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What are you reading this summer?

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My summer reading is a long-postponed project: reading all of Edith Wharton and Henry James, to fulfill a promise made to my American Novel professor many years ago. (We all hated both of them, the whole class, and could not get through "The Ambassadors." We tried. We really did try. And he finally gave up -- he loved James -- and said, "Okay, you're right. You're too young. You've got to promise that you'll read it when you're 40.")

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Originally posted by Alexandra

We . . . could not get through "The Ambassadors."   We tried.  We really did try.  And he finally gave up -- he loved James -- and said, "Okay, you're right.  You're too young.  You've got to promise that you'll read it when you're 40.")

Oh, Alexandra, I can't tell you how many times I've tried to read The Ambassadors. Like you and your classmates, I really did try. But I couldn't get past the first page, even when I'd passed 40. :) The last time I actually made it to the second page, but that's as far as I got.

I find James's earlier novels and novellas easier reading than his dense later works. The Americans, The Europeans, The Aspern Papers, Washington Square, are all manageable and even interesting. The turning point was Portrait of a Lady, I think. It's a great novel, I've read it twice, but I can't seem to get past it.

I'm surprised you all hated Wharton. I read The Age of Innocence and (my favorite) The House of Mirth when I was in my teens and loved them. Ethan Frome is pretty dull, though, and they often seem to inflict it on students, probably because it's short.

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I love Edith Wharton. The only problem is that I've already read everything she ever wrote that is currently commercially available :).

Ari, I don't like James' later works much, either--and neither did Edith Wharton!

I'm afraid my reading this summer is going to consist mostly of social psychology textbooks and course catalogs.

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Ari, it was Ethan Frome that did it. That was required reading in 10th grade, and I never could connect that with That Other Edith Wharton I read about, so didn't try. (I couldn't get through Austen as a teenager either, but had no trouble with Dostoyevsky; "Notes from the Underground" and "The Possessed" were my favorites at that age.)

I haven't tried "Ethan Frome" again. I started with "Old New York" -- four novellas -- and enjoyed them; next is "Age of Innocence." I'm almost finished James's "Washington Square." Don't love it, don't hate it.

I'd forgotten that I still have books leftover from last summer, popular fiction, "Atonement" and "The Lovely Bones" among others. I got "The DaVinci Code" from Book of the Month, and I know this is childish, but it's such a terrible edition -- cheap cheap paper, print that rubs off in your hands, tiny pages -- that there is no pleasure reading it. I'd rather have a paperback.

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I went temporarily insane and ordered Warren's "Classical Ballet Technique", Barringer's "The Pointe Book", and Grieg's "Inside Ballet Technique: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Ballet Class", though I really couldn't have afforded them all. They should arrive in June-July. :)

Meanwhile, I'm patching up my science fiction knowledge by reading old classics I have missed for some reason. I just finished Frederik Pohl's "Gateway", and it was indeed briliant. It showed that really good sf doesn't get old even when the science and speculative history becomes impossible in the world we now know.

Work requires reading, too, but I haven't compiled a list of necessary reading yet.

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The required reading for school is Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and Huck Finn . Other books I'll be looking into is The DaVinci Code and I'm already halfway through a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman called Smoke and Mirrors . Gaiman is so amazing. I've been wanting for a long time to read In Cold Blood but haven't found time to due to laziness.

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I'm hoping to, finally, get time to read a wonderful Christmas present, "Stravinsky and Balanchine." Also, a book that caught my eye recently by a favorite author, David Halberstam: "The Teammates," about a couple of old baseball players who take one last trip to visit Ted Williams. I like "journey" books.

And, this will tell you how long it takes me to get around to reading books instead of the newspapers and magazines that clutter my life, I plan to read other novels by the author I raved about in last year's version of this thread: Ian McEwan. I read "Atonement" last year and can't recommend it highly enough -- it's in paperback now. The story is about a British family, in between the two world wars, and turns on a misperceived incident one summer night that ends up having devastating consequences. The writing is just sweepingly beautiful and the story will haunt your imagination for a long time. I'm trying to decide which of McEwan's other novels I'll pick up next -- any suggestions? "Amsterdam?" "Comfort of Strangers?"

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I have just finished "Still She Haunts Me," by Katie Roiphe, a novel based on the relationship between Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell. It is an amazing, sensitive book and I was sorry to finish it when I felt I had gotten to know all the characters so well. I have also read the Jasper Fforde book, "The Eyre Affair," which is a complete romp, both fascinating and funny. And re-reading Alexandra's biography of Henning Kronstam - this is about the third time I have read it, and always something different strikes me about Kronstam or about the creative process.

My perennial summer guilt trip of the intellect is Joyce's Ulysses with gun and guidebook. Have never managed to get very far into that beautiful and terrifying jungle - I think I will have to take a course to complete it.

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I've heard other favorable reports about "The Da Vinci Code," but I'm prejudiced against it because of the title. The man who painted the Mona Lisa, wrote backwards, invented the submarine, dissected cadavers, etc., is Leonardo, but Da Vinci is not his surname; Vinci is his hometown. (Lenny from Vinci.) Maybe I'm being too hasty and the title means "The Code from Vinci?" Whatever.

I plan on reading a couple of new novels given to me by a friend in publishing. They are "The Photograph," by Penelope Lively, and "River Season," by Jim Black. I also intend to reread Giuseppe di Lampedusa's great novel, "The Leopard," which I do every few years. Unhappily, the magificent Visconti film made from it, starring Burt Lancaster, has never been available on video.

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Edith Wharton--I fell in love with her novels as an undergraduate--read most of them, wrote a few papers. Fun stuff.

Current reading: "The Dead of Jericho" by Colin Dexter. Dexter has written a number of detective novels centered around Oxford---more the town than the university. The protagonist is a very dour Detective Inspector named Morse who loves Mozart and Wagner. This is the fourth or fifth of them I have read.

"Coming of Age as a Poet" by Helen Vendler. She is a prof at Harvard but writes very accessibly--she publishes both in scholarly journals and also in the New York Review of Books. She write better about poetry than anyone I can think of.

I have just finished her book on Seamus Heaney and am using it as a partial guide back into the poetry of Heaney. I am reading "Opened Ground", which is selected poetry of his with an emphasis on works since 1987.

"Life on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain, a book I read and savor every five years or so--it seems time to read it again.

I recently finished "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace" by Donald Kagan. He has a new book out, "The Peloponnesian War", which is a revision and distillation of his four volume work on the same war. I keep walking past it in bookstores, knowing I will buy it at some point.

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I tend to read too many things at once. Currently it’s “Homemade Aesthetics,” a collection of essays and talks by the art critic Clement Greenburg, “Understanding Walker Percy” by Linda Hobson, and Austen’s “Mansfield Park.” Too much for me to concentrate on at once. Waiting impatiently at my bedside are Nicholas Wolterstorff’s “Art in Action” and the chapter on "The Symposium" in Allan Bloom’s “Love and Friendship.” And I know I’m going to want to reread Percy’s “Love in the Ruins” and “The Last Gentleman.”

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Well I have read the Ambassadors (brag, brag) but can't say I'm panting to read it again. Funny how we get this mad urge to read books we feel we really ought to. A few years ago I struggled through Proust (in English, though) which was definitely worth it for his strange relationship with Albertine (and means I can brag about my achievement for the rest of my days - including now!). Finally finished the Decameron (best read over a long period of time, if at all; can be extremely repetitive) at Christmas and am still working on Pepys (another long-term project but a much more entertaining one. Good bedside book, this.).

As for this summer, I, too, will be pouncing on the new Harry Potter (also the new Victoria Clayton). Unfortunately, I'm running a local book club so don't know how much time I'll get for my own reading. But hope to convince them to do Bel Canto and The English Passengers and maybe a Patrick O'Brian....Don't see them agreeing to read anything about ballet, though.

- Wendy

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I heartily recommend Bel Canto, and I am thrilled that the film rights have been optioned (I'm told) by Renee Fleming since she is the one I was picturing the whole time I read the book. But was I the only one who was disappointed by the ending of The Da Vinci Code (or the code of Lenny from Vinci - love that) . I don't want to discuss it and spoil for others, but I expected something more compelling after such a good fast read.

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It's clear that we're a very high minded group of readers :). I'm wondering if there's anyone planning to read something a little more self-indulgent, shall we say?

For beach reading, I've often plumped for Michael Crichton. He writes like a computer program and doesn't seem to like girls very much, but he's a fast read and won't insult your intelligence. (And I can recommend "The Great Train Robbery" without any of the foregoing qualifications.)

I also used to dig Judith Krantz in her glory days (pre-"Mistral's Daughter") and never found a satisfactory replacement.

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I thought the aforementioned "Bel Canto" was quite beachy (or maybe that's because I sunburned myself on a Maui beach because I couldn't stop reading it!). Other good beach reads, I think, are those beleaguered-single-girl books like "Bridget Jones' Diary." One I'm thinking of reading is "The Quality of Life Report," about a New York-based TV reporter who goes out to Nebraska or some such state and finds ... oh, do you think it's love?

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"Devil in the White City" is a good beach read. It was actually pretty interesting. Architecture and murder all mixed up, a true story too.

Margaret Atwood's books make for good beach reads too, though I haven't read the new one. "Alias Grace" and "Blind Assasin" were both great.

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Hmmm, I think "The Devil Wears Prada" might qualify as a beach book. Has anyone read it?

I'm glad to hear recommendations for Bel Canto. I had originally planned on reading that for a new fiction project I had to do for English, but chose The Lovely Bones instead. I decided not to read it because of a few bad reviews on Amazon, but I'll probably be picking it up again.

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Beach reading? Not the new Michael Chrichton which is awful. In my mind he has never equaled Jurassic Park for a fun read. I loved The Nanny Diaries, which was an easy read but quite touching. I couldn't pick up The Lovely Bones because the premise just depressed me too much, whatever the actual message of the book. Started The Shopaholic Ties the Knot and got bored with it - really clever but too much a Bridget Jones rip-off.

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