It seemed simple enough, but that rule was tested time and time again. I’d be halfway through, say, Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, when the latest fever dream from James Ellroy was published, and it was all I could do to keep up interest in the sinister machinations of Count Fosco. Sometimes integrity was maintained, and other times I caved in to my petulant desires (sorry, Wilkie, you lost that battle). Lately, though, I’ve been toggling between two or three books at once, usually a nonfiction book and one or two novels. This system has been working pretty good, and I can’t recall any books that have been outright abandoned lately (another rule I have a hard time breaking is of the “finish what you started” variety).
I like to read in the morning. Sure, arriving home from a long day at work, throwing on some Dexter Gordon, pouring a couple of fingers of scotch, and curling up with a meaty novel is all fine and dandy, but there is something comforting about waking up, rolling over, grabbing a book and lazing around for an hour or so before the demands of the day guilt me into action. I’d say a good 80% of the books I’ve read were read in the comfort of my bed. This habit can be traced back to my childhood, when I would feign some vague illness, and spend the day laying around with my nose deep into Stephen King or Anne Rice, an occasional cough thrown out to perpetuate the deception.
Full disclosure: This photo is staged (as if that wasn’t already clear with the mild fanning of the books just so). I usually don’t keep but one book there at a time, as the minimalist TV-tray bedside table forces me to keep the clutter low. Other than the books I’m currently reading, there’s a button of indeterminate origin which one day I hope to reunite with its shirt, closing the case on that garment-related mystery, and a Sony “Dream Machine” clock radio that’s been waking me up since 1996. But on to the books:
The Savage Detectives: Another mildly annoying rule I’m trying to unsuccessfully break is reading authors in chronological order. I received Roberto Bolaňo’s 2666 last year from a friend, so naturally I had to read his previous novel first. Begun on a trip to North Carolina about two months ago, I am currently on page 322. It has been a pretty exhilarating read so far, with bohemian Latin American poets, hilarious critiques of literary movements, and a jigsaw puzzle plot teased out in an oral history section that really makes you an active participant, putting together relationships and narrative threads. One of Bolaňo’s many talents is his creation of so many distinct voices, all vying to tell the tale(s) of the “visceral realists.” Highly recommended.
The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underground: Acquired on a trip to New Orleans, this book, by Gangs of New York scribe Herbert Asbury, was first published in 1936. One of the reasons this is a great bedside book is that all the chapters are self contained, so it’s a good pick up/put down read. And while it is obviously a bit dated, and somewhat prudish, it’s still a fascinating look into one of my favorite cities. Asbury chronicles the legends of pirates, whores, and voodoo queens with a dry wit and an easily readable style.
Chronicles of the Black Company: Glen Cook’s Black Company series has been reissued in these nice omnibus editions, with this volume containing the first three books. I first read a few of these as a teenager, but soon lost interest. Cook is not interested in the usual fantasy tropes of stable boys who are actually princes and women throwing magic weapons out of bodies of water. This is gritty fantasy realism at its finest. There’s a focus on military conflicts and moral ambiguity. There is hardly any world building to speak of, and most of the narrative is told through the eyes of one character. Cook’s clipped writing style and the journalistic structure of the story can be a little startling for those used to George “I’ll just describe this meal/dress/coat of arms for the next nine pages, shall I?” Martin, but for my money, these stories are just as good.