July 2003

Michael Schaub


Summer reading 2003

If there's one thing I hate, and there's more than one thing I hate, it's summer reading lists. I'm not talking about the ones you're assigned in high school, because I'm all in favor of deluding teachers into thinking you're actually going to spend the month of July slogging your way through Ivanhoe and Wuthering Heights. The thing is, I actually did read all the books on my own high school summer reading lists. My best friend didn't, and ended up getting a 100 on a paper on The Lord of the Rings. I got a 93 on my trenchant dissection of Nineteen Eighty-four. To this day, I am still bitter about that.

But this isn't about that. The summer reading lists I'm talking about are the ones that every single newspaper and magazine (except this one -- thank you, Jessa) feels obligated to print, usually in the beginning of June. In every single one of these pieces, there's a cute little sentence about bringing the newest popular novel to the beach to read. This has spawned a whole sub-genre called "beach reading." I guess some books you can only appreciate while baking in 100-degree heat and watching hypodermics and condoms wash up on the shore.

The real motivation behind those stupid, stupid lists is the editors' desire to cram as many short book reviews as possible into one issue. The thing is, every summer reading list has the exact same books. If you can find me one 2003 list that doesn't mention The Dogs of Babel and the new Sherman Alexie book, I'll eat Tucker Carlson's shoes. (Note: This is exaggeration for humorous effect. I'm not going to eat anyone's shoes, unless they are made of chicken-fried steak.)

At any rate, there is something to the idea. Even if it's bad for readers, it's good for journalists, because it equals less work. Which is why I now proudly present the Propaganda! 2003 Summer Reading List, composed entirely of forgotten anti-drug paperbacks from the 1970s. Bring them to the beach with you, and use them to distract yourself from your sad, sad life, the kind of life where you actually think hanging out near a filthy body of water with a bunch of prostitutes and drifters is fun. Enjoy!

The book: High on the Campus by Gordon R. McLean and Haskell Bowen (1970)
The gist: McLean and Bowen take a brave, unprecedented stand, arguing that drug use is -- wait for it -- bad.
Cover art: Eschewing subtlety in favor of a slightly more obvious approach, the cover of High on the Campus consists of a photograph of a couple of joints, a hash pipe, rolling papers, various vials and syringes, and what looks like a half-ounce of weed. Also, there's a votive candle. Junkies love votive candles!
Sample chapter titles: "A Tiger in Your Bloodstream," "Drugs Can Kill!," "The God That Failed."
The god that failed medical school: "We pointed out that only God could perform the spiritual heart surgery -- delicate work for the hands of only one Specialist." (Page 85)
With a foreword by: Inexplicably, Art Linkletter.

The book: Pleasure Seller by John C. Souter (1977)
The gist: This is the "true" story of Bruce Danzara, who progressed from smoking pot to doing all sorts of bad things. I'm not sure what. I didn't finish reading it.
Cover art: Drawings of four beautiful women. Drawings of two cannabis plants. A drawing of two guys kicking the living shit out of another guy in prison.
Sample chapter titles: "Tripping Out," "Six Years in Prison!," "I'm in Love!," "Gettin' Hooked."
What is it with '70s propagandists and exclamation points? Dude, I don't know.
Actual disclaimer on the copyright page: "Note: The names of many of Bruce's friends have been changed -- to protect the guilty!"
Last sentence: "May God be praised!"

The book: Gateway to Sodom by Eric McLeod and Jane Colby (1974)
The gist: Even casual marijuana use can turn an otherwise normal straight young person into an insatiable homosexual.
Cover art: Drawing of a black leather-clad, mustachioed gentleman offering a joint to a sweet-looking young man in a letterman's jacket.
Sample chapter titles: "One Toke Over the Line, Dear Satan," "Bruce's Story: From Christian Athlete to Castro Clone," "You Won't Find Jesus in a Bathhouse, but You Will Find This Mexican Guy Named Jesus Who Likes Giving Head."
Sample quote: "Turn your life over to the original Village People: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
Which one is Luke? The cowboy.
Wait a minute. Are you making this book up? Yes.
You bastard. Yeah. But the first two are real, I swear.
I feel so used. Get over it. And have a bitchin' summer!

High on the Campus by Gordon R. McLean and Haskell Bowen
Tyndale House
132 Pages
ISBN: 0842314318

The Pleasure Seller by John C. Souter
Tyndale House
227 Pages
ISBN: 0842348395