My Favorite Books of the Summer Thus Far, pt. 1

For some, summer is a time to take on an internship, to travel, to spend time with friends and (if so inclined) family. For me, summer is about reading the books that the University of Chicago’s rather absurdly demanding curriculum precludes me from reading during the year. This is not to say that I don’t read during the academic year, it’s just that I’m not afforded the opportunity to read as voluminously as I’m otherwise inclined to.

Below is a list (complete with critical blurbs) of two of my favorites from the summer thus far:

Gain, by Richard Powers, 355 pp. Picador USA, 1998

Gain is the story of a woman and a company, it is one of growth and alienation. It is cold, corporate, and clinical. The novel traces the development of a fictitious company, Clare, from its humble beginnings as a soap and candle manufacturer and importer to its pervasive, expansive, Unilever-esque logical conclusion. Intertwined with this is the narrative of a woman, Laura Bodey, and her daily life in the bucolic exurban town of Lacewood, IL, which just so happens to be the home of a Clare manufacturing facility. As the twin plot lines unfold and spin themselves together, the reader notices that with the growth of one comes the decline of the other. Gain gives hints of genuine emotion, and there are moments of palpable nostalgia and sentimentality (especially in the development of Clare), but the reader is left with a feeling of corporate detachment. A poignant commentary on corporate personhood, the ethics of business development, and the alienating power of marketing, rural existence, and physical and psychological decline, Gain is a must read for those interested in ethics, entrepreneurship, or the lexical workings of the “Genius Grant” recipient, Powers.

This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 248 pp. Library of America, 2000

An ebullient, skittering mess of a book, This Side of Paradise is the perfect novel for those that don’t read books (i.e. young people nowadays). Although most young people are first exposed to Fitzgerald in high school with the reading of The Great Gatsby, this novel, published when its author was just twenty three years old, provides a more applicable and personal meditation on the innocent pleasures of blasé youth, and the deep, adult pleasures of shedding that innocence piece by piece. The extent to which This Side of Paradise is thinly veiled memoir is unclear, though it must be said that the degree of verisimilitude between Fitzgerald and TSOP’s protagonist, Amory Blaine, is striking. Tracing Amory’s personal and intellectual growth from impetuous and pompous youth into literary snobbery during his first two years at Princeton into a real hurricane of a dalliance with a young debutanté into slow decay into post-college alcoholic turpitude and finally into what now might be referred to as indignant “adulthood,” TSOP sloshes about from one scene to another, mixing poetry, epistolary narrative, a peculiar quasi-drama in the form of a script, and careful reference to the dead white males that formed the backbone of the Jazz Age’s literary cannon. It left me with a sense of giddy self-recognition. I, like most young men, am, in whole or in part, Amory Blaine: restless, reluctantly realistic, wistful, and itching for success, the actualization of my closely-held overinflated notions of greatness. With this recognition comes the following fear: that I, like Amory, might eventually come upon realism, and, with it, resignation to the path more traveled.

On Naked Parties

Last night I had the pleasure of dining with a friend of mine from high school and his eight housemates. The food was very good, the conversation witty and at times acerbic, and the people there could only be described as a group of unpretentious hipsters. To wit: they were to what hipsters aspired: artistic, dressed plainly without garishly displayed brand names or critters sewn into the chest pockets of their shirts, and capable of unaffected obscurity in their cultural references.  

Conversation drifted from the particulars of female figure-enhancement through redistributing the fat of the thigh upward, whereupon it is secured at bust-height by way of corsetry; a professor’s rebuke of Ayn Rand (whom he met on a train), when she asked if the train stopped at a certain station he retorted that it might be more appropriate if she “found out for herself;” and the subject of the Yale party scene.

“It pains me to say that at UChicago, very few people actually stick with a proscribed theme for a party. The one guy who goes all out is usually stared at. Then someone cracks a joke about the neuroses of UChicago students and everybody stands around self-consciously until some ‘bro’ does something stupid. Either that or there is dancing to subpar top 40. Lots of gatherings in dorm rooms or apartments, too. Nothing that lives up to expectations of what a good college bacchanal should be.” I was asked my opinion of the party scene where I go. “Ultimately, it depends on the demands of the theme. But in short, relative to where some of my friends go to school, the Maroon party scene is kind of a drag.”

“About accessibility of theme, one of the more popular themes for parties on this block are pants-less parties. One rule: no pants. Women tend to wear skirts or dresses, and although men can technically get away with shorts, most come in their boxers… or, if you are like the __________ twins, hot pink briefs from American Apparel.”

Someone, I forgot who, mentioned that it doesn’t stop at parties without pants. 

“Logistically, it is kind of difficult to dance around naked,” said the one who broached the topic of naked parties. Jumping around doesn’t do any favors for the naked. “So they’re mostly really civil affairs. Sitting, talking. Some drinking, but mostly just conversation is involved.”

“The best part is,” interjected my host, “that the Yale practical joke club always frequents these parties and kind of polices them. They beat the offending male with dildoes until he leaves the party if they notice he’s become aroused.” 

“One’s brain must be vigilant on so many levels at one of these things,” I suggested.

“Yeah, man. They’re pretty involved. I kind of want to go to one before I leave here.” 

“The nakedness here is both metaphor and praxis.”

“Oh, be quiet. Don’t be so U of C. It’s a party. And you used ‘praxis’ awkwardly.” 

“You know, Jason, we’re throwing a pants-less party on Friday. You should come.”

——————————–

Walking back to Davenport college with my dinner host and the friend with whom I’m staying I suggest that “I might wear the boxers from Brooks. That would be so very ivy of me.”

“Very Epicurean of you…”

“Worn earnestly or ironically for that reason?”

“Good question, man. Good question.”