I’ve realized that I have a lot fewer craziness-of-commuting stories these days, and even fewer still that are worth even mentioning here on the blog. A week ago I experienced a moment of awestruck gratitude not to be on Interstate 66. I had left work early to pick up the kids on the little girl’s first day of daycare, and after getting off the VRE and getting in my car I heard a report on the news about the old Highway of Doom – apparently there was a truck fire involving a hay trailer, which of course was sited (a) on the westbound side I would have taken home from the Metro and (b) almost immediately west of the Metro which is where the traffic on 66 always snarls even on a good day. But as profound as the there-but-for-the-grace moment was at the time, it was quickly forgotten and thus hasn’t even come up until now.
But despite (or more accurately because of) the lack of drama associated with the easier and more direct train, I am enjoying my new mode of commuting, even though (as I mentioned previously) it does render my annual tradition of Beach Books on a Bus something of a misnomer. Still, semantics notwithstanding, the tradition must go on! Because basically I am the kind of person who does something twice and then becomes so co-dependently attached to perpetuating it some form of intervention may eventually be required.
(Before I plunge into my recent reading list, however, you know what makes for great summer reading? All the short stories (including mine!) in How the West Was Weird Volume 2! Now available at Amazon.com!)
I’m not sure whether or not BBB 2011 started with The Lost City of Z by David Grann. It’s a non-fiction book composed of equal parts academic research and investigative journalism, not the usual unapologetically trashy genre-ghetto fare which is BBB’s whole reason for being. But the main subject matter is drawn from the pulp-tastic era of exploration in the early 20th century, and evokes everything from Indiana Jones to The Lost World, so that has to count for something. It’s the kind of book I would read for fun at the beach, at any rate.
If that doesn’t qualify, then BBB indisputably got underway with the continuing sci-fi epic of Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah. My Little Bro is a big fan of the Dune books but up until this summer I had only ever read the eponymous first novel in the series, so if nothing else I was looking forward to being able to discuss the expanded world-building with him. I grabbed book two in paperback at the used book store for 35 cents and I can confidently say it was worth every penny! It’s so radically different from the first book that I’m still not sure how much I enjoyed it on its own merits. I also picked up the third book, Children of Dune, for 70 cents recently and may very well end up reading that before this summer is over.
Next up was Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon, which was a paperback published in the early 90’s that made its way into my possession not long after but which somehow I was forever putting off reading. I believe I started it once, I don’t remember when, and it just didn’t grab me, so I always believed that reading it would be a chore and there was always something else more pressing to read first. I must have packed up and moved that book at least seven or eight times since graduating college. Now that I’ve finally conquered it, I’m not sure why I was so resistant to it all this time. The early, abortive attempt must have come at a strange time that limited my receptiveness to it, though again it’s hard to reconstruct what that would have been. The novel is a love letter to the pop entertainments of male childhood in the mid-20th century: comic books, rock and roll, baseball, monster movies, stop me of any of this sounds extremely familiar. And it’s done in a style which I’m just going to call American magical realism, and that part probably doesn’t sound familiar but my senior thesis for my English major was on American urban legends and I did a lot of research on the literature of magical realism throughout that project and it’s one of my nerdier obsessions, so yeah a story of pure unfettered geek-Americana where the protagonist at one point loses his dog but then wills the dog to keep living as a zombie dog until he realizes that’s no good for either of them and releases the dog to go be the pet of the ghost of a local boy who died in a fire … THIS IS ALL KINDS OF MY BAILIWICK. But, not to sound too ungrateful about such a custom-tailored thing existing, the book was just kind of all right. It did make me want to check out more McCammon, though, so that’s something.
You may also recall that I promised this year during BBB I would balance out the book-reading with a fair amount of SMOAT (summer movies on a train) but sadly I have even less to report on that front. I did finally watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! Which was something of an embarrassing gap because it’s such a geek shibboleth, but man, that movie is not very good. The follow-up to that was going to be Jaws, an even more egregious oversight in my lifelong film intake, but the DVD copy sent to me by Netflix was unwatchably jacked up and kept skipping and stuttering every few minutes. I’ve already sent it back and gotten a replacement, so hopefully the second attempt will fare better.
Now if this absurd triple-digit heatwave would blow out of town so that I’m not totally spent after my fifteen-minute walk to the train platform in the late afternoon, which reduces me to doing way more sleeping on the VRE in the evenings than reading or movie-watching, I’d appreciate it immensely.