For so much of our life, time is measured by the structure of the academic year, from the beloved respite of summer to the begrudgingly exhilarating late August weeks when we prepared for the inevitable. I still vividly remember my 5th grade back to school outfit; a matching black and blue striped mini-skirt/shirt combo (see below) with Reebok high tops.There's nothing quite like the feeling of donning new clothes, an empty notebook and watermelon scented pen in hand, refreshed and motivated, ready to learn, beat the boys at Dr. Dodgeball (man, I miss that game), cultivate your crush on Eric Trail, read aloud from the latest installment of Sweet Valley High and otherwise immerse yourself in the excitement of the new school year.
There were the high school years full of Anne Sexton, Joseph Cornell and ample opportunities for rebellion, adventure and antics. Then college, and the distinctly perfect feeling of leaving behind the sleepy, quiet summers at home in order to drive my Volvo back toward upstate New York for another year of making 16mm movies, hanging out in the science building during snowstorms for no reason, reading The Cement Garden, going to Jeffrey Eugenides readings and generally getting ready to be a grown-up. And don't even get me started on the life changing two years of grad school. So many good books to read! So many weird projects to do! So many inspiring meetings to have with real-life writers! On certain San Francisco afternoons in September, there's something about the air that viscerally makes me feel I ought to be walking to my writing workshop, but alas, I'm not. So, for those of us not returning to school this fall, let's pretend like we are. Here's some ways to set the mood.
Make a Reading List:
Most of us say we read while halfheartedly carrying a book around and taking a month to finish it. Books are beautiful and important and make us better people. We should read them more. Remember the days when you read a novel a week and discussed how the structure of Cloud Atlas mirrored that of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler? Harness some of that focus and jump wholeheartedly into your reading list.
Mine includes the much talked about The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. Read her too-cool (in a good way) write up about it in The Paris Review here. Another must-read is Paul Yoon's newest The Snow Hunters (check out his story collection, Once the Shore, too) and Pulitzer winner Paul Harding's Enon is out this September. Battleborn, the collection by Claire Vaye Watkins, was recently recommended to me. Bonus points for her desert-y website. Other additions to my never-ending list include Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector and Mary Shelley's mom's book, Some Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, which has been described in this way: "if ever there was a book calculated to make a man fall in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” My only regret is that I will not be assigned 2 page analytic essays to write about each of these. Take a field trip to Green Apple and pretend like you're required to buy everything you want to read.