Critical Mass

Three Thoughts About Summer Reading: Lia Purpura

By Lia Purpura

1. Oh, the summer reading list! Summer: the battleground, where ought to’s and true loves slug it out. What I should be reading/what I want to fall into. The profligate and the upright choices. Wild cravings v. balance, proportion. Of course love can grow from obligation (there are, indeed, successful arranged marriages!). And of course one can glut oneself silly on the ecstatic. Thus weighed, I’m going, right now, today, for Nabokov (the stories I haven’t yet read, the lectures, the letters, Speak Memory, again). I’m going to drop right into his arms. I vote for the summer romance.

2. Summer is also the time for confession, the kind of confession that comes on by way of mild, early mornings spent walking and thinking, so that rock-bottom realizations appear with gravity but not force. I am not the confessional type, but rather am privately, gnawingly aware of flaws, gaps, and lapses; the occasion of summer allows these urgencies to surface gently, so I might regard them with amusement and only a medium amount of shame. Publicly, I hereby confess: I have never read All Quiet on the Western Front. But here it is on my desk, ready to roll (along with too many others to list comfortably here. . .).

3. Summer is also the time for re-learning how to read. Time to shed the skim-and-assess method that so much reading during the school year requires. Thus I have here Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Which, though not thick in any way, calls for, because it feeds my thinking, slow and deep time. Which just now I’ve entered (it takes a long while to arrive at this point) and which I already mourn losing, the summer being so terribly short.

Lia Purpura's "On Looking" was a finalist for the NBCC Award for Criticism in 2006. "King Baby," a collection of poems, received the Beatrice Hawley Award. Her other honors include the AWP Award in Nonfiction, the Ohio State University Press Award in Poetry, NEA and Fulbright Fellowships, and three Pushcart prizes. She is Writer in Residence at Loyola University in Baltimore and teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program.