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Hangin' with the classics


Young people, particularly those of a certain age and sensibility, often ask me to recommend a summer reading list.

"Look to the classics," I tell them.

"Huh?" they reply.

"The classics," I say, "Those works of literature with lasting significance that have . . ."

But then I see their eyes cloud with confusion and their heads tilt slightly to one side, in the manner of a puzzled Yorkshire terrier.

So for you young people looking for a break from those interminable beer blasts and wet T-shirt contests and 2 a.m. "raves" in deserted warehouses, here are some books worth reading along with a brief explanation of each work:

"Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger. This dude Holden Caulfield, he's like . . . well, he's not on angel dust or anything, but it's sorta like he's on dust. He's real confused. You ever get that way? Yeah, me too.

See, Holden hates phony people. All these old dudes trying to get over.

Anyway, he gets kicked out of school. And for four days he's running around looking for, like, spiritual freedom or something. And the whole time you're thinking: Holden, man, chill!

And like in the end, he's, like, in a nut house. It's very intense.

"The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway. This old dude Santiago -- gotta be at least 40 -- is into catching fish, OK? So one day there's nothing on TV, nobody hangin' on the boardwalk. So he goes out in his boat, right?

You gotta see this boat, man: twin Evinrude-Mercury engines, big-screen TV, cooler filled with Coors Lights, Red Hot Chili Peppers cranking on the CD.

Naw, I'm just kidding. It's only a little boat. Anyway, Santiago, he hooks this giant fish! A marlin or something! And he's stoked! Du-u-u-de!

But then . . . damn! The marlin gets eaten by sharks! So the old guy just goes off! And he's, like, weeping and exhausted and lies down in the sand with his hands out. Like he's Christ on the cross or something. Man, it's heavy.

"Ulysses" by James Joyce. This dude Leopold Bloom . . . you thought Holden Caulfield was wacked? Holden Caulfield is like Abraham Lincoln compared to this Bloom guy.

The man has a serious attitude problem. People are always doggin' him 'cause he's Jewish. And because he likes to do it lots of different ways in bed. I mean, he's not a perv or anything. Plus Leopold's wife, Molly, is like a real slut. And he's like: you gotta cut that out, Molly! Damn!

But it's weird: Leopold, like, gets off on all this suffering. It's unbelievable. It's like he could work at McDonald's for 27 years mopping floors and straightening out the napkins and not even complain! His life is so screwed up, too.

I finished this book and I'm like: Wow! Gimme a bottle of sleeping pills and a fifth of Jose Cuervo. You know?

"Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This dude Raskolnikov, he's like in college, OK? So one day he's doing beers or whatever, right? And, like, he's not even drunk and he thinks: Man, I'm gonna whack someone.

And Raskolnikov, he thinks he can get away with the murder 'cause he's so superior to everyone else. I hate people like that, don't you? It's like: Ex- cuse me? Who are you?

The whole book is about, like, the struggle between good and evil for the dominance of the human soul. You know?

"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. The Joads are bummed. A heavy-duty dust storm has destroyed the crops on their Oklahoma farm. And then they lose the farm to these no-heart banker dudes in what would be, like, $2,200 Armani suits in those days.

So one day Pa Joad just loses it. And he says: "Yo, let's hit the road, dudes! California!" And the other Joads, Ma and Noah and Rose of Sharon, are like: "OK, that's cool."

So they travel to California. But there's, like, bad karma all around. Grampa dies. Granma checks out, too. And Tom Joad karate-chops this dude's windpipe, which is pretty cool, actually, although the dude ends up dead. And in the end the Joads are still poor and Rose of Sharon is having a baby and . . . there's not even any good helicopter chases or Trans Ams plunging over cliffs or anything.

I finished this book, right? And I'm like crying and stuff. I'm like: "The Joadsman! Whew!"

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This dude Nick Carraway is like the narrator, OK? And Jay Gatsby, he's like this wealthy racketeer, right? Got this awesome house. And like the whole thing is about the moral emptiness of the very rich, OK?

You see what I'm saying?

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