NYU likes to make these broad gestures towards pretending to think of its students as more than natural resources to be tapped, and so they’ve asked me to prepare for studying abroad in London by reading this book called Small Island, the idea being that all of the study abroaders can have this big, awesome group discussion when we get to the UK.

Which, in theory, I’m not opposed to. Because of the time commitment associated with books, and the relative unpopularity of a good book compared to television or film, being able to talk about the shared experience of a great novel with someone is really cool and a little rarer than I’d like. But when a huge bureaucracy takes it upon itself to select a book that can appeal to the widest range of people possible while still being vaguely literary, you end up with something like, well, Small Island. Or, as I’ve come to think of it, I Can Haz Oprah Book Club Sticker.

It’s not that ICHOBCS is a bad book. If NYU had asked us all to read Twilight, at least I could feel strongly about that. But ICHOBCS is a well-crafted, workmanlike composite of vaguely familiar elements. It’s good in the same way a comfortable desk chair is good, but there’s nothing challenging, exciting, ugly or beautiful about it. I don’t feel anything while reading it, which makes it even harder to get through than something that irritates me.

Anyway, winter break is too short to fritter it away on books that aren’t going to leave an imprint somewhere on my brain. So I’m putting aside NYU’s reading list in favor of actual education: Daniel tells me that Naked Economics is a solid primer on a topic I’m more ignorant of than any political blogger can get away with. So that’s book one. After that, I don’t know; I bought Somtimes a Great Notion and River-Horse at The Strand before I left the city, the latter of which I consider research for the best trip and so should probably get read within the next few months. But I also feel like vacations are the time for tomes, those massive, sprawling books that are written for people with too much free time.

Any recommendations? Educate me, folks.

4 Responses

  1. To quote Alan Ginsberg from The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice as closely as I remember, “Art is that which attracts or repulses me. I only dislike that which bores me.” All pretentions aside, that sounds like your situation with that book.

    As for tomes…

    I dunno. Have you met your quota of Russian Literature? You could read some Dostoyevsky. Or The Gulag Archipelago. It’s three volumes long, but according to Wikipedia “The Gulag Archipelago is often sarcastic and ironic, quite possibly the darkest gallows humor ever written.” Sounds like something you’d like.

    Have you read Finnegan’s Wake yet? Or anything by Alexandar Dumas?

  2. Man, if I can’t even make it through Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake would be a suicide mission. If I’m reading any Joyce this break, it’s going to be Dubliners.

    Those other suggestions sound intriguing, though. I do have a Russian literature-sized gap in my bookshelf that desperately needs to be filled, so maybe I’ll got on that after Naked Economics.

  3. Oooh, Dubliners sounds good. Also, I misspelled that french guy’s name. Apprently it’s Alexandre Dumas. Who knew? Other than the French, that is.

    Also, upon further consideration, I am assinging you some Thomas Pynchon. Read one of his novels. Now.

  4. Moment of truth time: I didn’t really like The Crying of Lot 49. I thought it was the work of an immense intellect, but it just didn’t connect with me on any level.

    There’s a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow lying around somewhere, but I know that if I’m going to finish that over winter break, it’s going to mean I don’t have time to read pretty much anything else.

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