Well, I haven’t been very successful at producing content, have I? Now that we’re truly in the middle of summer, and the pace is slower, maybe I’ll finally be able to post regularly. Summer, for me, is always a kind of playtime. I feel free to experiment. I’ve been itching to start keeping a visual journal. This is a good time to start. It’s also a good time to read new books, and revisit old ones.
What did you do in the summer before the internet? Did you read? That’s all I wanted to do. Well, that, and eat ice cream and wander the mall. Because I was a teenage mallrat. Anyway, the JHI blog decided to play the “summer reading” game too. I wrote about old favorites. I wouldn’t want to steer you astray, now, would I?
One summer, I carried W.G. Sebald’s After Nature all over Europe, like a talisman. I read it quietly in hotel rooms, and over coffees in little squares. The historian’s work can be alienating, so much solitude, so many hours and days spent unmoored from your own time. Here was someone else who did that deep dive, and came back with a work of lapidary beauty. It’s a work that always sets me thinking about the writer’s craft.
Summer, for me, is also a time for re-reading those books that first opened certain intellectual doors. I often go back to T.J. Clark’s work – whether the more conventional art historical works, like The Painting of Modern Life – or stranger ones like Farewell to an Idea, The Sight of Death. Clark both knows how to look and how to leap from ekphrasis to argumentation. I plan to read and and look at the art work under discussion again, and somewhere between reading and looking, come to a new understanding of work and text.
But it’s also a season of sun, and salt, and blue. This summer, I’ll have Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse in my beach bag, for something that feels deceptively diaphanous, along with Joan Didion’s South and West for a glimpse at another writer’s working process. I’m also carrying Solmaz Sharif’s first book of poetry, Look, because something about the heat and pain in these poems demands slow, careful reading. Read a stanza. Look at the sea. Repeat. If I should find myself stuck at an airport, I’ll reach for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. I second Eric on this recommendation. They are gripping. They pull you into another world and nothing makes a four-hour travel delay go by faster.
Find out what the other JHI editors put on their lists.
What We’re Reading: Summer Books Edition