This Reading Life: The summer of ‘Crassics’
My name is Corey and I read fiction.
At Burke’s we used to have a customer named Michael Fleming (he moved away, alas) who was a voracious reader. He loved recommendations and he always came back with thoughtful comments about what he had read. He also invented (perhaps) what he called Immersions. This meant that he would concentrate on one area of reading, and he would gather together representative texts and “immerse” himself in them. For instance, once he did Expatriate Writers of the ’20s and ’30s.
My wife and I were intrigued by this concept and recently have dedicated our summers to Flemingesque Immersions. Last year Cheryl did what she called her Whartonian Summer. She read all of Edith Wharton’s novels she hadn’t previously read, reread her favorites, and added Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton.
This is what she says about this year’s immersion: “This summer is called Survival Summer. I’ve always been a fan of the survival novel (I read Baby Island numerous times in my preteen years). The Wall is in my top ten books. So I have begun reading some young adult novels that I missed, some nonfiction stories (I’m fascinated by Everest tales), and novels. I have a great anthology that I’m dipping into called Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls: True Stories of Castaways and Other Survivors. I am planning to end the immersion by reading Robinson Crusoe, which I have never read. I am listing the books as I go as well as my favorite survival stories. I would love suggestions to add to the list.”
Last summer I invented my own “immersion,” a plan designed to broaden my reading habits. And, I here admit that my wife’s immersions are more intense, more focused, more interesting, possibly more rewarding. My summer plan last year was to read one classic, one crap novel, one classic, one crap novel, etc. I named this “My Summer of Crassics,” (because “My Summer of Clap” sounded a bit off). It was quite enjoyable and I found some good new authors I might not have read otherwise. And — you’re probably ahead of me — some of the crap novels were as good as some of the classics. I have been accused of being a book snob (because, you know, I like literary novels), so this was a way to let some genre novels into my life. Given another lifetime I would read more mystery and science fiction. In the heaven of Borges’ Eternal Library I intend to do just that.
Last year’s classics included Othello, Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, and Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream. It was such fun I decided to do the same thing this year.
Please don’t ask me which crap novels. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In general, I respect all fiction, even the books I would never read. I respect the creation of fictional universes. But, this year I began the classics with Gulliver’s Travels. What a marvelous book! And much earthier, funnier and more outrageous than the version I was taught in school. And, among the other classics: Albert Camus’ First Man, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel, and Dante’s Divine Comedy (in the Robin Kirkpatrick translation).
So, thank you, Michael Fleming, wherever you are. You are missed and your legacy lives on.
Next year perhaps a new gambit. How about a summer where I read nothing but new authors, that is, writers I’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t? That might be a gas. Or, the obverse of that, books by my favorite writers I haven’t yet read? Hmm, that Updike I am saving, that Iris Murdoch, that Dickens, that Nabokov, that Simenon…
You ask: What am I currently reading?
I am just finishing Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, a classic, not a crap, nor even a crassic.
Once more I sign off with my personal email address. I’m like the pitiful kid who buys all the newest toys in hoping someone will come over and play with him. Yet I continue to come here asking for your attention, for your Coreyspondence. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, what you’re eating, who you’re loving, or about something you found here that is worth either praise or ridicule. firstname.lastname@example.org