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The Top 5 Wednesday prompt this week is to list quintessential summer reads, not what I’m actually planning on reading over the next few months. Which is good, because I’ve covered the latter list already (check it out here).

To me, a quintessential summer read must be sexy, accessible, packed with vivid detail and easily transportable. It should make me feel proud and strong, though tragic glamour is always acceptable. Bonus if it has a certain sun-baked quality.

Summer is also a poetry time for me. Some Sandburg in a warm patch of sun. Add gin, tonic and Frank O’Hara to taste. Perfect summer day.

This is a TFW! For more info, please see below.

5. Generation X

Genderation X is polarizing book. People who hate it seem to really, really hate it. I get it though: the term “Generation X” was in the 90’s what “Millennials” is today. Frankly, I would not readily pick up a book called Mellennials, even if (especially if?) it offered engaging, scabs-and-all character-driven stories with strong infusions of fantasy and drunken, sun-blasted ferocity.

I guess some people felt similarly about Generation X.

But I love it. The characters feel real to me, ravenous and textured and familiar. Pompous, sure. I don’t think they always smell fantastic or anything (after all, they’re a bunch of twenty-somethings living loose in the California desert). But I recognize the blended flavors of squandered potential, mistrust of society and over-education.

Pairs well with coffee and cigarettes or rum and cokes.

4. The Paris Diary and The New York Diary

I first read these two  diaries on a cruise. They were the perfect counterpoint to fancy drinks, sitting by the pool and ogling beautiful men. Ned Rorem is a charming, intelligent gay man and his scattered writings about his life are glamorous, funny and poetic. The Paris Diary  is my favorite of the two. Shock to no one, it is set in Europe and contains a smorgasbord of cosmopolitan cocktail parties, pleasure travel, shameless name-dropping and deep, searching thought about the place of the artist in society.

Rorem is a composer, among other talents. I haven’t listened to any of his music, but I understand the rhythm of his life, I think. His diaries make me feel that anything is possible and that the world is full of interesting and beautiful people. Plus, he was quite, quite handsome when he wrote these words. Beautiful men are like celebrities: you don’t have to know them to have opinions about them.

Pairs extremely well with fruity drinks, champagne and cigarillos (though I don’t recommend all three at the same time).

3. Howl and Other Poems

First published in 1956, there are now over 900,000 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” in print. Probably you’ve read this (maybe in high school English). But have you ever read it ragingly drunk? Have you “bared your brains to the heavens under the El”? Have you taken the poem downtown and read it while “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo” park their bikes and pat their dogs around you?

For a poem that is over sixty years old, “Howl” still resonates deeply. The anger and the childlike naivete still touch me. And I hope that, at least once this summer, I get drunk enough to let loose a howl of my own. Sometimes you just gotta.

Pairs well with shots of anything.

2. All the King’s Men

all the king's men

When you buy this, be sure to pick out an old, beat-up copy. Don’t bring a shiny new edition of All the King’s Men to Barton Springs unless you’re willing to endure the quiet contempt of the louche, thin, hipster boys. Oooohh quelle domage. I couldn’t live.

I first read this masterpiece while working as a summer groundskeeper at a golf course in rural Arkansas. To this day, that is the worst job I’ve ever had. I’d get up at 4:00 AM five days a week and work in the summer sun for eight hours. I was surrounded by conservative men all day long. I had to take out my piercings. I accidentally knocked down part of the fence while refueling the tractor.

However, there were some definite silver linings. I got very tan and very muscular. I slept soundly each night and learned how to do some very butch things. And, since it was so hot, I spent my lunch hour every day reading All the King’s Men instead of eating. I can’t imagine a more appropriate book to read throughout a sweaty Arkansas summer than Robert Penn Warren’s masterful tale of the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a charismatic Louisiana politician who begins his career as a genuine representative of the people and ends it as a murderous and corrupt demagogue.

I’m not normally one for books about power, politics and corruption. I read the New York Times every week, okay? I get my fill. But this book is much more than that. It’s a love letter to the rural South, to Southern families and to the waved hot-weather mirages that spring up above concrete roads. The whole book is saturated with heat and grit and Southern perspective.

Pairs beautifully with an Old-Fashioned or some spiked sweet tea.

1. The Catcher in the Rye

I’m certain I’m not the only person who finds himself returning to The Catcher in the Rye once summer rolls around. Most of the book is set in winter, of course, but there’s something about the youthful madness and honesty of Holden Caulfield that makes me want to reread this classic while lying in the grass. And you know what? Every time I reread it, I feel something new or laugh at something I’d missed before or find myself laying the book down to inspect how I feel about Holden’s (often ridiculous) opinions.

I  didn’t like the novel when I read it as a teenager. But the older I get, the more that I find it rings true. The world we live in allows, even necessitates, a certain amount of “phoniness.” We all wear masks. We all disassemble from time to time. But when you’re sunning pleasantly buzzed somewhere, you don’t have to fake anything. Especially if you’re half-naked and alone for the moment, you can luxuriate in the fantasy that you are exactly the kind of person Holden would have liked: aware, honest and willing to let other people live unmolested around you.  The real challenge, of course, is bringing that certainty off the lawn and into your adult dealings.

Pairs well with: self-reflection.

By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.