A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari
Well, it’s not light but summer is also about having time and space, and this book, A Thousand Plateaus, needs substantial time and dispositional space. Ideally, it needs time for you to have read Anti-Oedipus beforehand but I wouldn’t say that is a must. All you really need is a frustration with all those incredibly complicated examples of critical theory that claim that their particular form of reductive complication is the one that can finally solve everything through the application of its limiting frames. To this, D&G reply, what if the frame is actually so infinitely complex it brakes down any concept inside it to evermore contingent elements, and with this, the concept of the frame itself evaporates? What if there is no ideology, no tree structure upon which knowledge is built, no subject as such, no final analysis? What if all that we hold dear are just networks of energetic intensity, relationships between bodies and concepts and things, which can be infinitely disassembled and reassembled? This is a theory that presents us with the vertigo of dissolution and reconstitution, and which forces us to ask what is it that we are actually invested in, and who even is the we that is doing all this investing?
Politics and identity become much less clear-cut, but there is still room for them; you just have to be more careful, and more granular. But still, there is room for some incredible drama. A comic drama that marks the bodies we mistake for some kind of indivisible self. A drama which propels us ever faster towards intensity. A drama that can never be reduced to just blaming your parents, capital or some kind of original sin. This is a work of philosophy that lets the outside in and the inside out to such an extent that the designations and separations lose meaning. As impossible as it is, A Thousand Plateaus attempts not to lock you down. It throws a great deal under the bus but only to work out what’s worth keeping. And what’s worth keeping are those tools for thinking that can help you to change the world.
If you need a pop primer, I’d look at the recent film Annihilation. If you need something more pop, try watching the film Dr. Strange in a really non-literal way.
Less Than One by Joseph Brodsky
One of the approaches to choosing summer reads is to go huge, say a calibre of Musil’s The Man without Qualities or DeLillo’s Underworld. The reasoning here is that a week or two off will free enough time to manage what otherwise appears impossible. Though ostensibly that seems to be the case, in my experience holidays always somehow tend to end up being as busy as the rest of the year, even if in a different, and admittedly more pleasant, mode. This realisation suggested to me a need to change my approach. Instead of the longer ones, for my summer days off I prefer to go with shorter forms. Among these is essay, and when it comes to essays, I can hardly think of anyone better than Joseph Brodsky, especially because he can be reread and reread and reread.
Joseph Brodsky is well known as a poet, but his less popular essayistic endeavours are on par with his verse. The best place to get acquainted with his prose is his selected essays collection Less than One. The book leaves little doubt that poetry played an absolutely central role in Brodsky’s life with many of the essays devoted to the poets and poems he found most dear. What radiates from those pages is the affection of a genius, who at the same time sees himself as but a humble peer and disciple of many others far greater than he. But the book offers more than that—some of the essays take an even more personal angle as he reminisces about his childhood and youth in the titular “Less Than One” or, the final piece in the collection, “In a Room and a Half”. Here, we find the same affection that permeates the entire collection, even if convoluted with a more obvious nostalgia for a lost place and realm, as Brodsky was forced to emigrate from his beloved Saint Petersburg then called Leningrad…
It is a book that at once mourns but is never morbid, celebrates but is always somber and rejoices but somehow calmly, in a tour de force that only an extraordinary sensitivity and an intricate understanding of language allow for. So if like me, you realise that holidays call for something more concise and feel like adding beauty to your life is not a bad idea, I would recommend giving Less Than One a try.
My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Quartet) by Elena Ferrante
I guess this is technically not a book recommendation, rather a four-book recommendation, but I can’t think of a better way to spend July than devoting your free time to the story of Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo. I have to admit that the first part of this tetralogy has been lying on my shelves for the past couple of years (and the second part for a year) and that despite the enthusiasm of a couple of trusted friends, I didn’t feel extremely attracted to it (a story about two people? In four parts? With such ugly book covers?). But a couple of weeks ago, out of boredom and confusion of what to read next, I decided to give it a try. And here we are, two weeks later, counting with fear the pages left of the fourth part and talking about it with every single person I bump into.
This story is everything I could ask for from a piece of fiction: complex characters and relations, history, philosophy, politics. A credible story for its human contradictions and their difficulties. From family matters to personal difficulties and self-hatred, all set up in a context of class struggle during the 50’s in Italy, this multi-volume novel presents the reader with much more than a personal story. It is, instead, a universal story. Apart from the narrative in itself, Ferrante’s excellent use of language gives full expression to the nuances embedded in Italian and its dialects. With the help of the similarly excellent English translator, Ann Goldstein, despite the loss of the original Italian and Neapolitan dialects of the protagonists, we are still able to feel the richness of these ways of speaking and thinking in the text.
The Neapolitan novels are definitely not only a summer recommendation but actually a masterpiece of contemporary literature in constant need of recommendation. A masterpiece that captures the essence of human life and struggle, and the beauty of language and words.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Although a considerable portion of the book takes place right by the beach and in the ocean, Melissa Broder’s The Pisces is probably more of a bathtub book than a breezy beach read. But, for anyone willing to trade the traditional feel good genre for something slightly murkier, The Pisces promises fucked up love, the fear of death, and a hot feverish soak in summertime sadness. Far from weepy or sentimental, however, The Pisces also contains pitch-black humour, pithy L.A satire and plenty of (really good) merman sex. Think of it as a kind of Sartre’s Nausea meets The Little Mermaid, but if Ariel had Tinder and went to group therapy.
After a bumpy break-up with her long-term boyfriend results in a broken nose (him) and a subsequent suicidal Ambien-induced blackout (her), Lucy decides to accept her sister’s invitation to come house-sit in L.A over the summer. As the sister and her husband leave for yoga conferences in Europe and a work trip to Burning Man, Lucy settles into their gorgeous glass house on Venice Beach to take care of their sleepy foxhound, and—due to the aforementioned incidents—starts attending mandatory group therapy for depression and sex and love issues. What follows is a spiraling hot-mess of traumatic Tinder dates (on a scale of ‘guys who like Bukowski’ to ‘terrible public restroom anal-sex’, all of those things) followed by delusion, obsession and a fish-fantasy romance, all set against a backdrop of an existential Los Angeles hellscape of biodegradable yoga mats, sushi-print socks and dog-food cooked in coconut oil.
Broder has also published several books of poetry, and her online popularity as the Twitter alias @sosadtoday led her to publish a collection of personal essays under the same name in 2016. The Pisces is her boldly original fiction debut and, in my opinion, her best work yet.