This summer we are not reading books. Nobody else does. They are too long. They have too many words in them. They do not have Intel inside. They get wet, and bloat and warp and leave unseemly stains upon the epidermis.
Still, one should have read books. On Labor Day, one would like to be able to say one has improved one's mind or one's body, and one's body seems increasingly resistant to the whole concept of improvement.
So, we offer a summer reading list for our times. Since de Maupassant's day, we have refined our tastes. There are now only 12 plots. The following synopses more than do justice to the nuanced range of the human experience as conveyed in the original. Skim them, or, if you are David Geffen, have them skimmed for you, and you will have obtained the full benefit of reading all literature, fiction and nonfiction, currently produced. Clip and save for next summer.
"O Solo Mio"
A Great Man, in receipt of a great advance, reflects upon his greatness at great length. All (of his greatness) is revealed. Mysteriously, his greatness sells poorly and it is remaindered.
"I Am Betrayed"
A former special assistant/Cabinet secretary/consultant/pollster/vice president to President Clinton tells the story of his seduction and disillusionment: It is a tale of a good person led, through his/her ambition to do good, to foolishly trust in a leader who turns out to be not so good after all. Happily, though, the good person is at the end, though sadder but wiser, still perfectly good, or at least much, much more good than Ken Starr.
"The New York Novel"
All is anomie. All is brand-name. All is postmodern. All is deracinated. Above all, all is ironic, except for a couple of small things which are irenic. Nobody knows what any of this means. We are slim and medicated and miserable. We have contempt for everyone who is not us. We are puzzled that our novel is moving rather slowly off the shelves.
"The L.A. Novel"
It's not a novel. It's a treatment. Don't you know anything?
"Memoirs of a Daughter"
A sensitive young-ish person of a more or less privileged background describes a life of almost unbearable suffering at the hands of brutes, beasts and Neanderthals of one sort or another, most of them parents. The sadness, cruelty and essential sickness of sex is explored, in copious, not to mention revolting, detail.
"Martha Stewart's Guide to the Perfect Polyp Removal"
No synopsis required.
"12 Secrets of Highly Successful Cats"
"Real Men Work: A Fetish Book"
An exploration of the lives of men no one in our set actually knows, or actually wants to know, but who are fascinating because they actually do things with their hands. Like with boats and horses and dirt. Their lives are hard and grim, and they are one with nature in the raw, and it is terribly, terribly exciting to read about them and not be them. We will believe anything anyone tells us about them; we believe that they whisper to horses.
"Eyewitlessness to History"
A veteran reporter recalls the many important events at which he was present, or if not present at least in a nearby filing room, being briefed by senior administration officials. The author's prize-winning stories are fully discussed, and every word the author ever had with a Great Man is reprinted and indexed. Also, all of the author's old enemies get what is coming to them. It is revealed that the author never trusted Nixon and that once, on an important story, the guy from UPI got drunk and the author wrote his story for him.
"Earth in the Balance, or We Are Doomed"
The looming and utterly cataclysmic collapse of the world money supply, the world food supply, the world frog supply, the world itself is cheerfully assured. There is no hope, none whatsoever.
"Who Betrayed Feminism, or Who Betrayed Feminism's Betrayers or Whatever It Is That Camille Paglia and Naomi Wolf and Katie Roiphe are Talking About".
A continuing dialectic. Photos by Scavullo.
The collected brilliant, mordant, piercing, prophetical and witty essays of a perceptive observer of our times, to wit, a newspaper columnist, are bound between hard covers for the ages. The author's mother buys several copies.
Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal.