The following books have relatively little in common with one another with regard to plot, setting, writing style, or really any literary criterion. Some are short, some long, some sweet, some grave, most are fiction, one isn’t. One thing common to all of them is that I am absolutely in love with them. I could pick up any of these books at the drop of a hat and not stir until I had finished it. They are some of my very favorite things to read and I hope you’ll enjoy them if you try any.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: I read this book in a post-modern literature class in college. I went into the class not really like post-modern lit. I found it overwrought and vacuous and largely completely uninteresting. There were several books over the course of the class that changed my mind and this was one of the first and best. If you like stories of freak shows and weird cults, this book is definitely for you.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I had never heard of Donna Tartt before a good friend Jody handed me this book, told me that it was one of her favorite things she’d ever read, and told me to read it. This book interested me from the outset because the main character goes to college and majors in Classics and if a book about a Classics major in college sounds boring to you, just trust me that the tip of this iceberg does not begin to do justice to the remainder. This piece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Goldfinch is absolutely a must read.
The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were originally published separately, but are frequently printed and sold as one volume now. This is one of those books that no film adaptation has ever even come close to touching, so if you’ve seen any or many of the myriad film versions of Kipling’s classic work(s), just completely forget about them and pick up the book. It’s fun, a great story to share with kids, and one of the most surprisingly emotional stories I’ve ever read. As an added bonus, the book is actually a collection of short stories, which makes it perfect as a bedtime story option or commute book!
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: It is (hopefully) glaringly obvious to anyone who’s read this blog even a bit (or talked to me in person) that I absolutely love Tolkien. He is basically a deity to me. The Hobbit is a great Summer Reading option because it’s light and fun and about a trip, which makes it the perfect vacation book! Plus when the vacationing is done and you’re ready for something with a little more gravitas you can graduate to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, or even Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth!
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl: First of all, everyone should have at least one Dahl book under their belt. He’s a classic children’s/young adult author for a reason, folks. Fantastic Mr. Fox is my favorite Roald Dahl book because stories about crafty animals outsmarting humans are pretty much my life blood. Plus, one of the characters subsists on nothing but hard cider, which is how I aspire to live my life.
The Widow Clicquot by Tilar Mazzeo: I’m not a huge oenophile (though I like wine a lot) nor am I an especially eager reader of non-fiction, but this book hooked me. The story of how Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin not only handled her husband’s company like a boss after he died but also completely revolutionized the champagne business, ran blockades to sell her luxury wine, and basically was an all-around hero for, like 60 years until Death finally showed up and was like, “Come on, lady, you’re making me look bad here,” is one that I can read over and over again. She was OG, man.
Little, Big by John Crowley: The novel picked for the inaugural meeting of the KU Book Club (and also the second meeting when we showed up and discovered that none of us had finished it) has stuck with me in a huge way since then. This book got me into reading tarot cards. It also uses the ubiquitous idea of Faerie in a supremely fascinating way and basically is everything you could possibly want in a book. I’ve never really been able to verbalize this until right now, but you know what Little, Big is? It’s a Neil Gaiman novel from before Neil Gaiman was writing novels. I don’t know if Gaiman was directly influenced by Crowley’s book, but I have to say, I’d kinda bet on it.
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle: I’ll be honest with you, I read this book because I saw the movie and really liked it. I saw the movie because Hayden Panettiere was in it and I really like her. My motivations notwithstanding, though, this book is excellent. Anyone who has ever gone to high school will find something to relate to here. It’s funny, heartfelt, and makes you glad you graduated years and years ago.
June 13th marks the birthday of one of the greats of Modernist poetry, William Butler Yeats. To really understand an appreciation of Yeats, all you need is an example of his work. The Second Coming is a fantastic example of the Modernists’ attempts to couch the post WWI malaise in their various art forms and is, in my not really very humble opinion, one of the best poems of all time.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
If that doesn’t hit you right where it hurts, I don’t really know what to do with you.
So. I don’t know if you guys have been to Fallingwater, but hopefully you have. If you have not, let me tell you all about it. Fallingwater is a house that Frank Lloyd Wright (born June 8th, 1867, hence this post) designed for the Kaufmann family near the town of Ohiopyle, PA.
Quite frankly, it is one of the most interesting buildings ever. Without going into a ton of details, technical and otherwise, that I don’t know and/or can’t remember, the house is built over a waterfall using a cantilever technique which makes it seem to almost be hovering over nothing. Which is rad, obviously, but it has a ton of other really cool features also. There’s this awesome staircase down to the water from the living room and it leads to what is probably the world’s first infinity pool at the bottom. That’s right, the river flows into a small, enclosed swimming area and then out again. Which freaking rocks.
Fallingwater also has a traditional pool and a pool house. There’s an external staircase that connects an office on the second floor with a bedroom on the third. My point is that the house is really really cool. If it weren’t a National Landmark it would be a serious goal of mine to one day live there. As it is, I’ll have to settle for my goal being to one day try and have an homage built, haha.
One last interesting thing about Fallingwater (and reportedly all of the residences Wright designed, though Fallingwater is the only one I’ve seen for myself), the ceilings throughout the property are all quite low. Apparently Wright had very strong feelings about wasted space, which is why he designed his houses to accommodate people walking around but not much more. Like, the ceilings at Fallingwater are low enough that a tall person would have to stoop to get through the doors and would reach the ceiling long before they reached their arms to their full length above. It actually makes you feel a little claustrophobic. I think if you lived there you’d eventually get used to it, but just visiting it is pretty unnerving. At least for me.
Anyway, Frank Lloyd Wright not only designed really cool buildings but also led a pretty fascinating and controversial/scandalous life. His family on his mother’s side had Welsh heritage and he named a house he designed for himself Taliesin, after a figure in Welsh mythology. He was married three times and had seven children (several of whom also were/are architects, which is interesting in itself.) Basically he was an incredibly interesting person and you should probably look into it.
So. June is National Iced Tea Month! I don’t know if you know this, but good iced tea is literally one of the most refreshing things in the entire world. It’s pretty much only surpassed by a good lemon-lime soda and plain old water.
Now I’m not talking about Turner’s Iced Tea here. I’m not talking about Arizona. Those things have their place, of course. Far be it from me to disparage a nice sugary drink. But real iced tea, brewed at home and chilled with a billion ice cubes, is on a completely other level. It’s like the difference between RC Cola and Coke. Or the difference between literally any other ketchup and Heinz. There’s really no comparison. Because homemade iced tea is the tits.
So in honor of Iced Tea Month, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite iced tea concoctions, Cold-brewed Iced Tea with Mint! (There’s not really a way to fix the name of it so it sounds catchy. Believe me, I’ve tried. Let me know if you come up with something!)
First of all, why brew the tea cold? Using boiling water is faster (way way way faster, actually) and you still get tea, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, tea is tea, but cold brewing extracts the flavor from the leaves differently. Cold brewed tea has less of the tannic, astringent tastes of the leaves steeped in boiling water. I don’t really understand the chemistry of it (though I guess I should look it up), but apparently brewing tea or coffee with boiling water brings out more of the bitter flavors of the leaves/beans and cold brewing tea or coffee doesn’t do that. (P.s., cold brewed coffee is also freakin’ great.)
So anyway, cold-brewing tea. What you do is you take a good, reliable, plain black tea. Let’s say Luzianne for argument’s sake. One tea bag per cup of water is a great ratio for a full-flavored mixture. So four tea bags for a quart of water. Add to that approximately a cup of slightly crushed/bruised mint leaves and let that steep in the fridge for at least 6 hours. Overnight is usually a good way to do it. Now, there are people out there who are pretty hardcore sun tea enthusiasts. This is just like that, only your tea doesn’t have to sit warm outside for hours growing bacteria. Takes a little longer, but the flavor is just as good, I promise.
So anyway, you take out the tea bags and the mint leaves, you add a slice of lemon and some simple syrup over ice and there you have the summer’s most refreshing drink. Tada!
So the Sierra Club, if you don’t already know, was founded on May 28th, 1892 by this totally rad guy named John Muir. Even then, America’s wild places were starting to be gobbled up in the wake of rapidly expanding populations and industrialization. John, as you might imagine, was not in favor of that. So, with the help of other naturalists, artists, and a bunch of other people, Muir founded the Sierra Club with a mission,
“To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.”
And the Sierra Club has been protecting the environment ever since. Now, I’m not here to tell you to become a member or even to try and convince you to help save the Earth. Hopefully, you already do as much as you can of that on your own. All I’m trying to do here is acknowledge the great contribution John Muir made to the environmental cause and celebrate the Sierra Club’s awesomeness in protecting and nurturing our world. You go, guys! Thanks!
Grab your Lightsaber, your Phaser, your Ring of Power, and/or your Towel, because it’s Geek Pride Day on the 25th!
So as a Geek, I understand the need for Geek Pride Day (May 25th every year. To commemorate the release of Star Wars, obviously.) There’s a weird stigma associated with being a geek. And while there’s room for a ton of discussion about where that comes from and while said discussion and investigation would be totally fascinating (geek alert), I’m going to go ahead and wildly oversimplify and say that what it really comes down to is a 1950s-style rejection of bookishness. So it’s important, even in this geek-forward era, to celebrate all the obscure cultural touchstones and unusual obsessions that make us who we are.
For whatever reason (for a bunch of reasons, actually), there’s something about the pale, bespectacled geek image that some people really abhor. This is sad for them, because some of the best people I have ever met have been pale and bespectacled. And while their interests may not have been the same, the tan, Lacoste-wearing, country-clubbing set who (proverbially) abhor them are just as geeky. They’re just geeky about different things, like tennis and sailing and football.
That’s kind of the thing about being a geek: almost everyone is one about something. All of us have things that we’re interested in and passionate about. That’s all being a geek is, really. So whether you’re a classical, comics-toting, computer-screen-in-the-dark-reading geek or an unusual, outdoorsy, sports-oriented geek, or some unholy combination of the two or any of the myriad others, be proud today and every day! Geek Pride! Woo!
I can hear it from here! All of you out there saying, “My goodness, Adam, there are so many P.G. Wodehouse books at KU, how did you pick just one to read for book club?! And, more importantly, how should I choose some of them to read this summer, since they are great for summer reading and are the funniest books ever?!” Firstly, let me say that you are very verbose.
Secondly, yes, it can be difficult to know where to begin with Wodehouse (that’s wood-house, p.s., not woad-house) but the truth is that you can start anywhere you like. Wodehouse’s books are usually short story collections and while there are over-arching plot lines, he’s very good at filling his readers in on what they need to know for the present moment. Most of the Wodehouse books we carry (he wrote over 100!) come from two main storylines, Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle.
Jeeves and Wooster is about wealthy and scatterbrained Bertie Wooster, the unfortunate situations he and his friends get into, and how his ingenious valet, Jeeves, extricates him from them. If you’re a stickler for chronology, the first three books published were My Man Jeeves in 1919, The Inimitable Jeeves in 1923, and Carry On, Jeeves in 1925. Carry On, Jeeves contains the story Jeeves Takes Charge which is about how Jeeves came to work for Bertie in the first place, so from a narrative perspective, it’s a good place to start and that’s why we chose it from the others for a book club selection. Other great J&W books include Right Ho, Jeeves and Mating Season.
Blandings Castle is concerned with Lord Emsworth and the residents of Blandings Castle, who also get themselves into unfortunate and hilarious situations. The first BC book is Something Fresh (1915), but we recommend starting with Heavy Weather or Lord Emsworth and Others. One of Wodehouse’s most beloved characters is Psmith (the P is silent, as in pshrimp) and he is part of the BC series. His first book is Psmith in the City, but we love Leave it to Psmith the best.
We all love Kards Unlimited. I do. I know you do. Pretty much everyone who experiences us loves us. Because, let’s not mince words, the store rocks. It’s the best place to be. Period. So, on her birthday, I want to thank (blame?) the party responsible, our boss, Kristen Kershner.
Working at KU attracts a certain type of person. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re fun-loving. We’re smart. We relish a good book (and some bad books.) We also relish champagne (with one or two notable exceptions.) To varying degrees we exhibit a charming blend of sweet and tart. And we are family. I don’t know where I’ll be in twenty (or even ten or even five) years, but if or when my time at KU is done, I know that I will never forget it. I know that every job I ever have will be measured against my time here and probably found wanting in at least one aspect. All of these are a reflection of Kristen.
I’m going to stop writing now in favor of going in to work early to hang out with the birthday girl a bit. Happy birthday, Lady. Many happy returns. And thank you for everything.