What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2011.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Epic Fail

Dear Readers,

I am sorry that I failed you. This reading challenge has been a Civil War where the Union forgot to show up, and now lies in the smoking embers of so many chick lit and young adult novels. At the beginning of the summer, I had crafted a plan to read a bunch of Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry anthologies, and checked several of them out of the library. But guess what? Reading poetry is hard. All of these spare assessments of life and death just make me sad, and I only made it twenty pages into "American Primitive" by Mary Oliver.

Any semblance of strategy continually eluded me. I picked a chunky Pulitzer Prize-winner, "The Edge of Sadness," but could only get fifty pages into it. It was beautifully written and I know all of the characters are going to be fully realized and contain faceted secrets, but it was slow work, not amenable to the cutthroat pace of summer reading challenges. When I was home, I eked out thirty pages of "Just Kids" by Patti Smith. I also downloaded pretty much every song she mentioned in the first thirty pages, embarrassed that I had never heard of them. So not only did I not read the book, I'm out eleven bucks (but I've finally listened to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme").

In spite of these reading rabbit holes, I managed to read two books in August. "The Last Werewolf" and "Black Swan Green." "The Last Werewolf" is a psychologically gripping thriller about the mechanics of being the last werewolf on the planet. It also contains continuously graphic sex scenes, making it the best book you never read in the eighth grade. "Black Swan Green" is by my new favorite author, David Mitchell," and spans the year of the life of a thirteen-year-old boy in 1982 England. It's funny, warm, and captures all the terrible parts of being thirteen with grace and compassion. Plus, the dialogue is fantastic and all of the different characters (from stuck up uncles to Beligian emigres to gypsies) have their own unique voice. I've adopted all the slang of 1982 teenagers and have been calling everything "ace" and "epic." So far my friends have been mildly tolerant.

Perhaps most importantly, "Black Swan Green" also traces the main character's relationship with his sister, as they evolve from brutal adversaries to friends. It is in that spirit that I offer this olive branch to my sister. I know I gave feeble competition this summer, but I hope she enjoyed reading the three good books she read this summer as much as I did.