So Many Damn Books on Their Summer Reading
Drew Broussard and Christopher Hermelin on
Lonesome Dove and the West
The guys come back from their summer vacation, tanned and rested and well-read. Armed with hard seltzer, they consider the idea of big-book summer reading and discuss Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Then, Drew reveals his secret method of culling more than a hundred books from his library/to-read stack. Plus, a big haul from the NYRB summer sale.
On Summer Reading:
Christopher: I think I understand now, why I feel bad kind of lazing around, and that’s why I’m drawn to bigger books or more difficult books. Do you agree? This is my theory, my hypothesis.
Drew: I think it all comes back to school. That idea that summer, summer reading, was “Alright, we know that you’re going have time to read Frankenstein, eighth graders, when you’re in school, so we’re going to force you to read it over the summer.” I think there’s a bit of that, a sense of this being a time for enrichment of some kind, or that the reading we’re doing should feel like work—but we’re also both nerds so what’s the work that will feel like fun?
From Larry McMurtry’s Introduction to the 2000 Edition:
It’s hard to go wrong if one writes at length about the Old West, still the phantom leg of the American psyche. I thought I had written about a harsh time and some pretty harsh people, but, to the public at large, I had produced something nearer to an idealization; instead of a poor man’s Inferno, filled with violence, faithlessness and betrayal, I had actually delivered a kind of Gone With The Wind of the West, a turnabout I’ll be mulling over for a long, long time.
Discussing Lonesome Dove and the West:
Christopher: The book feels like the best old Western movie you’ve ever watched in a sort of way, and then the mythos crumbles and it’s horrible and disgusting and difficult and scary.
Drew: I think the thing for me with this, that Gone with the Wind reference [in his quote] is a telling one, because I think McMurtry is falling into a trap that most white writers of the twentieth century fell into by virtue of looking at a time… This idea that the West is this phantom limb of American history, I’d argue that it’s the opposite. The West is the fundamental myth—the idea of Westward expansion, this ideas that if it is there we should take it. More than the Revolution, more than anything else that’s happened in this country, I look at this in 2019 as the fundamental problem of how we got to where we are. Even novels that I loved—and I did enjoy so much of this novel —all of those novels, there is some idealizing of what’s happening.
Drew’s method for culling one’s stacks once they’re seemingly insurmountable:
— Start with the to-read shelf. Set a date before which anything is fair game—for me, it was September 2017. List all of those books.
— Have a friend or partner or lover (someone who knows your reading habits and whom you trust) go through the list and remove anything they don’t think you’re going to read. You can’t argue with their choices, gotta just pitch ’em.
— Then, together, go through the rest of the stack and have them ask you about books they are not sure you’re going to read. Be honest, but also now you can insist on keeping something.
— Once you’ve gone through your entire to-read stack, turn to your shelves. Look at them with fresh, ready-to-pitch-stuff eyes. Anything that you even slightly doubt why you’re keeping, pitch it.
Remember: no need to go crazy. Stay within the bounds of what you feel comfortable with. Even a small reduction is a great one.
Christopher’s picks: The Gunslinger by Stephen King and Costalegre by Courtney Maum // Tuca & Bertie
This week’s themed cocktail: