For many, summer is one of the few times of the year when life slows down a little. And for many, it is one of the few periods when there’s actually time to sit still enough to read an entire book. So whether you like to spend these precious moments escaping with some juicy drama, learning tips for self-enhancement or getting caught up in beautiful wordplay, Books on the Root has compiled 30 reading suggestions to match any speed.
By Percival Everett
Graywolf, June 2009
Few writers could pull off the premise of Everett’s new novel. After the sudden death of his smart yet “certifiably crazy” mother, Not Sidney Poitier (that is what his Mama named him) is a parentless adolescent. He doesn’t know who his father is; his mother neither confirmed nor denied that it is the actual Sidney Poitier. He’s invited to live with Ted Turner in Atlanta. Yes, that Ted Turner. Turns out, Not Sidney’s mother wasn’t just smart; she was also a shrewd investor who poured her life savings into Turner Broadcasting, which made her son filthy rich. Although Ted makes it very clear that he isn’t Philip Drummond and that Not Sidney is not Arnold Jackson, he is one of Poitier’s only friends and the closest thing he has to a father.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of fun at the expense of Not Sidney’s name, which makes him the butt of many jokes (and because Everett is so good, you laugh every time) and fairly unpopular among peers. He does have a skill—the ability to “fesmerize,” or hypnotize, people—that he learned through his bookworm ways. It’s an ability that comes in handy to see Jane Fonda’s breasts and eventually to gain protection for his life. He’s also a dreamer, and his dreams allow Everett to place Poitier in different points in history, from slavery to the Jim Crow ’50s. While some of these visions add unique texture to the story, others slow it down.
Eventually Not Sidney drops out of high school, which is partly prompted by the antics of a sexually harassing teacher. Bored, he enrolls at Morehouse College after donating a large sum of money to the university. There he meets Percival Everett. Yes Everett has written himself in the book. Well, sort of. As a professor at the college who wrote a book called Erasure (sound familiar?), this Everett teaches the “Philosophy of Nonsense,” basks in ridiculousness and spouts both foolishness and wisdom. “People,” he tells his student, “are worse than anybody.” He, too, befriends the young man.
During his college days, Poitier, who begins to look more and more like the actor, manages to date a girl briefly, only to be confronted with her baggage when he visits her light-skinned, class- and color-conscious family for Thanksgiving.
Still feeling confused and unfilled, Poitier leaves college to head back to the Los Angeles house where he grew up. Along the way he meets some nuns, agrees to help them build a church and solves a murder of a young man who looks just like him. Does he find himself in the end? Not really, but then most of the rest of us don’t either.
Through this seemingly absurd plot, Everett throws in politics, racism, commentary on identity, shots at Bill Cosby and BET, sarcasm, wit and humor, lots of it. Most importantly, he makes all the elements play nicely together for a surprisingly meaty novel that will have you laughing out loud wherever you go this summer.
And for those with more time on their hands, here are additional titles to make you forget how quickly summer goes by:
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Knopf, June 2009
In her first short story collection, the acclaimed Nigerian writer tackles class, assimilation and broken ties in Africa and America.
By Rabih Alameddine
Anchor, June 2009 (paperback)