Beacon picks: Summer reading list

by Beacon Staff • April 8, 2009

biI Love You More Than You Know/i (2006)

Jonathan Ames/b

I'll say it: if I hear one more person call David Sedaris her favorite author, I'm going to track down the reigning king of maladjustment and kick his snarky, lisping teeth in. True: he gave our generation a way to laugh at our supreme dysfunction, selfishness and dependence on alcohol, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, weed, etc. But Sedaris has become an indie rock album your little brother is just discovering. It's best to shelve him until the masses move on and you can again enjoy how cool it felt to be the only one listening.

Until then, check out Jonathan Ames' iI Love You More Than You Know/i. A long time columnist for the New York Press Ames is known for his self depricating sexual misadventures. Ames is a quirky essayist like Sedaris, but he spends far less time trying to convince you he's smart and far more time warming you to his own particular version of humanity.

It's a version that includes a moving portrait of his great aunt, splashed with a surprising Larry David-esque tale of a spontaneous erection he sustained while she tucked him in to bed one night as a child. Ames is a redhead and a Jew, which might explain the delight he takes in combining dissonant worlds; aunts and erections. b-BB/b

ibKilling Yourself To Live: 85% of a True Story/i (2005)

Chuck Klosterman/b

If Chuck Klosterman's iKilling Yourself to Live/i is 85 percent of a true story, the other 15 percemt is snarky, smart writing. A follow-up to iSex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs/i (2003), iKilling Yourself/i describes his cross-country trip to explore places where rock 'n roll stars have died. With his likeable "I'm the cool nerd" voice, Klosterman explains why dying is the best career move an artist can make.

The man is a human pop culture encyclopedia and, by page four, the reader will question whether Klosterman is from this planet. How one man can possibly store this much useless information at a time will be the question of the day every day until the book is done. But that's the point and that's how Klosterman likes it. The facts are useless, but he invests meaning in his well-articulated journalistic prose.

He will convince you in a track-by-track analysis that Radiohead's album iKid A/i is an unintentional 9/11 prophecy. He will take you to a Cracker Barrel, and include a detailed recapitulation of a conversation with a waitress about Franz Kafka. His tone is assertive and slightly arrogant, but that's why he's believable. For a story he says is 85 percent true, those keen on Klosterman will leave thinking all of it is fact. Put down the Cocoa Puffs, and read this book. b-KS/b

biThree Cups of Tea/i

Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin/b

Some books make you want to do lots of drugs, have sex with strangers, and then sit down in your New York City loft and write about it as insightfully and sarcastically as you can. Other books make you want to save the world. This book is the latter.

In 1993, Greg Mortenson failed to climb K2, the second highest peak in the world. However, his experiences on the way down changed his life and began a humanitarian effort resulting in 55 new schools for struggling remote communities in Pakistan.

With journalist David Oliver Relin, Mortenson describes his experience trying to bring education to a country suffering from decades of war and poverty.

The title comes from an old Balti Proverb: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family."

Mortenson lives in his car, writes to Oprah, gets kidnapped, drinks fermented goat milk, sells everything he owns and in the face of constant adversity learns to say what his Pakistani friends taught him to: "Insallah," Arabic for "if it is God's will."

Overall a good adventure, a touching story, and if nothing else, the perfect book to read in places when trying to get a date with a socially conscious type. b-TG/b

biAmerican Psycho/i

Bret Easton Ellis/b

While reading, be careful not to vomit. The violence is that ribald. But please, do stay for the laughs. Amid these current dire economic times and the recent populist outrage over certain bonuses which were paid to certain executives at a certain insurance company in New York City, there is a palpable atavistic anger in the hordes of unemployed former-professionals who these days roam Monster.com with desperate vengeance.

To live out the urge to go postal on the B-school grads who ruined everything without spending a day in the clink, or having to once utter the word "bail out," for that matter, there is Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 iAmerican Psycho/i, a deft-if not slightly dated-portrayal of Manhattan in the 1980s, seen through the striking, hollow eyes of Patrick Bateman, the novel's protagonist and chief instigator of mayhem.

Bateman careens from trendy bar to trendy bar, wacked out of his mind on drugs, waiting to sate his bloodlust. He is the product of a wealthy, dysfunctional family during a time when Wall Street really ruled and New York City was as violent as it is expensive. While readers learn to loath him, Bateman slices and chops rich debutantes and a plethora of beggars, doing naughty things with the leftovers. Go ahead, laugh through the gore. It's OK. These days, we're all feeling the pain. b-MB/b