One of the things about being a graduate student that they don’t really warn you about is a tendency to accumulate library books.  Seriously.  These things breed like rabbits.  I’m thinking of investing in little book-prophylactics to see if it doesn’t alleviate the problem.  Just the other day, my desk was clear and devoid of books.  Today?  Oh, today.

I woke up this morning and there they are, staring at me.  I don’t really know how they got

lurking on my desk right now...

there.  I don’t remember taking that many home.  Maybe they followed me?  I’d like to think that I don’t look like that much of a sucker… that I don’t look like the kind of girl who would open her home to strange drifters… but maybe I’m wrong about myself.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Past experience has dictated to me that once they start, you simply can’t stop them.  They continue to pile up, continue to build, continue to wait for their moment.  And it’s nearly futile to resist.  You go to return one or two and realize no, you need those books, you require those books, those books are your new friends.

And that is how they infiltrate their way into your life, your home, your family.  That is the insidious workings of their minds.  That is how they ingratiate themselves into your research, indoctrinating themselves into your way of life.

And soon, you can’t do without them.  The more you try, the more you realize that you are utterly dependent upon them.  They have you in the palm of their hand and you just don’t know if there’s any way to escape.  They’re so dependable, so trustworthy.  Always waiting obediently by your desk, always willing to provide some tidbit of information vital to what you are doing.  And if you got rid of them, you would need that tid bit sure as an actor needs work.

So you wait.  And they wait.  And one day you find yourself stepping over towers of them on your way to your desk.  And one day you realize that you can’t work at your desk anymore because they’ve covered every available surface.  And one day you realize that you’ve just got to do something about this because you can’t find anything anyway and what’s the point in having books when you can’t get to the information you needed in the first place?


look at them so innocent on those shelves...

So you pack them in a rolling suitcase and you bring them to the library, the whole while feeling sick as you hear their helpless little cries erupt from your trunk.  “But we were so HELPFUL.  Don’t you want us anymore?  Don’t you need us anymore?”

And you drop them off, waving a bittersweet goodbye as you try not to look over your shoulder that last time.  Trying not to care.  Tying to harden yourself against the inevitable.

Because you know. It comes in cycles.  You’ll be back.  Oh yes, you’ll be back.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  Maybe not for those books, you’ll likely never see them again.  But you can’t escape it.  This is the nature of your job.  This is the nature of your life.

You, the books.  The books, you.  Clung together in a downward spiral.  Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

The Start of a New Adventure

Today I visited Tufts for the first time as a real student and was officially matriculated into my program.

…in other words, I attended my Graduate Orientation.

Graduate Orientation is a whole different species from its undergraduate cousin.  Certainly you have the same trappings; the same high-powered individuals from the university standing up to give welcome speeches, the same awkward sitting in the auditorium wondering how everyone else there seems to know someone already, the same hall full of tables peddling pamphlets and various school swag (TUFTS SILLY PUTTY!), but there’s a certain level of grown-up-ness to the Graduate version.  A definite amount of “well, you know the drill, we’re sure you’ll figure the rest out”.  And for that, I am vastly appreciative.  I didn’t want a campus tour, I didn’t want a lecture about how to manage my time well or deal with being away from home, I just wanted my ID and school swag and someone to point me the way to the bookstore and parking services.

The campus is somewhat idyllic; green fields and old brick buildings nestled into the


crevices of a bustling city.  That’s how I like things really; a place to go see trees while simultaneously have the option to order Thai food at ten PM if I wanted (not at all hours maybe, this isn’t New York, after all).  I went and said hi to the elephant (which, you may recall, is the Tufts mascot and one of my favorite animals).  I scoped the library and a couple prime sitting locations upon which to read.

Overall, things were going pretty smoothly.

I was feeling pretty good about the situation when I exited orientation and poked my nose around for the aforepromised table where IDs were to be picked up.  I had been responsible and everything, sending in my ID picture beforehand so that all I had to do today was grab it.  After this, I had to run to the parking office and acquire my permit for the year (I needed my ID to do so).  Last stop was the bookstore where I would grab my textbooks and maybe a token item of Tufts merchandise to prove that I’m a real graduate student. 

I should have known things were going too smoothly.

When two passes over the resource fair proved that the ID table was nowhere in sight, I asked the all-too-eager-to-help student standing by where I might find it.  “Oh.”  She said, eyes downcast, “Well, in theory you should be able to pick them up here…. But the company which delivers the plastic that the IDs are printed on didn’t come through so we have nothing to print them on until tomorrow.  They’re hopefully going to be arriving then at 9AM when we will print as many as possible and with any luck you should be able to get them after that.”

Really pretty spot on campus.... may become a prime reading location in good weather

“Uh… okay.”  I replied, blinking a few times, “You do realize that this provides a problem for those of us who need parking passes?” I failed to mention the fact that all of the Graduate Students were commuter students since Graduate Housing didn’t exist and, thereby, all of us would have a problem…

“Yeaaa… uhm… well the good news is that you can pick both up in the same building!”

Okay, so strike parking pass and ID off of my list.  Perhaps I could at least deal with the bookstore…

I arrived at the cutest university bookstore I’ve ever been to with a surprisingly small amount of people considering it was orientation week.  I managed to make my way down to the actual book section past the merchandising without spotting something I wanted yet (I have standards about my hoodies, darnit).  They require personal book shoppers to assist you during busy season, which seemed fine to me since it meant someone else had to locate and carry all of my books for me.  I handed my assistant my class list and his eyes went wide for a minute.  “Yea, you’ll need a basket.”  He said.

I smiled, “I’m a PhD student.  I’ll need a cart.”

He took me over to the shelf where my department should have had all of its classes.  He picked out four books for one class and, lo and behold, my second two classes weren’t there.  “Maybe there are no books for them.”  He suggested.

I looked dubious.  “Uh… right… maybe we’re just going to read plays off the internet all semester.”  I don’t think he thought it was as funny as I did.

Apparently, my other two professors have yet to turn in their book lists.  Class starts next week.  One of those professors is the chair of my program.

Book fail.

I paid for the books they did have for me (only four!?  For Intro to Grad Lit Studies!?  SCORE!) and returned to my car.  I had to return to campus the next day anyway for a talk with aforementioned chair, so I could check back in on sundries (like my ID and parking pass… sigh) then.

The way the visitor garage works is that it costs one token to remove your car at the end of

hi, Boston! (Also, look at the sky today!)

the day.  Tokens cost five dollars and may be purchased at machines on floor 3, 5, and 7 of the garage.  I parked on floor 3 so that I wouldn’t forget to purchase a token on my way out.

As I approached the machine, moderate load of books in hand, I realized that its out of order light was on.  I sighed and proceeded up the stairs to level five, deciding that I had eaten a lemon bar at the refreshments table during orientation and thereby hadn’t earned the right to be lazy today.  Level five was also broken.  I grumbled and marched myself up to level seven which, thankfully, was not broken.

ID, parking pass, textbooks, and even visitor parking fail.  Beautiful.

On my way home, I realized I should have known this would have occurred.  I have chosen life as an academic.  The only rainbows and butterflies in that life are made of red tape and migraines.

Despite my whinging, I am very happy with the new digs.  I can’t wait for school to start and I can’t wait to finally see my darned ID.

yep. He's holding "butt paste". It was a present!

Also, for something completely different, this is Ben.  Ben is a friend of mine who hates Christmas.  Ben has probably forgotten that I have this picture of him from last Christmas.  Ben has publicly denoted that my blog is much more interesting when he is mentioned.  Ben should probably be careful what he asks for next time.  

Not all Bookstores are Equal…

Last week, I realized that I hadn’t ventured out of a two-block radius of my well-trodden flight path in my new home for some time.  While the road to the grocery store and a few choice old friends’ houses were well trodden, pretty much every other road in the area was not.  So, I called up my favorite partner in crime and we went bookstore spelunking in Cambridge.

We started in Harvard Square where we hit Raven Used Books which was a small-ish basement store.  Their premises in Northampton is much more impressive both in terms of shelf space, as well as selection.

We then proceeded to the Harvard Book Store which I perhaps should have been more impressed with.  Mixed amongst your standard textbook sections are varying fiction sections as well as a large stationary area.  Downstairs are used and overstock books, which is wonderful for those of us who just like to browse the tomes.  Also, I was rather

One of these shelves is not like the others....

amused at their… er… extracurricular section.  Somehow I felt like anywhere associated with a major university, much less a major university as prestigious and snooty-by-reputation as Harvard, would have left said shelf out of their plans… or at least designated it to the back of the room where hopefully the casual observer would miss it entirely.  The fact that said shelf was there seemed like a coup against society and amused me thoroughly.

We then proceeded to Rodney’s in Central Square which was, by far, the best find of the day.  Two entire floors of used and rare books, some awesome hand-crafted shelving units for sale, nifty post cards and note cards, and way cool vintage theatre posters along the wall in the upstairs.  In terms of location, selection, and atmosphere I would say that Rodney’s took the cake for the day.

But then… adventure struck.

Sometimes you know when you are about to walk into an adventure.  More often than not though you just have to be open to the possibility and it will find you.  This was one of those second-case scenarios.

You may have determined by now that my partner-in-crime and I are absolutely and wonderfully obsessed with used bookstores.  So, naturally, we leap at the opportunity to investigate a new one.  On our way home from Rodney’s, I noticed a sign on the side of a building proclaiming “Revolution Books”.  My partner and I waffled slightly about whether another bookstore was called for on that particular day, but then I noticed that there was a parking spot DIRECTLY in front of the building.  I turned to my partner, the query in my eyes, and he nodded.  We both knew what we had to do.

I pulled the car into the spot and we got out, curiosity overcoming perhaps our better judgment.  We glanced back at the sign and realized that it was not a storefront or really over any recognizable entry into what looked like your run-of-the-mill retail-space-ground-floor-with-offices-above Boston building.  There was a barber shop and an assortment of other normal things occupying the space where our bookstore should have been.

Then we noticed a white sheet of paper with the words written in thick marker: “Revolution Books open: second floor”.  It hung over a door which we recognized led to the next level of the building.  I looked to my partner and he assured me that it would be fine.  Of course it would be fine.  We were in Cambridge, for crying out loud, not some third world country.

I opened the door to let him in and he took point, ensuring that we weren’t about to be jumped upon by bookstore boogies.  I reached to close the door after me, but realized the entry way was so small that we would have to climb several of the stairs before us before we could be out of the door’s way.

Perhaps the narrow hallway and tiny entry was simply to deter those who were not of stout enough heart to brave the shelves of what would surely be the greatest used bookstore ever.

We walked the stairs and crested the top into a small hallway that held several offices which advertised various private practice style services: a therapist, an accountant.  We looked to each other, our certainty wavering, but the candle of excitement still burning behind our eyes.

That is when we saw another hand-printed sign which pointed our way to “Revolution Books”.  We followed it to the second door, tucked into the back corner of the floor.  Judging by the size of the building, whatever was behind this door couldn’t be much larger than a one-room place…

The door was cracked open and we did see bookshelves behind it.  There was a giant portrait of Che Guevara plastered on the door.  Before I had a chance to back-peddle, wondering what kind of place this truly was, we were beckoned in by a man who sat directly across from the door.  “Come on, in we’re open.”

it was, you know, that famous poster

My companion, too polite to decline the advance, led the way in.

The room was probably the size of my bathroom.  There was a single double-sided bookshelf creating two rows of books, and a second bookshelf against the far wall.  A grizzled aging hippie sat at a table with a red tablecloth and piles of pamphlets.  “Small place you got here.”  My companion said.

“Small place, with a big message.”  The man replied with a smile.

I began to look around.  Suddenly something clicked.  The red tablecloth.  The Che portrait.  The titles of these books.  The name of the store.

I had somehow managed to stumble into the underground base of militant Communism in Boston.

And my Partner in Crime is a Republican.

I was standing in the underground base of militant Communism in Boston with the only Republican in Massachusetts.

Needless to say, we had to get out…. Fast.  My partner and I exchanged looks out of the sides of our eyes and tried to noncommittally sidle closer to the door.  This would have been easier if the man behind the table hadn’t been eagerly watching our every move.  As it was we were lucky to escape with our ideals intact and without any pamphlets to throw out on our way down the stairs.  I don’t quite know what would have happened if we had actually been forced to speak while in the bookstore.

Not that I don’t admire Che Guevara, just that I’m sure those who frequent said bookstore wouldn’t want anyone revealing the secret location of their underground base.  Rest assured, that secret is safe with me.

…Hopefully they won’t read this.  And if they do, they should know that I’m ready for them when they come for me.  My roommate has cats.  Large cats.  Large attack cats.  And I haven’t yet mounted my sword collection on the wall (hush, I’m a geek, it’s useful in case of zombie holocaust, rampant scary liberal hit men, or Mormon missionaries).

Adventures in Bookland

In the latest greatest episode of my literary adventures, the other day I took a road trip with my favorite book-hunting companion.  The journey was both arduous and epic (not the least because we first had to swing through New York State to deal with some post-move housekeeping).  However, our final destination proved itself more than worth the trek.

Picture a quaint stretch of land in the middle of nowhere Connecticut.  Add paths, flowers,

resident kitty posing for a shot in front of the Haunted Bookshop (and pirate ship!)

goats (yes, GOATS!), and free-roaming cats.  Now, add books.  Carts and buildings and shelves full of used books.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have just pictured yourself The Book Barn in Niantic Connecticut.  The Book Barn has been on our radar for some time as a point of interest and, as avid used-bookstore-goers, we have been wanting to take a trip down for ages.  The opportunity finally presented itself and I have to say this place is truly impressive.

The mountains of used books, of course, make it a find in and of itself.  They have three premises; the Original Book Barn, Midtown, and Downtown.  Midtown and Downtown are traditional bookshops (worth a visit in their own rights as long as you’re in the neighborhood), but the Original location is the real reason to drive out.

Path with gargoyle and bridge

Used bookstores are places with organic character.  As books are fetish objects in their own right, lop a bunch of them together in any one place and you’re bound to create something.  There’s something mysterious and wonderful about a pre-owned book.  One always wonders where it’s been previously, why that scrap of paper was important, whose initials are scribed into its inside.  The older the book, the longer the story.  Yellowed pages with torn binding deserve as much respect as octogenarians and have almost as many stories to tell.  I can’t help but imagine piles and piles of books as whispering bastions of archaic wisdom, simply waiting for someone to listen to them.

Every used bookstore is unique.  Each finds its own way to display its treasures, but most share a few common elements: over-stuffed shelves, that unique smell that only old books have, a fair amount of dust (even if the place is clean), and (believe it or not) cats.  It is the way these elements are combined which give a true feeling for the place.  I’ve been in dank corners brimming with so many books that you have trouble getting to any of them, cavernous warehouses with multiple floors, and one-room hole-in-the-walls which still manage to pack in so many objects of interest that it’s difficult to find your way around.  However, until this week, I had never been to a used bookstore that manages to create and instill the sense of magic which I feel is pivotal to the experience of purchasing a book.

Every corner of the Book Barn has something you wouldn’t expect to find; and not just the books.  The buildings and carts carry uncanny names (like “The Haunted Bookstore” and “The Outhouse”).  Flowering garden paths beckon you to stay a little while and explore, while shaded benches with free-for-use games invite you to sit down with a book and read for a bit.  The local cats add their own spontaneous character (pointedly referenced to the casual observer by the complete-with-pictures “Book Barn Cat Hunting Guide” provided at the Book Barn’s entrance).  Refreshments are offered free (with suggested donation, of course) in the main book barn building (they only serve regular coffee and laugh at those requiring decaf).

Perhaps most importantly, the place doesn’t take itself seriously.  Signs and quotes are

...there wasn't actually a dinosaur section. Somehow it didn't detract from anything.

plastered on unexpected spaces, usually with amusing additions which make them worth reading.  The sections are noted with a certain degree of loving irreverence.  Themed props remind you if you stand in “Purgatory”, “Hell”, or “The Haunted Bookshop”.  And GOATS!?  …. did I mention the goats?

In any case, this place is a hike from just about every corner of the civilized world.  It is, however, well worth the travel time.  We are most certainly planning a return trip (though perhaps this time will find other sources of amusement around the book shop so that our time spent at the destination will at least equal our travel time).

Have a happy weekend, folks!

Next week, by the by, I will be vacationing.  I may or may not get around to posting about pertinent anecdotes, but I will most definitely return the week after.  Stay cool!



That Dirty Water

In an effort to become acclimated to my new home, earlier this week I took a nice, long, historic walk around Boston.

You might have heard about it.  It’s called the freedom trail.

The current Statehouse

For those not in the Boston know, the freedom trail is a walking tour around central Boston’s most famous historical sites.  You can pay money to follow a costumed historian around town, or (what we did) you can simply start at the beginning and walk yourself.  Perhaps the part that most appealed to my dramatic sensibilities was the fact that you, literally, follow the yellow brick road.  A red brick line (sometimes painted) leads you from one stop to another, so for people who are new to the city (or tourists) it becomes an easy way to spend your afternoon while learning your way around, not spending a great deal of cash, and getting an edumacation.

I have always been drawn to cities with a deep sense of history.  Yes, New York is historical, but you have to delve pretty far past the modern skyscrapers and stick-straight streets to find its place in the history books.  Without entering a museum, it’s difficult to remember that Old New York (or was it New Amsterdam?) was, in fact, Old New York.

Boston is nothing like that.  On a certain level, this town may be obligated to flaunt the

inside Park Street Church

value of its monuments.  It’s difficult to page through American History and avoid Boston, much less New England as a whole.  This place is like Mecca for history buffs.  You can’t turn a corner without finding yourself face to face with Franklin or Adams in some capacity.  Most importantly (and perhaps appealingly), the old is blended with the new here.  Much like in Rome where the Coliseum sits at the end of a long row of modern shops and office buildings (yea, I know, I kind of pictured it on top of a lonely hill too before I went there), Boston has chosen to incorporate its monuments into the creation of its modernity.  In perhaps the most amusing show of this, the State Street T stop is actually located inside the Old State House.  The semiotic critic in me is going NUTS with this realization.

As we wound our way through Boston, I felt a certain gravity sink in.  I watched the tourists pass us in droves and my New Yorker spidey senses tweaked at their presence.  I was annoyed that they moved slowly, I was frustrated that it was difficult to take pictures, and I resolved to re-walk the trail in the fall after school had started when, undoubtedly, it would both be cooler and less crowded.  The realization that I could very easily accomplish this in turn led to the next realization: I was no longer a tourist in this city.  I am a resident.  I live here.  I can come back whenever I want.

Commonwealth Books -- the inside

To cement the jubilation, we promptly discovered one of the best used bookstores I have ever entered.  First of all: it looks JUST LIKE my grandmother’s basement; books stacked precariously on mismatched shelves, the smell of aging paper, the books themselves unable to be bound to any single category of age or size.  The place is absolutely crammed with old tomes.  It’s a little on the pricey side, but they have some GORGEOUS original-print fancy-shmancy leather-bound books.  They also have comfy chairs and a space heater designed to look like a fireplace which, while not much use in the summer swelter, will prove unendingly comfortable (and comforting!) during the long chilly months.  Also, they have a resident kitty.

The trail nears its completion down at the USS Constitution.  If there’s one thing that I love as much as used bookstores, it’s old ships.  They make me imagine being a pirate.  Shut up.

Mostly, the afternoon went a long ways towards backing my assertion that Boston is, in

Resident Kitty! (taking a nap)

fact, a great little town.  It still ain’t New York, but what is? (Besides London, of course, that’s a whole ‘nother love affair…).

….p.s. I went back to taking my own photos, don’t steal them!

An Endangered Species in its Natural Habitat

Yesterday, I organized my new library.

As academics go, I am a burgeoning book collector (but that’s okay since I’m also a burgeoning academic), but for a normal person I certainly have acquired a great many books.

As I was ripping everything off the shelves and stacking into neat piles sorted by subject, I couldn’t help but wonder if I truly am living on the edge of an era.  With e-publishing and e-readers gaining so much popularity (and I’ll be the first to admit: they are damned convenient), are my proverbial children doomed to live book-free existences?

Some time ago, I was made aware of the following video:

This is most definitely a situation in which I am uncertain whether to laugh or to cry.  Slightly too true to be comfortable, this statement echoes my 1984 vision of a futuristic totalitarian universe in which books are disbanded from the common practice and no longer things that people are familiar with.

The true tragedy is this: books are more than just their contents.  Anyone who has become enraptured with a series or author, anyone who has studied literature, anyone who has depended upon a book for companionship (hush, I was a lonely child) will tell you that books are actually fetish objects.  Yes, a book is a collection of words, but more than that it’s something sturdy to hold onto.  It’s something you can (and do) take with you anywhere to provide solace, comfort, or camaraderie.   As I organized my books, I wasn’t just putting objects on shelves.  There was also a part of me that was re-living the sundry times of my life which these icons represented.  I was remembering the vacation when Harry Potter IV was released and I spent the last two days holed up racing to finish the book before returning to school and my friends (who, obviously, would have done the same).  I was reminiscing about the corner bookstore in Dublin which sold only books in Irish where I acquired my Gaeilga/Béarle dictionary because you can’t really get them in the United States.  I was thinking about the day when I rescued my great-uncle’s complete matched set of Dickens from a slow painful death by mold in my Grandmother’s basement library.

I have mixed feelings about the epub revolution.  While I certainly am going to be grateful that my leap to the iPad will mean far fewer boxes for my next move (I go through trade paperbacks like you wouldn’t believe), the fact that personal (and even public) libraries may have numbered days saddens me. I think my feelings on the matter can best be summed up by Mister Charles Lamb:

“What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers that have bequeathed their labors to these Bodleians were reposing here, as in some dormitory or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odor of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard.”

Borders’ closing really cements the true beginning of the end for people who, like me, get a thrill out of browsing the shelves.  Of course, the bookstore and the library are two very different places, but somehow the permanent destruction of any bastion of oak shelving seems like a coup to the literary world at large.

In any case, I take small comfort in the fact that my library is safe and organized.  It may not have matched oak shelving yet, but it’s not going anywhere.

Summer Readin’ (Had Me a Blast)

If you’re like me, summertime is an excuse to catch up on some much-needed sanity.

There are no papers to write, no required reading for the week, no classes to attend, and the long days are filled with what seems like hours upon hours of free time because even if you have to work a real job, by cutting out the demands of the rest of your life (i.e.: school) at least you have several more hours in the week with which to play.  And your brain isn’t chewing on the most recent class discussion or assignment, so you’ve got plenty of free processing space.  This can only mean one thing: time for some summer reading.

I recognize that the vast majority of the world isn’t like me.  Despite that, there is something wonderfully nostalgic about summer reading.  As a culture, we are brought up to associate summertime with semi-assigned reading time that at least gives the illusion of choice.  However, once freed from the clutches of primary school, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of choices.  Too many, in fact.  Do we read what Oprah tells us to, the New York Times tells us to, our friends, the local bookstore,

As a regular person (and not a super geek), often times there are things that we know we should get around to reading but simply have not done so.  Classics, conversation pieces, bits of literati that we feel should have a place in our lives but for some reason don’t.

Based upon the precepts that you are a regular person, you like to read, but you don’t like ridiculously thick prose or buzz words the size of my forearm, today I am compiling a list of summer reading for you.  Obviously this is biased by my own personal tastes, but I have tried to include as broad a spectrum as possible.  The only rule which I strictly adhered to is Novels Only.  A novella or two snuck in, but there are no plays or pieces of poetry here.  My reasoning is that summer reading should be easy.  It shouldn’t take mental exertion to get through (though perhaps it does provide some food for thought).  Plays and poetry are different beasts from novels and thereby would require mindsets which definitely deviate from the sentiment of summer reading.

This is in no particular order of importance, though I tried to make it have some sense of progression wherever possible.

Book reports will be expected the second week in September (though I may not get around to grading them until winter break).


1)     Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; Every.  Human.  Being.  Should.  Read.  This.  Book.  Period.  It has a broad smattering of topics: World War Two, Vietnam, Time Travel, Aliens, and heart-wrenching statements about humanity.  It’s a quick read, an engaging novel, and an interesting story.  It’s also one of Vonnegut’s most easy to digest pieces (his writing style can be a bit disorienting at times, but that works for this book).  Vonnegut is one of the great novel-writers of the twentieth century and I sincerely believe that reading a piece of his is pivotal to the modern American mind.  And there are several quotable catch-phrases from this book that you can whip out to impress your literary friends once you’re through.

2)      Pride and Prejudice with or without zombies  by Jane Austen or Seth Grahame-Smith;  No, watching the Colin Firth movie does not count (though

Lizzy Bennet kicks some serious undead hiney

could get you bonus points if you read the book first).  Come on, you haven’t read this book?  You’ve sat through a Julia Roberts movie and you haven’t read this book?  Man up and take it like a champ.  You may just wind up being entertained.  The zombie version is a really cute bit of Austen-mania and totally worth the read once you’ve read the original.  Yes, you’ll get the humor if you haven’t read Austen’s version first, but it’ll make you feel morally superior to read them in sequence.  Trust me, a sure-fire way to make yourself feel smarter.

3)      Anything by Toni Morrison.  It may be worth having a look back at my thoughts on this most talented of American writers before you set out on this endeavor.  No, her books aren’t pretty.  They’re not pleasant.  They’re not polite, and they make you feel uncomfortable.  But they are literature at its best, folks.  Of the published authors alive today, Toni Morrison is (in my opinion) the greatest.

4)      Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift;  This is particularly prime summer reading since it is a travelogue of its own sort.  Swift’s sense of humor is generally shocking to a modern audience, so be forewarned about the immense amount of fart and poop jokes that you are about to encounter.  To me, they’re the highlight of the novel (YES!  Eighteenth century fart and poop jokes!).  This one also comes with a snob-rating since the story is so frequently re-told in our culture.  Wouldn’t you like to know what really happened to poor old Lemuel Gulliver rather than rely upon Jack Black to tell you?  If you’re in a Swift mood, you may also want to look up his essay “A Modest Proposal” and give it a whirl.  It’s easily one of my favorite short bits of literature…

5)     Dracula by Bram Stoker;  Since we’re talking Irish authors, let’s give good ol’ Bram a shout-out.  Another fantasy-travel-novel, Dracula is perhaps most famous for its portrayal of Christopher Lee… or perhaps the other way

eat your heart out, Robert Pattinson

around.  This novel’s epistolary form marks it as a piece of a definite literary movement (epistolary was immensely popular in the eighteenth century, so it marks this piece as having a definite “vintage” feel even for a reader contemporary to its publishing).  Best perk to reading this book: it makes you measurably superior to a Twilight fan.

6)      Frankenstein by Mary Shelley;  While we’re talking about epistolary Gothic novels, let’s throw this one in there.  Abandon all thoughts of Boris Karloff (and even Kenneth Branagh).  Film adaptations of this cultural phenomenon hit NOWHERE NEAR the actual thing.  Consider them utterly unimaginative bits of fanfic.  You don’t know Frankenstein until you’ve Shelley’s novel.  Extra literary factoid: there are two editions of this text which vary enough that literati have constant debates about them.  The 1818 edition (near and dear to my heart) is an edition which some say was heavily edited by Mary’s husband Percy Shelley.  Its introduction is written by him pretending to be her.  We do know that he looked over the manuscript, but the exact degree of his red-penning is difficult to determine.  The 1831 edition was published after Percy’s death and includes a preface from Mary herself (available at the back of most critical texts).  Mary claims that this edition is closer to what she first meant to write, but since the 1818 text received so much criticism when it was released it is hard to say whether Mary was simply bowing to that criticism or genuine in her sentiments.  Either way, do get your hands on a copy and read it!

7)      The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; This is an especially good book to read if you are in a time of transition.  It’s a novel-length allegory and is full of beautiful, inspiring thoughts.  Personally, I was resistant at first to a novel which (as I perceived it) tried to preach to me about what I should and should not do, but boy was I missing out on some lovely and wonderful new ways to perceive things.  It’s not a how-to guide, it’s a road map.  Think of it that way and it’ll make the entire experience more enjoyable.

8)      A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; The first Sherlock Holmes novel both sequentially in the timeline, and that Conan Doyle wrote.  If you never read another of the stories (and I highly recommend that you do), you must at least read this one.  Otherwise, you are banned from ever saying “elementary!”, smoking a pipe, or even thinking about deer-stalker caps (which incidentally appeared nowhere in any of the books but rather were introduced to the Holmes mythos by artist Sidney Page in his illustration which accompanied  “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”  in 1891, a good four years after Holmes’ introduction as a literary character).

Page's sketch of Holmes and Watson

9)      The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; If you like quirky British humor (and really, who doesn’t?), MUST MUST MUST read this!  I will forgive you if you don’t get through the entire series (I’ll admit that I have not), but at least give this first one a good read.  It’s funny, it’s engaging, and it’s a classic!  Okay, maybe you’ll never discuss it in an English lit class, but you’ll definitely be discussing it with your nerd friends.  ALL THE TIME.

10)   On the Road by Jack Kerouac; Yet another travel narrative, but this time American and beatified!  Kerouac is perhaps the most poetic novelist I’ve ever read (and that I can stomach to read… I’m not a huge fan of poetic novelists).  It’s a slim book, but I wouldn’t call it a quick read simply because his style demands a bit more attention than your average bear.  Still, well worth the extra effort.

Now find yourself a sunbeam, pour some lemonade, and get busy!  If you finish all these before the summer is out, I’ll be more than happy to provide more suggestions!