Books

Five summers, memorable for the reading

1974: Unhappy at summer camp, I holed up in my bunk and read Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" and Bernard Malamud's "The Natural." The camp might have been awful, but the books were anything but.

1980: In June, I attended a writers conference at UC Berkeley and met Grace Paley. In July, I read Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." Both changed the way I think about stories and narrative. You can't get any better than that.

1982: In Cambridge, Mass., I read Albert Camus, Henry Miller, Walker Percy, Russell Hoban's "Riddley Walker" and "The Thief's Journal" by Jean Genet. "This book does not aim to be a work of art," Genet wrote, further challenging my ideas about literature, "an object detached from an author and from the world."

1984: Europe after college graduation was like a kinder, gentler summer camp, one for readers, not for kids. I read Alexander Trocchi, Hubert Selby Jr., Thomas Mann, Ian McEwan, Caroline Blackwood. I bought so many books I needed a new suitcase to get them home.

1992: On Cape Cod, I read Ellen Willis' "Beginning to See the Light," a collection of essays about rock music and culture that highlights the idea of criticism as an art in its own right. Then as now, essential reading, a book to which I regularly return.

david.ulin@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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