Summer reading recommendations from your friends at The Mac Weekly

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“Let’s Talk About Love” by Carl WilsonOK, bear with me. So this is a book about Celine Dion. Yet it’s not a cheesy biography, but rather a work of serious, deep-thinking music criticism. Alright, that sounds boring too. But trust me, this is worth your time, and it’s pretty light reading.

See, the thing is that Celine Dion is not cool. Music critics – usually upper-middle-class, white straight males – fancy themselves the ultimate arbiters of cool, and “cool” has never, ever included Celine Dion.

A trend in recent music crit – quite a “cool” trend at that – is the valorization of pop, R&B, electronica, and other genres usually excluded from rock-centric ideas of songwriting and rugged authenticity. This school of music writing, known as popism, admirably distinguishes itself from the more traditional music-writing ethos of rockism, which is frequently and appropriately condemned as racist, sexist and homophobic. At its best, popism has drawn our attention to the genius of Timbaland, the innovative rhythmic fury of the hyper-evolving dance scene and the elegant surges of melodism and invention that occasionally crop up on chart hits (read: “Toxic”). At its worst, though, popism leads to bizarre scenarios such as the avalanche of positive reviews for Paris Hilton’s deeply unremarkable – and, ironically, utterly unpopular – 2006 debut.

“Let’s Talk About Love,” then, is a book that takes popism to its absolute extreme (its subtitle, in fact, is “A Journey to the End of Taste”). Celine Dion isn’t even pop in the sense of Top 40 radio, she’s just overwhelmingly popular. Yet despite having dozens of millions of fans worldwide, people who write and think about music for a living have never taken her seriously. Enter Carl Wilson, who in this 150-page tome undertakes that very task.

Yet the book – named after the Celine album containing her “Titanic” smash “My Heart Will Go On” – is not just Wilson wrestling with his own rock critic brand of white guilt. It’s packed with fascinating details. Wilson discusses Celine’s placement in the ethnic and class formations of post-60s French Canada, and the difficulties that this initially posed to her success. He also includes hilarious tidbits, such as a couple about her popularity in Jamaican slums (Jamaican-American music critic Garnette Codogan attests that he once witnessed an event at which a DJ “began to play a Céline Dion song, and the crowd went buck wild and some people started firing shots in the air”).

Wilson also traces a critical history of schmaltz as a cultural genre, bats around ideas from French sociologist (and, by some accounts, proto-popist) Pierre Bordeiu, cites a couple of punk-rock Celine covers and towards the end, finally reviews the album of the book’s title.

It may not sound like it if you’re not a total music geek like me, but this book is outrageously entertaining and funny, and it probably won’t take you more than three days to read. And while I personally still find Celine Dion’s music indefensibly putrid, the book may prompt you to think for about two extra seconds before plugging your ears the next time you find yourself in the dismal situation of hearing “My Heart Will Go On.”

Peter Valelly

“Do It!” by Jerry Rubin

Get ready for the Yippies. Yeah, that’s right. The members of the Youth International Party will soon come storming into your mind, and you will become one of them. You will be up in arms against the Man, against the conformists, against “Amerikan” ideals. Upset the Man – whoever “he” is and wherever “he” is. Join the ride with Jerry Rubin, a prominent Yippie, for his ride to the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

When Jerry Rubin published “Do It!” in 1970 it was touted as “the Communist Manifesto” of our era. His writing was spunky, radical, tongue-in-cheek and full of passion for a new “Amerika.” Yet, despite his vehemence towards the “Amerika” he was living in, he still loved his country. The first words in his book read, “I am a child of Amerika. If I’m ever sent to Death Row for my revolutionary “crimes,” I’ll order as my last meal: a hamburger, french fries, and a coke.” He doesn’t stop there. Immediately you sympathize with Rubin’s outrage and discontentment at the state of his country as he relays his experiences in the Marines, as a reporter and as a revolutionary running for political office. Changes he’ll make in office? “We’ll hold a marijuana teach-in in front of the police station and give joints to the cops as the campaign’s main action… if elected, I will not serve. We’ll have a rotating mayor-ship, with everyone taking turns as mayor for a day.” Rubin reveled in the irony and mockery caused by his run, and you will too.

Littered with pictures and collages, “Do It!” is like a 1968 scrapbook from an insider who actually experienced the revolution with flower power, protests in Berkeley, and chilling with Che Guevara. Yes, it may be akin to leftist semi-propaganda. But the words go down so smoothly it’s like they’re coated with honey. Honey that packs a punch, honey that makes you want to get up and act out for what you and “Amerika” deserve and need.

Whether you choose to protest or not at the Republican National Convention coming in August, what better way to pump yourself up for the action to come than to pick up this book?

Tatiana Craine

“Red Earth and Pouring Rain” by Vikram Chandra

I was more than a little daunted when we were assigned Vikram Chandra’s “Red Earth and Pouring Rain” for my English class-the novel stands at 542 very dense pages. Nonetheless, I endeavored to read it over Spring Break, and, failing that, read most of it the Sunday before school got back in.

The novel is wonderfully rich. Summarizing the plot would take far more space than this article provides, but there are more or less two plotlines. The first is the story of a man, Sanjay, now reincarnated as a monkey, who was born under magical circumstances, grew to be a poet and found a way, eventually, to cheat his own death. The second is an Indian college student named Abhay and his search for meaning in his life. Sanjay’s story is as dense and detail-oriented as a 19th-century British novel, which may be a turn-off for today’s casual readers, and the pacing isn’t particularly fast. It is nonetheless colorful and strikingly intricate. Abhay’s story, however, is its own masterpiece of postmodern prose and proves Chandra’s ability to be more sparing on words and engaging with the reader. The overall novel is impressive in that almost every single loose end is tied up, and the personal struggles in each chapter make it worth it as the story progresses.

“Red Earth and Pouring Rain” is a fantastic novel if you have a lot of time to set aside for a subcontinental, Murakami-esque journey. Chandra is a master of his craft, and I personally found the book extremely rewarding, despite the sheer size. I would probably recommend his shorter works, however, for the fainter of heart.

Colin Williams

“House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski

I am not one for horror stories or hauntings of any kind, with one exception: reading “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski. However, “House of Leaves” is not only a horror story, but a twisted adventure into a labyrinth corridor.

To quickly summarize the 709 pages (that fly by rather quickly), the protagonist Will Navidson moves into a house with his partner Karen Green, and the story unfolds as they and their friends explore this mysterious corridor. One second it is a closet, the next a pitch black mess of stair echoing with the growl of an unidentifiable creature.

There are a myriad of things I could say, but I will only add that the pages are full of crossed out text, rambling footnotes hundreds of pages long, pages with a few words scattered chaotically and other pages with words going upside-down or sideways. These peculiar aesthetic attributes contribute to the confusion of the house and make this book unlike any other. “House of
Leaves” is a complete trip, waiting for you to get lost in this summer.

Tressa Versteeg

The Slocum Series by Jake Logan

Literature, shmitature. This summer it’s all about romance, adventure and yes, sex. Hot sex. Where does one find a book with these three enticing plot elements? Bookstore outlets, of course. Bookstore outlets in coastal strip malls.

Bookstore outlets are magical places where one can find biblical coloring books, self-help manifestos and, most importantly, bins of mass-produced western fiction. The Slocum Adventures are the longest-running Western series in America, published since 1975. I have only read #317, but I’d bet my bank account that each novel, like #317, features the adventures of our hero, cowboy John Slocum, as he fights the bad guys and sleeps with every lady (and prostitute) in Southwestern America. Essentially, these are romances written for men-and for me.

Curious? Here’s an excerpt from “Slocum and the Sierra Madras Gold”:

“The wild ride began, him hunching it to her and her raising up each time for all of it. Body fluids began to flow and her muscles began to contract around his fiery sword, which tingled with electricity with every plunge. His pubic bone smashed against hers. Her legs split wide, he in as deep as he could go and pounding for more. Her moaning grew louder and he wondered if the others might not come outside to see about the commotion. She was so into it, she was flopping like a fish out of water underneath him.”

If a woman flopping like a dying fish isn’t hot, I don’t know what is. But gritty sex scenes aside (there are 2-4 per book), the Slocum Adventures are quick, easy reads that capture the spirit of the Old West. Author Jake Logan infuses his prose with italicized Spanish words like “amigo” and “bandito,” clearly depicting an authentic picture of historical California cowboy culture (please note my sarcasm). The suspense is riveting, the bar maids are hot and Slocum’s the hottest man in a hat since Indiana Jones. Take that, Harrison Ford.

Amy Shaunette