The following is a guest post by Rights & International Sales Assistant Lynsey Major on her summer reading.
What do Snooki, President Garfield, and Unhappiness Have in Common? Is it that President Garfield feels unhappy about his secret love for The Jersey Shore? No, not really. Instead they are the subjects of my summer reading.
Let’s start off with a summer beach read—A Shore Thing by Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki. I know many have wondered who watches MTV and reads. This girl. I am fascinated by The Jersey Shore. And I bet sociologists everywhere wish they had come up with this idea first for their ethnographic research. Why go half way around the world when such strange subcultures exist among us? A Shore Thing has everything a viewer of the show would expect: tanning salons, clubs, and steroids. Moreover, the book is fun because the writers have fun with it, entitling chapters: “Vin Diesel is Hotter Than Jesus” and “The Return of Granny Panty.” The plot can be boiled down to: Two cousins are at the Jersey Shore for a summer of easy living. But problems arise when Bella is taken as the object of a cruel game between two preppy men. While Gia, Snooki’s fictional alter ego, navigates bad relationships with old friends and new dates. If this doesn’t sound like the book for you yet, it also features: laxative jell-o shots, beached sharks, and questionable dancing tips. Spoiler alert: The ending is worth mentioning because it subverts the age-old tradition of a comedy ending with a couple. After both girls find their dream guys, they flee the shore. This rejection is a strange twist but makes room for the upcoming sequel—Gorilla Beach!
In addition to my beach reading, I also took in Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell about her pilgrimage to the historical markers of presidential assassinations. Earlier in the summer I had read Vowell’s newest book Unfamiliar Fishes about the history of Hawaii’s statehood, and enjoyed her voice as a nonfiction writer. She’s morbid, quirky, and wildly enthusiastic about American history. She says, “I can theoretically grasp that a person might not get excited about a two-dimensional engraving attached to a government building marking the spot where the man who negotiated the purchase of Alaska was knifed by a friend of John Wilkes Booth.” But not Vowell. She takes in every artifact: from the contents of Lincoln’s pockets when he was shot to slices of Charles Guiteau’s brain. The book primarily focuses on Lincoln and Booth, Garfield and Guiteau, and McKinley and Czolgosz. By far, the chapter on Garfield and Guiteau is the most interesting if for the mere fact that I knew so little about them beforehand. For instance, Vowell reveals that Garfield was a “voracious reader” and was perturbed that the presidency was cutting into his leisure time. Then there is Guiteau, who was so delusional that even the free-love commune he belonged to, “nickname[d him] ‘Charles Gitout.’” He was also crazy enough to have written General Sherman a letter demanding that his troops raid the jail and release him. Overall, the book is interesting and can inspire an entirely different idea about what to do with your summer vacation.
Then I read My American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopoulos on the recommendation that it is just like Gary Shteyngart’s novels. If you’re not familiar with Shteyngart’s oeuvre—The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story—I would describe them all as a contemporary, Jewish Candide. So, I was shocked when I read My American Unhappiness and started to cry. It’s not like the title didn’t warn me. But I didn’t expect the book to be as depressing as it was. Here is the premise: Zeke Pappas is the director of a Midwestern humanities program and caretaker to his mother and nieces. And then, as his department is undergoing federal investigation and on the brink of collapse, his dying mother writes in her will that he will no longer have custody of his nieces unless he marries. What follows are lots of awkward encounters with women, crying in secret, and interviews with unhappy Americans. It’s not all bad, and there are some good lines. When asked what makes her so unhappy, a lecturer responds, “The inability of undergraduate students to correctly use commas makes me unhappy. Seriously, I teach four sections of freshman composition each semester, and this about ruins my life.” All in all, it’s a nice coming-of-age story, even if the protagonist is coming to age in a less than typical fashion and later in life than usual. But now I need you to read this book and report back to me: Is it really as sad as I thought it was? For a taste, you can read an excerpt on the New York Times website.
Lynsey Major is an assistant in the Rights & International Sales Department at AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association.