Summer in Portland this year has been almost unbearably hot, the kind of weather that makes heavy thinking almost as taxing as heavy labor. So my reading list these last few months has tended toward the light and airy, and when you want a book that offers stress-free pleasure, you can’t outdo the works of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, dedicated master of consequence-free literary delight. I’m currently flipping my way through The Inimitable Jeeves, in which the affable Bertie Wooster and his celebrated valet fend off engagements, the allure of the theater, and of course the fearsome Aunt Agatha, and here’s the curious thing: I’m honestly not sure if I’ve read the stories in this particular collection before.
With almost any other author, that’d be a vicious insult, but here, it’s part of the appeal. More than the plots—pleasantly circuitous as they might be—the joy of Wodehouse is in letting the flow of the words rush over you, with Jeeves’ droll deus ex machinas floating in a sea of “toodle pips” and casually perfect metaphors about the jolly good honor of the Woosters. The stories in question matter far less than the feeling of gentle relaxation they provide, meaning that you can pick up pretty much any of Wodehouse’s Jeeves And Wooster collections and put your worries aside, for as long as it takes the duo to gently battle their way through yet another perfectly crafted comedy of manners. [William Hughes]
Recently I named Showgirls, an infamous Paul Verhoeven movie starring Elizabeth Berkley, as the pop abomination I would expunge from 1995. Almost instantly, our very own Ignatiy Vishnevetsky jumped to the film’s defense, claiming it was a brilliant satire, much like Verhoeven’s other works. I argued that I didn’t exactly buy that, if only because it seemed that Berkley truly believed this would be her big transition from teen television actor (Jessie Spano from Saved By The Bell) to movie star, and in interviews seemed to sell the film at face value. Furthermore, I was not alone in my opposition to Showgirls; it won the Razzie that year for Worst Picture. Not budging, Ignatiy lent me A.V. Club contributor Adam Nayman’s Pop Classics book It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls, an in-depth look at the film’s creation, reception, and (argued) rehabilitation. After quickly reading the engaging book, which is over before it reaches 130 pages, I still can’t say I enjoy the film. I did, however, find Nayman’s presentation interesting and well argued enough that my perspective shifted a bit. It helps that the book devotes a chapter to the idea that Berkley was purposely kept in the dark regarding the film’s actual message, in the same way that Verhoeven had kept Sharon Stone in the dark about his intentions while shooting Basic Instinct’s interrogation scene. (Although I still questions why Stone wasn’t wearing underpants in the first place.) Whether you love or loathe Showgirls (and if you have even a passing interest in Basic Instinct), this is a must read. [Becca James]
The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Reading about the scientific reasons behind habits and routines should be, by all measures, incredibly tiresome. However, that’s not the case with The Power Of Habit. Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, and his ability to distill hefty amounts of information into conversational and compelling anecdotes gives the book constant forward momentum. Structured in a way that jumps between how individuals form habits as well as corporations and sports teams, The Power Of Habit cuts between scientific analysis and firsthand accounts without ever feeling jarring. In many ways, The Power Of Habit feels like a self-help book in disguise, with each chapter—like how coach Tony Dungy turned the Indianapolis Colts into Super Bowl winners, or how aluminum manufacturer Alcoa eliminated worker injuries—explaining how small changes can have extraordinary results. These expertly crafted profiles inspire introspection in the reader, making a book about neurological impulses a breezier read than it has any right to be. [David Anthony]