Does anyone actually read at the beach, or is it just another locale to mindlessly thumb our phones? Skipping that question, what do you look for in a beach read?
A propulsive plot, characters you’d ask to help apply sunscreen, a generously spaced typeface, paperback availability, no sea pests, a strict 300-page limit, a tasteful cover, a dedication to the Oxford comma, and few if any Big Important Themes?
Me, I like all of the above, but here I must absolutely insist on some jaunty turns of phrase. I’m talking full pirouettes, and I want to see those feet leave the ground. When you’re reading in the out-of-doors, you inevitably run the risk of being hit in the head with a frisbee. Knowing this, the nimble reader should opt for a nimble read.
And so I recommend The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. The 2016 novel has all the above and sentences like:
“This appeared to further unsettle him, which she rather enjoyed, a cool slap on the buttock of assumption.”
And who doesn’t crave a cool slap on a muggy July day? Here I must caution that the book includes squirrels and that, while they don’t actually talk to other characters in the book, they don’t not talk to them. I discovered it via Molly Young’s terrific Read Like The Wind newsletter, which I highly recommend if you’re looking to squeeze one more monthly email into your inbox.
Now would be a logical juncture to lay out the plot and Major Themes of The Portable Veblen, and probably also explain the title. But I’d rather share this line:
“There were many days he’d forgotten, wigs of days, hairpieces sitting on time, and there were secret warm joys hidden somewhere he could no longer find them.”
And while on the subject of things on heads, also this:
“[It was] a feather in his cap, a long pheasant feather, such as those found on the felted hats of Tyrolean yodelers, and as the plucker of it, he wished to be acknowledged as a plucker extraordinaire.”
So do take Elizabeth McKenzie’s third novel to the beach this summer, even if the beach is only in your mind. And if forced under penalty of peeling sunburn to provide a plot summary, quote the following:
“Was it arrogant to think a squirrel was following you around? Or to think your parents cared about you?”
Quick quips; lightning
“To write a novel may be pure pleasure. To live a novel presents certain difficulties. As for reading a novel, I do my best to get out of it.”
— Karl Kraus
“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
— Dorothy Parker
“There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.”
— Bertrand Russell
Thank you for reading GWQ No. 57. Did you know that the text of the Apple version of the open book emoji featured above is a transcript of their 1997-2002 Think Different campaign and reads: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.” But now that they removed all the useful ports on their MacBooks, there are no more square holes, amirite? Anyway, it’s summer. Go get some sand in your keyboard. Feed Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting to a hungry paper wasp. Spread love everywhere you go, starting with the ♥️ below.