Gimme Summer Readin’

Year Two of the big summer blogging project begins next Monday. Like last year, all of George Schools’ rising sophomores are required to read a novel (from a short list of options) and a poetry anthology. Then they must blog about their reading. In the spirit of shared intellectual activity and plain old fairness, here’s how my summer reading is going so far.

As soon as exams were over, I began reading Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. It seems like I’ve been staying in hotels more often in recent years, and I’ve wanted to know more about the industry. Tomsky’s memoir is a funny and fast-paced insider’s view of life as a hotel employee, and I tore through it in a couple of days. Tomsky is a personable narrator for a fellow liberal arts major like me, and he leaves the reader with a lot of practical advice on how to appeal to (and not piss off) a hotel’s staff. How useful was it? Well, I took Tomsky’s advice when I checked into a hotel (that shall remain nameless) in Baltimore this past Friday night. I slipped the desk jockey a $20 “just for you” as I was giving him my credit card and ID, and my wife and I received an incredible upgrade in return. If you like to travel and have ever wondered about hotel work, read the book.

After I finished that, I read Steve Osborne’s The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop. The book received a positive review in The New Yorker, and it sounded like the kind of thing that I would like. (I love old reruns of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.) Osborne’s style is direct and matter of fact, but he is a gifted story-teller, and he makes you feel like you are riding along with him on patrol in NYC in the bad old days before Giuliani was elected and the crime rate plummeted. Although most of the book focuses on Osborne’s early years on the job, the last third of the book has the most heart-wrenching stories. You’ll fight back tears reading about the death of Osborne’s dog, the death of his father (also a cop), and 9/11.

Now I’ve just begun reading On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee. This dystopian novel was selected by a colleague of mine for the summer blogging project, and it is one of the books the rising sophomores can choose from for the assignment. I need to read all of the options so that I can interact with the students via the Comments section of their blogs, and I don’t want to pretend that I’ve read a book when I haven’t. Last year this same colleague selected Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses, so I had to read that in a hurry. Chang Rae Lee actually came and did an assembly here at George School a couple of years ago, and he read passages from On Such a Full Sea right before it was published. It is interesting for me to read a dystopian novel right now because the last novel I read with my freshmen this spring was Brave New World. Huxley has a better sense of humor than Lee, but I actually find myself more often comparing On Such a Full Sea to William Gibson’s The Peripheral, which I read this winter. I suppose there is a distinction to be made between a “literary” dystopian novel and Gibson’s futuristic sci-fi, but for this reader, Gibson makes the future a whole lot more interesting, believable, and fun, yet he sacrifices none of the cautionary aspect in return. Gibson loves the details of culture — such as music, fashion, brands, retail, technology, transportation — that Lee glosses over or hasn’t fully thought through. I’ll read On Such a Full Sea to completion, but I recommend The Peripheral if you want to read a book set in the near future that will get you thinking.

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