The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has decided to not work hard this week. After a grueling 2017, what with the onerous fellowships and the painful book promotion events, it is time for a brief respite. I will be off Twitter as well, though just for a short break because I still find being on it more valuable than not being on it.
Talk among yourselves this week. Or, even better, read a book! I know I gave some early summer book recommendations a few weeks ago, but I confess that those were interesting wonk books as opposed to interesting books to bring on vacation. So here’s what I’m planning to read at an undisclosed family redoubt this week:
David Gessner, “Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth.” Full disclosure: For about a decade, I was a halfway-decent Ultimate Frisbee player. For a few years, I was a better-than-decent player with delusions of grandeur. In graduate school, I nearly flunked my first-year comprehensive exams because I devoted too much time to my ultimate team. In retrospect, this might seem like a stupid allocation of my time as a youth. Gessner’s memoir of his own ultimate odyssey reminds me, however, of the excellent reasons I love the sport so much. His first chapter evoked some powerful memories of when I played; anyone who excelled at a quirky sport might identify with those feelings. He also writes about the era of ultimate in which I came of age, evoking names (Kenny Dobyns, Steve Mooney) and teams (Windy City, Condor) that reside deep in the collective unconscious of the dedicated Ultimate player.
Allegra Goodman, “The Chalk Artist.” I mostly read nonfiction; my spouse inhales fiction. Every year we try to find one book that both of us will read, so we can talk about it with each other. The challenge of agreeing on a common book varies from year to year, but it’s never hard when Allegra Goodman has just written something. I have loved her work ever since “The Family Markowitz,” and would recommend “Intuition” as one of the best novels about the academy I have ever read. I am supremely confident that her latest, about young love in Cambridge, Mass., will not disappoint.
Norman Podhoretz, “Making It.” This is embarrassing for someone who just wrote a book about the marketplace of ideas to admit, but I have never read Podhoretz’s memoir of intellectual ambition and success among 1960s New York literati. The New York Review of Books recently released a new edition, and both Louis Menand and Sonny Bunch have piqued my interest with their takes on the book. I suspect that Podhoretz’s book will pair nicely with Gessner’s. They clearly overlap in one way; they are both about ambitious people in subcultures that have some ambivalence about ambition.
Jim Shepard, “The World To Come.” I dedicated “The Ideas Industry” to the high school and college teachers who nudged me into being a better writer. The professor who bears the most credit for this was Jim Shepard, my creative writing professor and the sharpest wit I have ever had the good fortune to know. He has written numerous critically praised novels. Nonetheless, he always returns to the short story — not because, as he once quipped, “that’s where the real money is,” but because I suspect it’s his preferred format. “The World To Come” is his latest anthology of well-researched short fiction.
See you all next week!