Start with Twain for summer reading

Wally’s World

Continued from last week:

Last week I explored and recommended a few authors I’m very fond of. In particular, I commented on the works of Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon and Tom Robbins.

This week I’d like to examine Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Hunter Thompson, Albert Camus and Mark Twain. In general, these writers are an easier read than those discussed last week and, therefore, may be more appealing to those who are less literarily inclined.

Vonnegut and Brautigan write humorous stuff; i.e., free and easy, light and breezy, foolishness. And yet, their bodies of work, taken as a whole, occasionally offer some profundities. Nevertheless, you can read one of their novels in three or four hours – or less – thoroughly enjoy the experience and then discard it in the literary trash bin and promptly forget you ever read it. (Vonnegut’s novels have gotten a bit more lengthy in recent years.) However, dismissive as their work may be, their general perspective of life may well linger with you for sometime thereafter.

Hunter Thompson’s work is similar to that of Vonnegut and Brautigan, but much more paranoid. There’s more of an immediacy to his books – for example, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” – and for that reason, they may not hold up over time. Perhaps his best paranoid ramblings were contained in his reports from the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby for Rolling Stone magazine. Hunter would have you believe he was stoned on one drug or another all the time but this is nonsense because he couldn’t have written like he did – not as much or as well – if he’d always been ripped. I even find it hard to believe he was really that paranoid, particularly as screwed up as he suggests in his most famous novel, “Fear and Loathing in Law Vegas.” And yet, despite his apparent, rampant fears, he remains a very funny writer.

Albert Camus wrote a few novels, the most famous being “The Stranger,” which, at one time. our former president, George W., said he was reading. (I have a difficult time getting my mind around that.) Camus also wrote essays, one of which, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” gave me pause and a philosophical perspective that I toyed with for several years. Yet, here again, I don’t think this work will stand the test of time. It was written in the late 1940s and reflects the devastation and hopeless nihilism that was common in Europe after Auschwitz and World War II.

And finally, there’s Mark Twain, whom I feel wrote the definitive American novel, “Huckleberry Finn.” (Mailer struggled his whole life to write the “Great American Novel” but it had already been written.) Twain was an excellent writer who clearly understood the absurdity of human life and shrugged it off with a humorous grin and a clever turn of a phrase. Not only are all his novels a joy, so are the vast majority of his essays. (He may have missed a couple pitches, but that’s to be expected, given his volume of work.) What’s more, he’s readily accessible to everyone. Anyone who can read and has any literary imagination at all can enjoy him.

Twain is my recommendation for your backyard, summer read. If you haven’t yet read “Huckleberry Finn,” do so.