100 unless it has a $100 bill tucked into it as a bookmark. My Spanish book cost $100. The entire Spanish language, if you could trap it in a box like in Ghostbusters, is not worth $100. Not that I don’t think books are good, in that they contain information and sometimes other things.

I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to talk about pornography, and I’m keeping that promise. Anyway, I love reading. You can go ahead and laugh at me BUT I LOVE BOOKS AND I AM GOING TO MARRY A BOOK SOMEDAY AND WE’RE GOING TO HAVE A FAMILY OF LITTLE BOOK PEOPLE WITH HANDS AND FEET AND EYES. But the fact remains that these books that I love so much, they are too expensive.

Now, it’s pretty much pointless to do any leisure reading during the school year. Frankly, during the school year, I’m more concerned with maintaining my crumbling will to live than say, curling up with the latest piece of shit Elmore Leonard crapped out between his cran-apple colonics. That means no reading for fun, unless you manage to find a class whereby you get to read a good book as part of it, and even then, the fun is kind of ruined by the fact that you have to go to the class, and talk about the book, and blah blah blah.

The summertime’s another story, though. Since I am a fan of neither physical activity or television, and I do not presently retain the services of a lady friend, there were only three ways for me to while away my summer days, and oh, those summer niiiii-hiiiiights. One of them starts with “M” and ends with “asturbation.” There was some drinking and watching baseball games to be done as well. But still, I’m not comfortable drinking more than three or four nights a week, and as such, I found myself with a lot of down time, mostly as a result of forgetting to go to work. The only other way to fill that down time, as I discovered, is reading books.

Like I said, books are expensive and I’m nowhere near a library. Well, near a library that isn’t radioactive and thus apt to make me sterile. However, since I’m the Arts & Entertainment editor of a quasi-legitimate newspaper, I get some books for free. Actually, I get a lot of books for free. Free books combined with bored Pete lends itself nicely to Pete abusing editorial privilege. The only catch is, if I ask for a book, I have to review it. On that note, I’d like to present to you my report titled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation/Daddy needs a new pair of tear sheets.”

John Henry Days, by Colson Whitehead • If you’re not down with Colson Whitehead, I am not sure I can be your friend anymore. At the risk of engaging in hipster posturing, I am going to put my hands in my back pockets and have an intentionally bad haircut and tell you that this book is really good and you should read it and then you should read his first book and then you should sit around and wait for his next book to come out. For those who require further documentation, this book involves A) trains B) postage stamps C) John Henry and D) an African-American journalist. Check and mate.

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, by Amy Bloom • A blind man can see how much this book blows goats. (It took me ten minutes to come up with that.) Anyway, I should have known better. This book had warning signs screaming “Don’t Read Me, I Suck” plastered all over it, but I ignored them. The pink cover didn’t stop me. The retarded title didn’t stop me. But soon enough, the book stopped me, by the sheer force of its goat-blowingness. I do not know the participle of “to blow goats.” Maybe it is “goat-blowosiculatude.”

I actually only read the first story in this collection of tales, having been tricked by the fact that it was a finalist for some important-sounding award. But that first story was so bad I threw the book into a corner and haven’t touched it since.

All I can say is First Wives Club + “My So-Called Life” times To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar = this book = a towering castle made exclusively out of poo. Just because you or your child can become a transsexual doesn’t mean they ought to. I’m not saying they can’t or that no one should ever be a transsexual, but there must be some people out there who are transsexuals that maybe could have gotten by without paying a doctor to intentionally mangle the junk that God gave them. THAT GOD GAVE THEM.

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut • This isn’t a new book. But I did get it for free. While I usually go through legal channels such as the library to acquire books for reading, this one I stole from my roommate, who is a dumbass and I don’t know why he was even pretending to be into Kurt Vonnegut in the first place. I figure he liked it because Vonnegut talks about assholes and wide-open beavers a lot. Anyway, Kurt Vonnegut seems to be shifting from the “Alterna-Kids Read This to look Cool” modality into the “Alterna-Kids Say he sucks without reading him in order to trick people into thinking they are more Alterna-Kid-than-thou” modality, which is a shame. Whether you are the former or the latter, Vonnegut’s work remains incredibly funny and perceptive. And he talks about assholes and wide-open beavers a lot.

Embers, by some Hungarian guy • I read part of this book one afternoon. It contained the phrases “castle,” “the Count,” and possibly also “wine cellar,” which quickly made me reevaluate my somewhat hasty decision to proceed with the reading of the book, and led to the eventual overturning of the aforementioned judgement (Kaiser v Flamenco, para.153.)

Dogwalker, by Arthur Bradford • This is a good book. It is very funny and sweet and weird and it could have been written by a little kid. Kind of like this article. Except for the funny and sweet part.

This book is actually not written by a little kid. It was written by Arthur Bradford, who is an adult. He is also a very good writer, at least judging from Dogwalker, his first book.

While this vaguely Russian collection of stories, many of which involve dogs and/or mutants is a quick read (I read it during one visit to the Launderkoin) it’ll knock around in your head for a week or two until you find yourself reading it again. The austere yet goofy cadence of Bradford’s unnamed narrator feels like a non-asshole Dave Eggers, if Dave Eggers were ever to narrate strange, beautiful short stories.

Not a book for the queasy or the humorless, in that it involves people humping basset hounds and as a result, the basset hounds giving birth to tiny men and then the tiny men marrying women and then the women give birth to talking dogs and so on and so forth. Worth reading if only for its unintentional elevation of dog humping.

Kissing in Manhattan, by David Schickler • Another collection of shortish stories. I haven’t finished this one quite yet, but I have been enjoying it so far. I started reading it before it became trendy to be all supportive and non-hate-filled towards New York City, by the way. I am not saying that I am all supportive and non-hate-filled towards New York City. I’m not not saying that either. But I still hate the Yankees.

Well, that’s about it. I read some copies of Esquire this summer too, but that’s personal. What happens between a man and his subscription to Esquire stays between a man and his subscription to Esquire.

This article needs like 50 more words, so here are a few books that cool people are reading now and maybe you should consider reading if you would also like to be cool.

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen • Don’t be scared by Oprah. He locked himself in a room and blindfolded himself for five years to write this. That’s cool.

Me Talk Pretty Someday, by David Sedaris • First several stories in collection make a big deal out of the fact that the author is gay. Sold me. May or may not have actually been released for several months.

JR, by William Gaddis • Bought to look cool on train and impress potential prospects for humping and post-humping interaction. Has yet to succeed. Actually about 30 years old.

Atlantic City, by Bruce Springsteen • Not so much a book as it is a song by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But don’t get caught up in the critics and all their semantics. This is a must-read. He’s Dylan with a body. And much less talent.