Reading to keep existential anxiety at bay in the summertime

As of two days ago it is officially summer. 

I have mixed feelings about the summertime. I love swimming, hot weather, drinking iced coffee, warm nights, walking for hours without any destination, going to sleep red and waking up a shade darker. At the same time, as a student who takes classes nine months out of the year, June through August presents a kind of chasm in which routine is discarded and needed to be refound. I inevitably find myself with time on my hands to ponder too much. Recently I've been wrestling with the idea of existential dread and how to utilise the thoughts which arise from it to initiate helpful, discrusive thinking. I don't really think there's one solution, but I find comfort in texts which offer empathetic narratives. 

A few weeks ago, searching for a graphic novel, I bought Gabrielle Bell's collection of short illustrated stories, When I'm Old. Bell covers a diverse range of genres in the collection, which includes several autobiographical pieces, a Herman Hesse adaptation, some fiction and some surrealism. Bell tells her stories in honest, unflattering ways, and they are often equal parts funny and cringe inducing because they feel so familiar. 

I cannot recommend Dan Chaon enough. His short story collection Stay Awake is one of the most entertaining and emotive literary works I have had the luck of being introduced to. Chaon's first two collections, Fitting Ends and Among the Missing, lack the same degree of confidence and decisivness as Stay Awake, but the stories feel understatedly meaningful and crafted with so much care, attention and vulnerability. There is a story in Among the Missing, which particularly resonates with me on the subject of solitude, idleness and feelings of distortedness, called The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. I couldn't find the story online, but I guarantee it is worth seeking out the collection at your local bookstore. Meanwhile, you can enjoy a very different story of his courtesy of McSweeney's. 

[by Alex Vasquez]