Some weeks back I wrote about yet another one of my many minor complaints. More annoyances than problems really, meaningless grousings about something or other. Like the one about sentence fragments. Only this time, the topic at hand was that phenomenon that occurs infrequently, the one where I can't seem to finish a book for, weeks, or was it months that time? It wasn't the whole column, as I recall. It was probably set unobtrusively into some now/today/happening guy-on-the-town bit of raconteurism for which tens, maybe dozens turn to this page -- the ones who aren't looking for used camper shells -- and come away more gratified human beings, or at least with a line on those rims they've had their heart set on.
Since that column, where I covered everything from events at the World Beat Center (Salsa/Reggae Planned Parenthood and Kalachnikov Cleaning Third Fridays) to Hip-Hop, Bee-keeping, Clog Dancers (leap year Fridays, Ray Kroc Center) I have finally finished a few novels and that is, in my view, worth commenting on. I'll tell you why. I always look for those questions in interviews or ads like the old Dewars Profiles (are they still around?) where they ask, LAST BOOK READ or WHAT'S ON YOUR NIGHT TABLE? I'm always interested in what others are reading (to the point of constantly asking on buses), and I figure you must be too. More to the point, I figure you must be interested in what I'm reading. First of all, you must ask yourself: where does he get the time? Always hustling from one city hotspot to the next, hobbing and nobbing with our town's notables and sharing their Fridays, or seeking out the poorer back street corners among the quiet bingo enthusiasts and elderly warm and wise storytellers with their knitting needles, canny observations, and twinkly eyes: "Why I remember one Friday in particular...." The time to read? Simple. I'm not a sports fan.
Like James Joyce, our music editor, John Steinbeck, and other notables, I like lists. I will share with you an updated list of what is stacked just to the right and to the left of my bed. On the right is fiction:
The Conspiracy by John Hersey
Making History by Carolyn See
Dalva by Jim Harrison
Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon by Lisa Goldstein
The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
Set This House on Fire by William Styron
Jurgen by James Branch Cabell
To the left, non-fiction:
Dominatrix to the Elite by Lady Vicky
Liber Null & Psychonaut by Peter Carroll
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
Oxford American Dictionary
Pursued by Furies by Gordon Bowker
The Holy Bible (Saint James)
And finally in the NF stack, Music For Chameleons by Truman Capote and The Fifty-Minute Hour by Robert Lindner.
I'm going to finish the Graham Greene, a short novel, and eventually probably the Bowker, a biography of Malcolm Lowry, who may have drunk more than I did in my day. I'm rereading the Capote.
Under the bed are a few novels I've finished over the past six weeks or so. They are (and it's dark under there) Old School by Tobias Wolff, The Store by Bentley Little (a neat little job about a kind of evil Wal-Mart), Adios Scheherazade by Donald Westlake (a porno author with writer's block), My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn, and Brazzaville Beach (anthropological sci-fi, you could call it, but the author, as he is smart, does not) by William Boyd. There is something else down there but I can't make it out and nothing comes to mind. Not a great deal of book-length reading for two months. I wonder if these spells will increase with age in duration and difficulty. That seems merciless.
In my living room and on my coffee table (though none of them are what you'd call "coffee table books") are a stack of old Ace Double paperbacks, all science fiction and all with the best titles, mostly, I would seriously wager, having been selected by Donald A. Wollheim, the paperback editor at Ace for years. He was my editor once and is deceased. Galactic Pot Healer (Philip K. Dick) and Jesus on Mars (Philip Jose Farmer and not an Ace book, but sounds like a Wollheim) are two of them.
This should give you plenty of information about me, should you want it. The visual to accompany this data would be an old white guy, increasingly unwilling to leave his apartment, surrounding himself with fantasy of one type or another, leafing through books, tossing them in corners, later to be retrieved, and all the while shuffling through the rooms with a ratty terrycloth robe, not unlike "the Dude" in The Big Lebowski.
You would not get the same type of insight were I to list my CD collection, for example. They are gifts or blues records I got from the library, and there aren't many of them. The blues might tell you I'm depressed. You'd be right, but not because I listen to that sort of music. The gift CDs, I think, represent the sort of person my friends would like me to be: i.e., reggae albums, Jimmy Buffett, Richard Thompson, Norma Waterson (?). I'd like to get some country records, nothing really new, but I don't feel like going out right now.
Art Salm, the books editor at the U-T, once wrote in his column something to the effect that while watching people being interviewed in their homes with a bookshelf as a backdrop, he would strain to read the titles behind the interview subject and probably lose much of the gist of what they are saying. I do that too. I may have written and told him that. Or I might have written, found myself without a stamp, and became defeated at the prospect of going to the corner for one.
Next week: My sock drawer and you.