Summer reading: Adam Langer on G.K. Chesterton

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Adam Langer’s “The Thieves of Manhattan,” just out last week, is a sendup of fake memoirs that is both a satire and seriously, postmodernly smart. In our review, Ella Taylor calls the book “wonderfully mischievous,” adding that it is “is as soulful and morally committed as it is funny and clever.” Langer explains why a book by G.K. Chesterton is one of his most memorable summer reading experiences.

Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading a specific book during one summer?

Adam Langer: I remember having a Beverly Cleary summer, a Jack Kerouac summer, a Robertson Davies summer, and even a Joseph Conrad summer during which the waves of Lake Michigan provided a fitting soundtrack for “Outcast of the Islands,” but the one that springs to mind most clearly now is what I think of as my Chesterton summer, when I read G.K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday.”

JC: What year was it, and how old were you?


AL: It was 1983, the summer before my senior year of high school. I was about to turn 16.

JC: Where were you?

AL: I was still living with my parents in West Rogers Park on the northwest side of Chicago, but I read the book on Lighthouse Beach in Evanston, Ill., where I was going to to high school.

JC: Why was the book significant to you then?

AL: I was in the midst of a really stifling time during my teenage years when my parents’ house seemed so incredibly small. I kept waiting for my driver’s license to arrive in the mail, but it hadn’t come yet; my best friend had just left town and wasn’t coming back for another year; the girl I had a crush on was dating another guy and, every opportunity I had, I would ride my bike north along the lakefront with a paperback book jammed into a back pocket and I would read by the lake.

The novel, which I found on my parents’ bookshelf in their basement, was unlike anything I’d ever read before -- so fanciful, so mysterious, so unpredictable and funny and magical and, at times, horrifying too. Most of the books I had been reading spoke directly to my teen angst; they were about going someplace, getting out, but this was the first book that I can recall reading that gave me the feeling that I was being physically transported out of my world.

JC: Have you reread the book?

AL: Probably about a dozen times. I’ve even listened to the Orson Welles radio play version of it. It’s one of a handful of books that I come back to every year or so. A lot of people have been asking where I got the inspiration to write my latest book, “The Thieves of Manhattan,” and how I got the idea for the twisting, turning plot. Now that I’ve started thinking about “The Man Who Was Thursday” and those late afternoons and evenings at Lighthouse Beach, I’m thinking that it must have all started back there and then.

JC: Have you returned to that place?

AL: Many times in reality. And, for the first time, I’m planning on returning there in my fiction as well.

JC: What are you reading this summer? Will you be taking a vacation (and bringing any books)?

AL: I’m almost done reading Beth Raymer’s memoir “Lay The Favorite” -- a really fun read, peopled with crazy, memorable characters. I’ve been reading Grace Lin’s “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” aloud to my 5-year-old daughter -- a great book to read together. And, though it doesn’t come out until the end of the summer, I’m really looking forward to “The Elephant’s Journey,” by the late José Saramago.

For more summer reading, tap into the L.A. Times list of new summer reads: 60 books for 92 days.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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