Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer Book List

I live near a terrific library with a great book and music collection, and for that I am truly grateful.
In the heat of the summer days, I've managed to plow through a few great books lately and not a few terrible ones that I've abandoned midway, mostly disgusted and frightened by their bizarre and off-kilter principles promoted within.

Among the recommendable, here's a short list:

This is Water, David Foster Wallace: a book on forbearance, a lesson on compassion for your fellow human beings. This book is a transcription of a commencement address Wallace gave to a small college a couple of years before he committed suicide. A must read for the impatient liberal arts trained intellectual. Short, can be read in one sitting.

Franny and Zooey, JD Salinger: I read this book every year or so to keep me grounded. As an inveterate asocial melancholic, I need this book at hand at all times. I have several copies, one at each of my addresses. The first edition hardback is by my bed next to Seymour, an Introduction and Nine Stories. I read a passage from Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenter at my kid sister's wedding for her toast, much to the confusion of her husband's sports-oriented Madison friends.

The Bill McKibben Reader- Pieces from an Active Life, Bill McKibben: good collection of McKibben's terrific New Yorker pieces, some of his later works, essays published in esteemed journals through his career. A wait listed book at my library, which speaks volumes about the fortitude of my neighbors. If you're reading this, you don't need to be told about Bill McKibben and his outstanding wisdom and insight.

Everything and More (A Compact History of Infinity), David Foster Wallace: a terrific math book about long troubling math problems and math philosophy. Well written, and an entertaining read on the history of solving the problem of defining infinity.

Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen: Oh, how I love Jonathan Franzen. He's much older than I am, but after reading his entire collection and following his books through subscription to the New Yorker for many years, I feel like I know him very well, like I went to summer camp with him or something. Farther Away is a collection of essays written as a reaction to David Foster Wallace's suicide; he and Wallace were very close friends, and in this collection he tries to come to terms with the untimely suicide of his hitting partner. Franzen's Discomfort Zone, by the way, is a must read for anyone interested in the plight of good, earnest middle class folks in St. Louis or the Midwest. The Corrections is his big famous book, and it must have been truly exhausting to write. I can't imagine the sheer energy that went into this fine work of fiction.

Wine Wars, The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists, Mike Veseth: I live in a town that prioritizes good food, good beer, good wine, so my library carries all kinds of early releases of books on these topics. This one paints a pretty grim picture of the future of wine culture in America, one that includes cardboard bladders of wine from unknown locations and the potential disappearance of small batch wines that are actually produced locally and bottled in glass with cork. Another grim book about globalization.

Wetter than the Mississippi: Prohibition in St. Louis and Beyond, Robbi Courtaway. Fun read on the history of prohibition in Missouri, how the wine and beer industry was impacted by the rampant anti-immigrant sentiment in the Hermann area. If you live in St. Louis, you can actually make a driving game of visiting a lot of the areas mentioned here referenced as speakeasys and bootlegging sites. Neat book.

Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators, William Stolzenburg. Of the myriad of books I've read with "ecology" in the tags, this is the only one of 20 worth reading. I've read terrible books that proclaim that we should "embrace exotic species because they are part of nature now..." and idiocies like that. But this one, I bought several copies of it after reading it so I could give copies to the very small and dwindling number of actual ecologists who work in Missouri. In this terrific documentary of the history of predator extirpation and "conservation movements," the author tracks the history of white tailed deer and the actions of state wildlife agencies that lead to this abhorrent overpopulation problem that no one seems to be able to manage. He catalogues the early days of ecology when researchers began to recognize the important role of predators in natural systems. It includes the case study of wolves at Yellowstone and Rooney's important work on the deer problem in Wisconsin that has now permeated the entire Midwest. Stolzenburg points an accusing finger at wildlife agencies who do not prioritize protecting biodiversity. I'm in league with this guy. Great book, and an entertaining read.


Waldheim said...

This list is much appreciated. Bill McKibben has been on my reading list for a long time, but I still haven't gotten around to him. Maybe I should rush him to the front of the line. I didn't know they came out with an anthology of his stuff!

(I just finished Freedom, by the way, and I think I might be hooked on Franzen now.)

Allison Vaughn said...

If you liked Freedom, you'll love the Discomfort Zone. I still can't finish Freedom because I can't stand Patty Berglund. She's a horrible character and I can't get past her....
The McKibben anthology is great. Happy summer to you!

Mike Veseth said...

Wine Wars is an optimistic book, but it is also realistic. Don't let the Blue Nunn and Two Buck Chuck stuff get you down ... it's the Revenge of the Terroirists that really matters.

Thanks for reading Wine Wars.
Mike Veseth

Waldheim said...

Thanks, you too! Patty is a miserable excuse for a human being, but her big epiphanies upon visiting her parents and siblings near the end of the novel (and Walter's dealings with right-wing Christian neighbors) somehow made it all worthwhile to me. Still, I'll never forget how relieved I was to discover that, indeed, Patty would not be narrating the entire novel.

This summer will be happy when it's over and things cool off. It's really baking out there these days.

Allison Vaughn said...

Good to hear, I've been reading a chapter at a time and throwing it to the bedside and picking up Wine Spectator instead because I really don't like her. I haven't even gotten to the part where the cerulean warbler comes in. I just can't stand the woman. Talk about nailing a character of a disgruntled middle aged woman who reminds me of my friend's moms who spent a lifetime on valium in slinky clothes hanging out with the pool boy who was always young enough to be her own kid. Ugh. Franzen really captures the essence of that world quite well. I reread Discomfort Zone every couple of years, and when I meet someone from Webster Groves, I always ask them where they lived and if they went to camp in the Ozarks.
My rain barrel is full, but much of the Ozarks are toast from the drought. I'm surprised we haven't had more fires than in 1980. Been a bunch, including 27 seperate fires that started along highway 67from a muffler scraping the ground.

Allison Vaughn said...

Mr. terrific author of Wine Wars, your book is wonderful and also sort of scary. I've been collecting early vintages of European wine for years and have seen the Missouri wine scene explode into something reminiscent of the Willamette Valley in 1993 or so. Considering that I work for a ploughman's wage, I hope I can still find a good reliable house wine for under 12$ in the years to come. Your book has been very enlightening, and has been on my library's wait list for about 6 weeks! Thanks for your great research and insight!