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“Now that the days are long and vacation is on hand, it’s time to dream, especially inside the pages of some book we’ve been meaning to get to all year. The more daunting the literary challenge the better—forget old standbys like Hamlet and Hemingway; this summer we can tackle the really ambitious stuff. Maybe doorstopper-sized Don Quixote, that mighty intellectual puzzle Ulysses, or even an obscure Shakespeare play. Bring on King John and Thackeray, make way for Ford Madox Ford!
But by early August our literary dreams of late May might, in retrospect, seem like what invading Russia must have looked like to Napoleon: a good idea at the time but ultimately a crushing overreach. You might bring Shakespeare to the beach only to find that he’s even more difficult to read under the glare of a hot sun than in the comfort of a library. And as far as Ulysses goes, well, Joyce was right when he said that it would keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over its meaning. Trying to solve its enigmas while your kids pour wet sand over its pages will likely produce a migraine, not enlightenment.
So why do we persist in our often futile quest for the Great Summer Read? Why not just load the beach bag with the latest Lee Child instead of Leo Tolstoy? I think Henry James said it best: “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” James repeats the two words, savoring them on his tongue like ice cream or chocolate—it is the sweetest time of the year, a time for grand literary plans. Of course, we tackle more elaborate books in summer because we have more time on our hands, with the season’s longer days, the time off from work, and the promise of leisure in the air. But there’s also a psychological effect at work. From our childhood days, the coming of summer and the end of the school year meant the end of our “required” reading: no more homework, no more chapter assignments, no more mandatory synopses of The Scarlet Letter or historical summaries of “Everyday Life in Dickens’ London.” Come the solstice, many of us experienced something that will never disappear: the exhilaration of setting our own literary agenda—a private summer syllabus devoid of grades and fueled by love alone.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"The likely successor to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Boris Johnson, has plans to subsume the government department overseeing development aid into the foreign office, effectively eliminating it. That will destroy a post-Brexit United..."
"Gerard Baker, editor-at-large at the Wall Street Journal (no reflexively anti-Trump publication) recently wrote a piece decrying Donald Trump and his foreign policy as a fount of erratic unpredictability. This essay will give the counter view...."
"On Wednesday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced that she will be visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming weeks. Omar will be accompanied by Rep. Rashida Tlaib. The two freshman congresswomen have become a focal point of..."
"Netflix may have lost US subscribers for the first time since it began making its own shows, but that didn't stop the streaming giant from dropping new figures about how many people are sucked into its Adam Sandler vortex. (Spoiler: More than..."
"A few years ago, Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, noticed that as the work week slogged on, her employees’ energy and productivity wilted. “That would slump to such an extent that the same task on Monday would..."
"Over the last few days the #faceappchallenge has taken over social media. This “challenge” involves downloading a selfie-editing tool called FaceApp and using one of its filters to digitally age your face. You then post the photo of your wizened..."
"Although there are plenty of irrational aspects to life in modern America, few rival the odd fixation on lawns. Fertilizing, mowing, watering — these are all-American activities that, on their face, seem reasonable enough. But to spend hundreds..."
"Can a book change the way we think? I don’t mean that in the sense of a reader’s opinion or ideology shifting—of course the right literary work can do that. But can a book rewire the brain itself, literally changing the way one particular mind..."
"It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in..."
"Magali Trejo-Martinez, a 22-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, recently went on a date that was rather uninspiring. “I had dinner, had a couple margaritas, and then went home,” is how she recapped the evening. This outcome wasn’t entirely..."
"The first lunar landing was many things — a D-Day-like feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man's will, an ostensible propaganda coup for NATO. It was also, I think, one of the most misunderstood events in the history of..."
"THE FIRST TIME Bernie Sanders ran for president, he didn’t talk much about being Jewish. In fact, he didn’t talk much about himself at all. His 2016 primary campaign, like his whole political career, was relentlessly focused on one topic: income..."