Critical Notes

Summer Reading: Heller McAlpin


Perhaps it’s a critic thing: Even when reading at leisure (as opposed to on assignment), I tend to divide literature into two broad categories: books I wish I’d reviewed, and books I’m glad I didn’t (or won’t) have to write about.  Some perfectly enjoyable novels fall into the latter category, such as Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful (accent on the light) Isabel Dalhousie series, best slurped as refreshing palate cleansers between meatier matter.

In the first group, there are the ones that got away-books I missed, or didn’t have time to finish.  Three on my pile for this summer are Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland,” and, at my son’s continuous hounding, W. G. Sebald’s “Austerlitz.”

I’m sorry I missed writing about the clever “Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar…Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes,” written by two disaffected former philosophy majors, Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, because, also a disaffected former philosophy major, I’m possibly its ideal reader. I’m looking forward to tossing “Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington,” in which the pair deconstruct quotes from well-known politicos through the ages to expose bad logic, into my beach bag.

I like to read or reread at least one tried-and-true classic every so often, just to remind me what the goalposts are.  This summer, I’m leaning toward revisiting Balzac’s “Le père Goriot.”—Heller McAlpin