The Melville Summer


My favorite reading experience was during the summer of 1976, after my first year of college. I was living at home, working, hanging out with friends and all that, but when I wasn't doing those things I was reading Moby Dick. My sister had graduated from college and moved to Kansas City, so I took over her room which was larger than mine, with a dormer in front. I put an Indian bedspread over the entrance to the dormer, moved a small bookcase into it along with an old armchair our dog had chewed the wooden arms of, which my parents were going to throw away. With a floor lamp and my stereo and records I was set. All summer, when the time was right, I'd put a record on, sit in the chair and slowly, deliciously, read Moby Dick. My memory now is that this lasted all summer and all I actually remember of that summer is the supreme pleasure of being in my little cubbyhole surrounded by warm light, books, and good music and reading to my heart's content.

--John Evans




Women Who Raised Me: Episode One


I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I grew up with a wonderful, attentive mother. Super parents, both. Really. But a young girl and developing bibliophile requires a whole host of literary mothers to show her the way. It takes a village.


Episode One: Maud Hart Lovelace


It’s 1995 in Mobile, Alabama, which means that I’m five and taking fashion cues from Full House. I’ve got the hot pink leggings and enormous t-shirt, a big bow in my big hair. It’s summertime, so I’m also sporting glitter-jellies as I run amok around the neighborhood with my motley crew of cul-de-sac urchins. We play from dawn to dusk, like it’s a full-time job. We stay outside as long as humanly possible to avoid getting roped into chores. But let me tell you, it is difficult to be five and responsible for coming up with enough interesting make-believe games to amuse all your friends. Enter: the dear sister of my mischievous heart, Maud Heart Lovelace with her Betsy-Tacy series. My mother began to read chapters to my sister and I before we went to bed. These were turn-of-the-century girls who knew how to have a good time, before the Ya-Ya Sisterhood required that such a mythical childhood grow in the shadow mild parental abuse. Lovelace inspired me for years to have better adventures, ask better questions, and to marvel more at the magic of a car that can travel ten miles an hour.


Next Time: A book makes me cry!


DIESEL A.V. Club: Adaptation Trailers


Great things are happening. Great, big, star-studded things are happening at a theater near you. Life of Pi is finally becoming a movie. Watch the trailer, below, it looks like an epic, Dali-inspired acid trip. Then there's The Hobbit, the closest thing to a cinematic sure-thing we could hope for--Peter Jackson's cup runneth over. And finally, the adaptation I talk about at least twice a day, Cloud Atlas. How can it work? How can it possibly work??!

Also look out for: Anna Karenina, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Great Gatsby, and The Bell Jar. It would also seem that the second part of the Breaking Dawn movie is coming out in a few weeks...

1. Life of Pi.


2. The Hobbit.


3. Cloud Atlas.



Papa Hemingway



Ernest Hemingway is one of those ancient relics of English class that you always hear about growing up, but never actually read in a meaningful context. Sure, there are snippets and excerpts in the textbooks, but they're necessarily sterilized for consumption by public school students. You're fed just enough as a kid to know he is a Big Deal, there are cats named after him!

My only real, tangible contact with Hemingway while growing up was watching The Old Man and the Sea on the couch at my grandma's house during some holiday function. My dad was there watching it with me and he said that it was one of his favorite movies. Being somewhere between eight and twelve years old, I completely didn't understand the story. Spencer Tracy on a tiny boat with a big, dead fish that sharks are eating. Okay, whatever. I sat through it, though, because my dad isn't the kind of person to whom you can say "I don't like this thing you just said you loved.” Not that he gets angry, it's the opposite, his disappointment in you is crushing. I learned this early.

My second major encounter with Hemingway was in college. We were handed a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xeroxed copy of The Snows of Kilimanjaro to read. For those unfamiliar, it's a short story about a white guy in Africa dying of gangrene he got while on safari there. This is an offensively obtuse summarization, but the point is that I was still in the wrong mindset for this whole Hemingway thing until I got to this passage:

He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook. What was this? A catalogue of old books? What was his talent anyway? It was a talent all right but instead of using it, he had traded on it. It was never what he had done, but always what he could do. And he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil.

My blood ran cold. Seriously. I read it again. And again. And again. I've all but memorized it in the years since that day in class. It was like Hemingway looked me in the eye and called me out on all the bullshit that I told myself about myself regarding what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to go with it. This was a new, fresh sort of horror that I hadn't had any concept of until that very moment.

He had destroyed his talent by not using it.

When was the last time that I had actually written something that wasn't a means to an end? I could think of things for school, to get a grade, to get out of school – nothing of personally satisfying substance. Was it years? It had to have been years. Was I, right in that moment, squandering my talent by not using it?

It was never what he had done, but always what he could do.

It was a transformative experience, a crystallized moment that I'll remember for as long as I'll live. Perhaps that was the moment that I realized that I was now a Grown Up. Even if I didn't necessarily feel like an adult, I had obtained a stark awareness of everything that wasn't there before I read those words on that nth generation photocopy. laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook.

No, Hemingway isn't an author that you can appreciate while you're a child. You need to become an adult in order to properly appreciate that particular brand of nihilistic hedonism. It's just not a thing that a teenager has the perspective to even comprehend. Try and explain it, go ahead, witness the eyes glazing over, the absolute disinterest that transforms into outright disdain when the speaker doesn't get the hint that nobody can possibly care about this. I know, because I was that kid.

And he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil.

The specter of this dead man looms over me daily. Judging me. I've known since I was little that I want to make my living being a writer. I'm not there yet, but I've made inroads, certainly. Papa Hemingway doesn't care though. He knew the truth since before I was born. Since before my dad was born. Funnily enough, I think his disappointment would be just as crushing as my own father’s.

100 Fluid Ounces of Theraflu



When I was sixteen I flew to London to visit my sister at graduate school. It was June and I had been in Europe with my sophomore history class on a tour of many major cities and their churches. We finished in Paris. My classmates’ flight back home to San Francisco left at 6:30AM and my flight to Heathrow left at 9:30PM, so all I had to do was sit still for fifteen hours. Before I left home, weeks before, I had stolen my mom’s copy of 100 Years of Solitude for hormonal reasons.

Europe made me vaguely uncomfortable. Everything smelled weird; everybody knew how to dress themselves. I also thought it was pretty inconsiderate of my teachers to exist outside of the classroom, sort of like when you meet someone famous, and realize they’re short and don’t actually wear leather: you don’t feel ‘let down’, you just sort of feel guilty. Once I met a hungover Sean Hunter from Boy Meets World in Sebastopol, but that wasn’t my fault either.

Sixteen is an important age for most boys because it lasts well into our twenties. At the time I think I was mostly re-reading The Lord of the Rings, while occasionally cleansing my palate with stuff like Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Two Years Before the Mast. I will always love fantasy and adventure fiction because they encourage me to feel set-upon, which is a gateway feeling to other feelings, like self-importance and romantic impatience, and when I combine them with other substances I can usually even heighten these effects. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly from a young age. But, even at sixteen, I think part of me realized that experimentation is also an important part of growing up, and so that morning I was only a little surprised to find that it was 100 Years of Solitude, rather than the 900-page Dragonbone Chair, looking up at me from under my Dixie cup of orange juice in the downstairs café of Charles de Gaulle.

I chewed my four croissants, eyeing the book sidelong, instantly distrustful of its brevity, its classy cover, the good reviews on the jacket, like a fat little gopher rummaging around just under the surface of my garden. What’s it doing in there? Luckily I felt a nasty head cold coming on, so, instead of opening it and finding out, I spent half an hour asking directions to the pharmacy right across the hall, where I bought a bottle of what I understood to be a sort of French Theraflu. I couldn’t read the directions, so I took three capfuls and then maybe drank a few espressos.

Six hours and two generations of Marquez’s imaginary families later, I emerged from the airport bathroom to purchase another bottle of Theraflu, just in case. It seemed to be working really well, though my face felt swollen and my hair hurt. My iPod Nano had died, but I hadn’t noticed: I was halfway through the best book of my life, and once or twice per hour a beautiful Parisian floated by in a pair of those gauzy, see-through pants that must have been in fashion at the moment. Between the magical realism, the fever, and the sheer volume of antihistamines and caffeine, I must have synthesized a new kind of molecule somewhere deep in my brain, magicaffehistequez, transforming me from the inside out. I was sixteen, on my own in another country; I was the Lord of the Terminals, Stranger in a Strange Stall, he-who-stares-at-books, watcher-of-see-through-pants, sailing through time and genres, and even if I could have blinked, I wouldn’t have wanted to.

When it grew dark, I boarded the plane with tears in my eyes, the completed book still gripped red-hot in my shaking hands, and promptly fell asleep on my seat partner. To this day, 100 Years of Solitude remains the best book I have ever read.

Though, I couldn't actually tell you what happens in it.


Banned Books Week: Candide


Get ready for Banned Books Week. September 30 - October 6, 2012.