Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

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Help Me Choose My Next Beach Read

With summer nearly upon us, thoughts naturally turn to the beach -- and, of course, to beach books, the seasonal genre known for its breeziness and ease. And though I’m planning on visiting the beach this weekend, I can’t decide what I should read. (The Girls? The Wright Brothers? How the hell to choose?) What’s more, I find the beach a terrible place to read, as it’s teeming with distractions, annoyances, and lingering traumas. So I’m asking you, dear reader, to help me select my next beach book. I do have to warn you, though: I can be a little picky. My beach read should help me forget the roaming packs of half-feral children who will no doubt be running within millimeters of my blanket, kicking sand in my eyes, and screeching like wounded monkeys. So I don’t want to read Lord of the Flies or Blood Meridian. It should help me ignore the seagulls that always seem to hover above, waiting for the perfect moment to steal my sandwich, shit in my hair, or gouge out my eyes. So Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds is out. I’d like to forget about the time I nearly drowned when I was eight -- I tripped while playing paddleball and was dragged a terrifying 30 feet out to sea. For that reason -- and, yes, I know it won a goddamn Pulitzer -- the last thing I want to read is William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days. If possible, I don’t want to be reminded that, at 37, I have the physique of a creepily hairy toddler -- and that the shoreline will feature a parade of deep-tanned lunks built like young Schwarzeneggers. So if you’re thinking of recommending something Austrian — Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Joseph Roth — you can forget it. (Also, by extension, no Kafka on the Shore). I don’t want to think about the fact that it will likely be broiling, a full 12 degrees above the day’s average temperature -- or that the beach I’m lounging on was ravaged a few years back by a climate change-fed hurricane. So Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded and Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm probably won’t do. On a trip to the shore when I was in high school, my friends and I managed to pick up some girls, and I was fortunate enough to later grapple with one of them on the moonlit beach. It was as romantic as it sounds, and as we pitched about in the sand, I was certain that I would a) see her again and b) marry her. We exchanged numbers, and I gave her my flannel shirt as a token of our love. But when I called her a few weeks later, she acted as if we’d never met, and the conversation devolved into me apologizing for my existence and stammering a goodbye. This is a roundabout way of saying that I don’t want any book that involves a person giving a shirt to another person -- which I believe happens in both Anna Karenina and Clockers. I definitely don’t want to be reminded of the fraught few months that I spent adrift in a lifeboat with a tiger as my sole companion. So nothing with tigers, please. I’m going to the beach to forget the pendulum-ticking tedium of the job I’ll be forced to return to come Monday, so any workplace novels -- Then We Came to the End, The Imperfectionists, et al. -- are likely to bring on a low-level depression. And that’s the opposite of what a beach book should do. You know what? Fuck all this. I appreciate your help, but this isn’t working out. Forget it. I think I’ll just stay home. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Goes to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s ‘The Sympathizer’

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The Pulitzer jury named Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer this year's winner in the fiction category. Here are this year's Pulitzer winners and finalists with bonus links: Fiction: Winner: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Nguyen's Year in Reading 2015) Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link (Memory is a Mysterious Machine: The Millions Interviews Kelly Link) Maud's Line by Margaret Verble   General Nonfiction: Winner: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power History: Winner: Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War by Brian Matthew Jordan Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor by James M. Scott Biography or Autobiography: Winner: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander Poetry: Winner: Ozone Journal by Peter Balakian Alive: New and Selected Poems by Elizabeth Willis Four-Legged Girl by Diane Seuss Winners and finalists in other categories are available at the Pulitzer Web site.
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