Recently I've had occasion to think about memoirs, which have become, because of their ubiquity, something of a joke in the 21st century. (Part of the problem is that they're now frequently being written by people in their 20s and 30s.) Yet I've realized that some of my favorite books are memoirs: James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times, H.L. Mencken's Newspaper Days, Evelyn Waugh's A Little Learning, Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, V.S. Pritchett's Midnight Oil, M.F.K. Fisher's The Gastronomical Me, Kate Simon's A Wider World, Norman Lewis' Jackdaw Cake, James Salter's Burning the Days, Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs, Auberon Waugh's Will This Do?, Roy Blount Jr.'s Be Sweet, Martin Amis' Experience, Richard Rodriguez's Days of Obligation and the mother of all memoirs, Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory.
There, a little late, is your summer reading list. (Now I'm off to Toronto for a long weekend.)
"There's too much sky," the great Miami Herald reporter Michael Browning wrote the day after Hurricane Andrew. It was one of those leads that seems uninspired until 23 years later when you realize you still remember it.
This summer, so far, there's been way too much sun. One of the things I like best about Florida - that it is the only place in the United States that gets huge amounts of sunshine and huge amounts of rain - no longer applies. Last night I went out on the balcony to feel and hear and smell the rain, which lasted all of five minutes. It fell not with a roar but a whimper. Putting my hand out to touch it, I felt sadly Californian.
Yesterday's New York Times' story about tourists behaving badly around the world blamed the trend on social media, which has given young travelers (it's rarely seniors who trash a resort) a place to showcase their destructive and often dangerous comportment.
Bad behavior abroad is nothing new. For centuries, people who could afford to left their countries to engage in acts they would never have considered at home. But the whole point of that was discretion and anonymity, both of which a selfie destroys. The notable development is not the rise in delinquency (in the age of mass tourism) but the disappearance of shame.
Last weekend we went to see Testament of Youth. It is based on the memoir by Vera Brittain, who, as a young woman, dreamed of going to Oxford. She eventually got her disapproving father's consent and, despite being mostly self-taught, passed the entrance exams. Early on in her time there, the First World War broke out. Her beloved brother and her boyfriend both enlisted. Soon, she found the world of books and learning no longer relevant. She became a nurse, and was eventually sent to France, where she cared for injured German soldiers. Her boyfriend, who on leave had become her fiance, was killed, as was her brother. After the war she returned to Oxford and after her studies, according to the biographical information at the end of the film, she became one of England's most prominent pacifists, as well as the voice of her generation. Just as, I thought, Lena Dunham is for hers.
The Big Bagel is what the columnist Taki sometimes calls New York City. But the real big bagel, I've discovered, is at Fort Lauderdale's new Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. I stopped in the other day, thinking I might get a salted one for lunch, and walked out empty-handed. They are enormous, puffed-up, bloated tires. I asked the man behind the counter if he had any smaller sizes. He gave me a bemused look. Though I may buy one this weekend and use it as an inner tube on the New River.