It’s not too late for one last summer read!
If you can’t make a trip to the beach, living vicariously through someone else’s summer holiday might be the next best thing to being there. One of my favorite recent reading get-aways concerned one young man’s summer vacation in 1985, Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor.
MacArthur “Genius Award” winner Whitehead may be best known for his first novel, The Intuitionist, and he has been compared to everyone from Ralph Ellison to Thomas Pynchon for his dazzling style and facility in confronting serious issues like race and the media in his fiction. But he can also be surprisingly funny as well, and parts of Sag Harbor had me laughing out loud. This “autobiographical fourth novel” is the story of 15-year-old Benji Cooper’s three, largely unsupervised, months living with his younger brother in an all-black enclave of Long Island’s Sag Harbor. Benji is a classic 80s nerd, down to his love for Dungeons & Dragons and (the original) Star Wars.
Benji’s summer adventures include his first kiss, BB gun battles, crafting the most grammatically correct insults with his friends, and his first summer job at Jonni Waffle Ice Cream. Pop culture references (from “The Cosby Show” and “Mad Max” reruns on Cinemax, to the horror known as New Coke) and a boom-box full of music flow like warm breezes through the book, perfectly capturing the period. It also helps that Benji has a brother named Reggie. I always like books with characters with whom I share a name!
Don’t look for a lot of plot or attempt to mine for deeper meaning in all this. Dark shadows do appear around the edges of Sag Harbor, but for the most part this book is entertainment, a fine writer taking us on vacation with him for a stroll down memory’s boardwalk. Grab something cold, kick back on your favorite beach towel, and enjoy.
Librarian and author Reginald Harris has received Individual Artist Awards for both poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council and is Help Desk and Training Manager for the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland. His blog can be found at reggieh.blogspot.com