Some summer doorstops, and a documentary
I feel plenty guilty about not answering John Rockwell's call to arms. Maybe that is why I was especially glad to see Wendy Lesser's note on a more doable project, summer reading. (I hope we can rescue arts journalism, you bet, but do we have to do it when it is this hot out?)
Frankly, summer terrifies me. Before the heat arrives, I find it crucial to be involved in one long (or longish) book, preferably a novel. Against the longueurs of the season I set my chosen author's alternative universe. Last year my protector was Jack Kerouac, whose "On the Road" suited my needs by feeling longer than it actually was. Here was a distinct if indeterminate world that draped itself across my vision of the country like mosquito netting. Dean Moriarty I can do without, but Galatea Dunkel, here's to you.
At Lake George one summer, "The Idiot" cast shadows over some of the most gorgeous scenery in America. And okay, maybe I was not so popular that week. But if you can bear up under Dostoyevsky you are ready for pretty much any moral discussion, up to and including Christopher Hitchens's gripes against God. (Get well soon, CH.)
Another year, "The Eustace Diamonds" accompanied me from Loch Lomond to Skye to the Highlands, and through the tedium of transatlantic flight. By coincidence, the fabulously conniving Lizzie Greystock had her own castle in Scotland, so I knew firsthand a wee bit about what this coldhearted lass was up to. A friend had been pressing Trollope on me for years, and she was right. I now press him on you.
Last week, as the heat billowed, I retreated to the pickle factory in "Midnight's Children." One of this novel's many virtues is that it is set in India. No matter how hot it gets, I can say to myself: it has to be hotter in India. "Midnight's Children" is the kind of long, sumptuous sad-comic yarn for which summer may have been designed.
I will admit that there are days when it is too hot even to read. I have probably watched 10 movies so far this summer. The most memorable, to my surprise, was the documentary "It Might Get Loud." I say surprise, because up to that point, what I knew about electric guitar pretty much began and ended with Les Paul.
"Whole Lotta Love" was probably thudding in the background as I toiled over my high school debate research, and while our coach drove us over the prairie to the next tournament. But this is not the same as saying I had heard of Jimmy Page. In those days, most rock stars looked like greaseballs to me. I liked guys in suits who could three-point an argument and had hair shorter than mine.
Well, cut to middle age. "It Might Get Loud" brings together three electric guitar legends, who reminisce, talk shop and finally jam together. Jimmy Page, whose idea all this was, might have been a greaseball once, but things change. The marital bond forces me to leave it at that. The elder statesman of the three, Page is joined by U2's The Edge (self-contained guy in knit cap) and Jack White, of White Stripes. The respectful but wary interplay among them is fascinating to watch. White, the youngest, arrives with something (probably oedipal) to prove. By the end though, as they play together, his defensiveness appears to have dissolved. So has mine. I thought I didn't like Led Zeppelin. What did I know.