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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Here Comes the Summer
I know, I know….some of you around the country are experiencing unprecedented snow storms, rainouts, and generally crappy weather. You will have to excuse those of us who live in Portland for not giving a damn. Before this past glorious weekend came along, we hadn’t seen the sunshine since they last gave out a Pulitzer in fiction. I was beginning to think my arms would never turn pink again.
Alas, the forecast says clouds of gray will soon be returning to the Rose City. In order to help keep the dream of Crocodile Mile alive, we turned to some of our 2012 Workshop faculty, posing the question: What books most remind you of summer?
Matthew Zapruder-When I was a kid, right after the end of the school year I would get my parents to take me to the bookstore. I would look at the shelves and pick out the thickest science fiction and fantasy novels, so they would last as long as possible, all through those long summer hours. I think at the beginning of every summer a part of me that still thinks that way. This past summer was busier than usual, with teaching, planning a wedding, etc. But still I had the great pleasure of working my way through a very long novel by my favorite prose writer, Javier Maris, Your Face Tomorrow(published in the U.S. as a trilogy). It’s a very interior book, a kind of spy novel of the intellect, with not much action, which paradoxically creates an enormous amount of tension. I found the desire to sit for hours turning the pages, finding out what was going to happen to the characters, almost unbearably pleasurable. Marias is in my opinion the finest novelist writing today, and I loved every summery second of reading his words.
Ann Hood-My first thought was the Nancy Drew series because I spent the summer I was 8 reading all 100 of them, eating root beer Popsicles in front of the fan.
Dorothy Allison-I go back to James Michener and all those sweaty historical novels he wrote. Hawaii and The Source and such. I think each and every copy I read was gritty with sand and stained with suntan lotion. Childhood Summers of smeary paperbacks and books like bricks. Best part was that when you got sleepy headed you could put the book under your head as a pillow and be up off the dirt while dreaming up your own summer epic.
Robert Boswell- The Great Gatsby is shaped by summer. The novel grows in one’s memory, but it actually covers just one summer, ending in the early fall, leaves falling into the pool alongside Gatsby’s body. Also, there’s that great Alice Munro story “Labor Day Dinner” and the wonderful Cheever stories: “The Summer Farmer” and “The Day the Pig Fell into the Well.”
Antonya Nelson- Alice McDermott’s Child of My Heart. Nostalgic, summer, sweet adolescence
D.A. Powell- The novel that most reminds me of summer is The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. Most of the action takes place over a long, dull summer as a young girl named Frankie is growing into womanhood. Her constant companions are Berenice, the maid, and her kid cousin John Henry. While she loves them both, she also wants desperately to belong to some social circle that’s larger, grander, more glamorous. She changes her name to Jasmine and meets a soldier. She concocts great schemes, and she throws herself into the unrealistic fantasy of moving away to Winter Hill to live with her older brother Jarvis and his soon-to-be wife Janice. Mostly, I love the book for how McCullers’ characters proclaim their love for Hoppin’ John. Frankie tells Berenice and John Henry that she reckons Hoppin’ John would revive her in any situation. She says if there’s ever any doubt, a plate of Hoppin’ John should be waived under her nose. If she doesn’t stir for peas & rice, she must certainly be dead. I, too, feel that way about Hoppin’ John, especially if accompanied by a thick glass of buttermilk and a generous piece of skillet cornbread.
Aimee Bender- Last summer I read The Summer Book by Tove Janssen on a friend’s recommendation and it was wonderful. Scandanavian island summer fragmented stories about a girl and her grandmother and sometimes just pure loveliness.-Bender
Jonathan Dee- I’ve never been to southwestern France, but when as a lad I worked at The Paris Review we decided publish in its entirety a hundred-plus-page novella by W.S. Merwin called “Shepherds,” which later became part of a book called The Lost Upland. In it, a newcomer to an ancient French village takes over and restores to life a ruined garden. That’s it. Every paragraph is a master class in the prose of poets, in Conrad’s ideal of fiction as an art that appeals primarily to, and through, the senses. The heat and smell and loam and majesty and transience of summer do everything for the narrative that plot conventionally does. I left that job two decades ago but I still reread “Shepherds” every year or two.