It's now officially summer. And that makes it my favorite, most wonderful time of the year. Not for the sense of freedom and joy the season evokes. Not for the barbecues and picnics. Not for the weather or baseball games everywhere, and the cicadas.
No, it means that this is the official start of President George Bush's summer reading. In only a few months, we get to hear The List of the dozen, daunting, book titles he supposedly read during the summer. It's always an exciting time for literature, the anticipation and guessing. Far more nerve-wracking for authors than even waiting for Oprah's reading club.
Topping off The Announcement, what's wonderful to anticipate as well is the one reporter who gets the high honor of asking President Bush a few questions about the books he supposedly read over the summer, sort of like a pop quiz light. The subtext, of course, is always, "We don't really believe you read any of these, so let me ask you a few things to make sure." Unfortunately, the questions are usually pretty lame, incredibly generic inquiries that could be mix-and-matched among any book in all known literature, including Harold and the Purple Crayon. Questions that even a child could reasonably answer, without having read the books - or knowing how to read.
"What was it about The Stranger that most interested you?"
"Which of the 'Shakespeare's' did you most enjoy?"
"Why did you decide to read about the history of salt?"
Hey, we all went to school. We know what real pop quizzes are. If we got questions like that, we'd all have gotten straight A's, made it into Harvard and become effete elite East Coast snobs. No, what I'd love to see is the Chosen Reporter ask President George Bush questions like:
"What experiences from Miss Havisham's past do you think most influenced her relationship with young Pip in Great Expectations?"
"Herman Melville uses ambergris as an important theme in Moby Dick. How does that play a role in its impact on American commerce and culture?"
"Discuss how Robert Moses' control of the Police Commission in The Power Broker, most affected the development of New York City." (Trick question: Moses controlled the Port Authority!)
Facing the reality that such questions won't be asked, we're left with trying to anticipate what dozen, eclectic works President Bush will have on his mythical reading list -- along with the generic prepared answers he'll have prepared for him. It's a challenging effort, but well-worth the attempt. Here's my guesses.
1. Remembrances of Things Past by Marcel Proust
("I have always believed that the past is where the best remembrances truly are.")
2. The Collected Works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn
("I learned so much about his country, which is a special and truly majestic place.")
3. Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg
("He's a great president, and the other guy's great with poems, so, you know, it's just a perfect fit.")
4. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
("A good man. A good book.")
5. The Principle of Relativity by Albert Einstein
("He explains so very much, and it makes you look up and wonder.")
6. The 11-volume Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant
("It sends such a good message when a husband and wife work together in such love.")
7. Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck
("Man, I got to tell you, I just always loved the time he sent that midget fellow up to bat in a baseball game.")
8. Giles Goat Boy by John Barth
("A good man. A good book.")
9. The Theory of Business Enterprise by Thorstein Veblen
("I don't know if most people are aware that Thorstein Veblen has written a great many books. It's true. He has such an interesting name, don't you think?")
10. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
("While I and many scientists question whether a man can change into a giant cockroach, Kafka makes it seem possible, and that is his genius.")
11. The Making of "Dreamgirls": An American Dream by Larry Bondurant
("I think the story is truly such an inspiration to young girls.")
12. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
("I always enjoy books about family.")
While always an impressive collection each year, the magical summertime equivalent of believing in Santa Claus, those waiting with childlike anticipation will be disappointed once again, as they look with wistful eyes and anxious hope to see that the United States Constitution was not included.