What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2010.

July 20, 2010

With "Franny and Zooey," Brendan achieves a pitiful Two

The song that played on my life soundtrack as I finished my second book

As my sister continued her Herculean effort to read every hastily written book about a zany-gal-who-just-can't-figure-it-out-but-nonetheless-wears-expensive-shoes, I strategized and selected a bunch of slim books to burn through while “Lonesome Dove” lumbered on. Various works by Sandra Cisneros, Woody Allen, and Daniel Woodrell begged to help staunch Kerry's onslaught. But Larry McMurtry pulled a fast one on me and all of the sudden “Lonesome Dove” became unputdownable. Gunfights, grueling journeys, abductions, revenge, finding inner reservoirs of strength – what more could I ask from a summertime read? At the same time the supposedly “fast” read I had chosen, “Franny and Zooey,” seemed plodding and dense. Why would I want to untangle Zooey’s theories on theology when I HAD to find out whether July Johnson was ever going to realize Ellie* was just no good for him?

But I chipped away at “F&Z” and finally finished it last night. At times it seemed like I was reading a play - all of the characters speak in long soliloquies where they espouse their different points of view and not an awful lot “happens.” Maybe I felt this way because Zooey, with his world-weary misanthropy at age twenty-five, wouldn’t seem out of place in a Neil LaBute or David Mamet production. And I also had the disconcerting experience of playing “spot the reference” where books and movies I had enjoyed in the past were overshadowed by the debt they owed to Salinger (“The Royal Tenenbaums” took a severe hit on this front, what with its family of geniuses, suicidal brother, and significant use of bathroom smoking). But in the end, I was glad I read it, and it only strengthened my hope that J.D. Salinger (as well as Harper Lee) has a vault full of completed manuscripts that will all be published as soon as the legal paperwork has been completed by his estate.

*Oh, man, I know she’s had a tough life and not a lot of opportunities, but I really hate Ellie.

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