Summer reading: Reviews and previews

Ellie Gold

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Summer is almost upon us (though some of us still have to power through finals), and that means that for the first time in almost five months, we’ll have time to read! (For seniors, this might be the first time in four years.) To this purpose, I’ve compiled a list of books that will make for excellent summer reading, from literary fiction to noir to science fiction. Three of these are books I will be reading for the first time and three are books that have been carefully screened by yours truly for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

What you should read this summer:

“Inherent Vice,” Thomas Pynchon

Published last summer, Pynchon’s hardboiled detective novel is what’s known as “stoner” or “psychedelic” noir (think a ’70s version of “The Big Lebowski”). Since the protagonist, gum-“sandal” Larry “Doc” Sportello, spends most of his investigation high (and garners valuable clues through hallucinations), that’s not a bad label. Set in 1970 during the Manson trials, this book is an alternately hilarious and sad tribute to the end of an era. Also, it’s definitely easier to get through than most of Pynchon’s other novels.

“The End of Mr. Y,” Scarlett Thomas

Ariel Manto, a graduate student at an unnamed British university, finds the last existing copy of a cursed book called “The End of Mr. Y” in a used bookstore. What follows is part spy adventure, part science fiction, part philosophical rant. Thomas meshes Derrida, time travel, secret government experiments and Victorian scientific romance in a fashion that is at once absurd and thoughtful, though admittedly droning at times, if you’re not one for philosophical ramblings.

“Kafka on the Shore,” Haruki Murakami

Kafka Tamura runs away from home for dark and nebulous reasons. An elderly man named Nakata searches for a lost pet using his strange ability to talk to cats. Somehow, their paths are intertwined. Spiraling, meandering and musing, this novel explores themes of loss, friendship and loneliness without ever becoming trite. Like they said at The Washington Post: Haruki Murakami “writes uncanny, philosophical, postmodern fiction that’s actually fun to read.”

What I will be reading this summer:

“PopCo,” Scarlett Thomas

Alice Butler is smart but slightly bizarre, and she works for the titular British toy company. Along with her colleagues, she is tasked with creating the “ultimate product for the teen girl market” (Booklist). There are mysterious messages and secret codes and, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “a pointed cultural critique that will especially resonate with the ‘No Logo’  crowd.” I’m looking forward to the same familiarity with explaining philosophy that Thomas demonstrated in “The End of Mr. Y.”

“The Rediscovery of Man: The Collected Short Stories of Cordwainer Smith,” Cordwainer Smith

Cordwainer Smith was a pulp science fiction writer in the ’50s and ’60s. His stories are disturbing and lyrical, written as legends of a society thousands of years in our future. Mankind has decayed and grown stagnant, to the point that the “Instrumentality,” humanity’s governing body, must reintroduce old Earth culture in order to keep the species alive. From the Cold War spy thriller-esque “No, No, Not Rogov!” to the deeply creepy “A Planet Named Sheyol,” these stories speak not to a future of star-traveling freedom fighters or shiny ray guns, but to a future where we, as people, are struggling to recapture our own humanity.

“Nobody Move,” Denis Johnson

Originally published as a serial novel in Playboy Magazine (a point no reviewer fails to make), “Nobody Move” is apparently about some skeezy lowlifes and a whole lot of dough (the green kind) in Bakersfield, Calif. Outrageous, funny and gritty, Denis Johnson’s novel is “so noir it’s almost pitch-black,” according to The New Yorker. I’m expecting it to be hilariously filthy.

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