Burn After Reading: Five Scorching Spring & Summer Books for These Times

 

“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself,” wrote Gore Vidal, himself a cunning wordsmith who left us such enduring classics as The City and the Pillar and Burr. He was also a master of the political essay, who famously wrote that “any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.” If only he were around today to write about Donald Trump.

We might not have Vidal’s penetrating insights and vicious wit, but plenty of other books are interrogating this strange political era in which a President can tell us that black is white, and two plus two equals five – and then the next day decide that black is actually pink, and that two plus two equals 15.

In the midst of such socio-political divisiveness, here are five upcoming books to put on your spring and summer must-read list. If they don’t serve to help you make sense of these turbulent times, at least they’ll underline that no, you’re not crazy: the world really is this effed up.

 

Adjustment Day, by Chuck Palahniuk

As with anything by the author of Fight Club, expect plenty of deviousness and depravity in the author’s 20th novel, in which the United States is a country on “the brink of chaos,” according to advance press, and feisty millennials are in the gunsights, literally, of a senator seeking to prevent an uprising. Like everything by Palahniuk, his newest novel delves deep into the psychosis of contemporary America: a website is used as a way to name and shame people who threaten the social order. Journalists inevitably rank high, and are targeted as a result. Democracy crumbles, and the country is fragmented into three ethnic entities: “Blacktopia,” “Gaysia,” and “Caucasia.” It may all seem a little too close for comfort. (W. W. Norton, May 1)

No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies, by William T. Vollmann

No Immediate Danger launches a two volume investigation into the human actions that have caused global warming. At his own personal risk, Vollmann undertook multiple visits over seven years to the contaminated zones and ghost towns of Fukushima in Japan, beginning shortly after the tsunami and reactor meltdowns of 2011. Presented in part as a letter to the future, Vollmann, among our most ambitious, and prolific, of writers, seeks to understand why we closed our eyes and ears to scientific consensus. “Back when I lived,” he writes, “some of us believed that heavily polluting coal could somehow lift people out of poverty without impoverishing us in any more fundamental way.” (Viking, April 10)

 

                                                Adjustment Day and No Immediate Danger

 

Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso

If his 2016 graphic novel, Beverly, captured the melancholy banality of the American suburb, Drnaso’s new tome interrogates a world in which technology has alienated us from one another and enabled the rumor and conspiracy theory to take the place of news. In Sabrina, a UD airman undertakes a search for a missing woman. (Drawn & Quarterly, May 22)

Captive Audience, by Lucas Mann

Given that reality TV gave us our current president, we should perhaps care about the ways in which this most popular form is influencing (degrading?) our critical faculties. Mann comes at this well-worn subject with a little more joie de vivre. He understands the formulaic nature of shows such as the Housewives franchise, while admiring them nonetheless. By tracing the relationship of reality TV to his own marriage, Mann emerges at the end with a surprisingly soulful love story.  (Vintage Books, May 1)

Florida, by Lauren Groff

Having rocketed to fame after President Barack Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015 (what, one wonders, might the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave nominate?), Groff’s latest is a collection of 11 short stories set in America’s weirdest state. Capturing the alienation and complexities of contemporary life, each of Groff’s stories is a marvel of description (a great dane “the color of dryer lint”), and lyricism. (Riverhead Books, June 5)

 

                                                              Sabrina, Florida, Captive Audience

 

The Six Quirkiest Sites for Lovers of the Printed Page

In this technological age, where attention spans are short and work days are long, it’s nearly impossible to find the time and energy to enjoy a good book. It’s not that nobody reads anymore, but once we’ve scrolled through the daily posts on our favorite blogs and the occasional newspaper article (online of course), the idea of opening up a weighty tome, tuning out the noise in our heads, and actually focusing is about as foreign as government-sponsored health care. But instead of helping the internet kill print media, why not use the digital world to rediscover the musty pleasures of good, old fashioned books?

Through a handful of quirky and fun websites for (real) readers, you might just find the motivation to finish the last hundred pages of that potboiler you’ve been lugging around in your satchel since Boxing Day.

1. Book Lovers Never Go To Bed Alone is an archive of photographs of thousands of beautiful books in bookstores, in homes, in bathtubs, and pretty much anywhere you can place a book. Some of these photographs are uncomfortable to look at because of the sheer number of unorganized books tottering precariously on rickety shelves. Obsessive compulsive organizational freaks should probably avoid this site as well. Regardless, it shows just how beautiful books can be, even in their wildest states.

2. Bookshelf Porn is like Book Lovers, but rather than focusing on the books themselves, it’s more of a celebration of the many types of shelves on which you can put your books. Lesson learned: it’s unfair how beautiful some people’s home libraries can be.

3. Project Gutenberg runs an inventory of over 36,000 free e-books that aren’t attached to copyright laws. Think old classics and ancient texts. Books are downloadable to your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or whatever other device you may be using instead of carrying an actual book.

4. Good Reads is a social network for book lovers. Use it to keep track of books you’re reading, get recommendations from other readers, and create communities and conversations based on your favorite reads. Like any other social networking sites, you can add other people as friends, update your progress in current reads, and add books to your to-do list. Good Reads is intellectual activity gone digital.

5. What Should I Read Next? is a great source of inspiration for your next book based on your past favorites. Simply type in a favorite book, and the site will generate a list of similar books that you may also like. So easy! And, much like Pandora, more than a little bit addictive.

6. Hot Guys Reading Books is pretty self explanatory. If you ever need motivation to read, take a browse. Some of these guys aren’t all that and a bag of chips, but intelligence is attractive, so boy readers automatically get two extra hotness credits. Unfortunately, there is no Hot Girls Reading Books blog, but these dudes will work for now.