“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
After getting slightly side-tracked from my Winter Reading List and only checking off three out of the five books (but reading a few others instead), I’ll mark the first official day of this unseasonably warm spring by creating a Spring Reading List. With a spring break trip planned with my family coming up in April to Hawaii, I’ll be reading more than usual with so much travel time to kill in the airport, on the plane, and relaxing on the beach.
1. Marilyn Monroe by Barbara Leaming
After reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, I’m eager to dive back into the post-war decade and see America through the rose-tinted lens of early Hollywood glamour. A notable absence in King’s novel was the tragic overdose of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, and her highly public (“Happy Birthday Mr. President“) affair with JFK. No shame on Stephen King, since he couldn’t include every single detail of pop culture that happened between 1958 to 1963, but I want to know more about the mysterious Monroe. A success story amongst the thousands of pin-up girls flaunting their only assets in a sexist society, Norma Jean Baker was once a sexually abused foster child forced from a mentally unstable family. Now brought back into the limelight by NBC’s hit show SMASH about a Broadway show based on Marilyn Monroe’s life, I’ve decided it’s time for me to read her biography.
2. Island by Aldous Huxley
While Brave New World by Aldous Huxley happens to be one of my favorite novels, I have never read its “counterpart.” Island is described as a utopia, while the setting of Brave New World is a dystopia – an imagined world where the government insists that everything is perfect and is exactly how it should be, but in reality the people are miserable and the system is flawed. A utopia is the opposite: the people are content, there is no conflict, and the system is ideal. A true utopia is supposedly impossible (and the possibility of such a functioning system of government is discussed at length by many political philosophers), so it will be interesting to see how Huxley suggests for this society to work.
3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A staple of modern fantasy literature, I’ve been waiting to read American Gods so I could spread out my Neil Gaiman intake. I read Neverwhere back in September, and I think I’ve waited long enough. From what I’ve heard the plot is difficult to summarize, but generally gods (in the mythological and polytheistic sense) exist because of human belief, much like how Tinkerbell fades in Peter Pan because children stop believing in fairies.
4. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
After a book is labeled a literary “classic” or a defining part of a “movement,” its placed on a metaphorical bookshelf a step higher than the rest of your library. That part of the bookshelf is steeped in a mystical aura, one that saturates every page and imbibes every word with the preconceived notions of the collective literary conscious. In anthropology this is called a paradigm, and its the inescapable bias of every critic who has read the work before you, and how it inevitably influences your opinion of the book.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test has that aura for me, since so many critics have developed very strong opinions one way or the other about this “non-fiction novel.” Throwaway phrases like “defined a generation” are used too often when describing books like this. It’s a hippie bible about the first magic school bus and tales of LSD epiphanies and The Grateful Dead’s first shows together. I know I need to read it since Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the best book I read in high school, and that’s good enough for me.
5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road “defined the Beat Movement,” and that’s pretty much what I know about it. Once again, I find myself resisting to read this book since its the one good book Jack Kerouac wrote and its a famous classic that everyone knows and quotes. On the Road might even be trapped within a tighter paradigm than Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. But I feel as if my literary knowledge would be incomplete without it, and thats a roadblock I’m not willing to face.
There’s always The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace left over from my incomplete Winter Reading List.