Bedside Manner: Hide the Schlock!
Depressing real stuff and trashy TV
By Jordan Smith,
9:00AM, Sun. Feb. 20, 2011
Preparing to write my version of the Bedside Manner, I came to one inevitable conclusion: I read a lot of really depressing shit. Seriously.
Take David Dow's The Autobiography of an Execution, which only recently moved from my bedside to the adjacent wall shelf – only to be replaced by John Grisham's The Confession, for which, I am told, Dow did some consulting. I haven't started it yet – I've been busy reading newly-filed bills and depressing reports on the state of prison healthcare and the conservative assault on funding for family planning programs – but I've been told, by lawyers who otherwise find Grisham's legal accounts far too fictional to be any fun, that this is the one Grisham "you must read." I sort of like Grisham – even the ones that are decidedly not must-reads – because, when not reading totally depressing real-life things, I prefer a super fast read. As such, the Grisham book has now bumped up to the top of the list as the least depressing thing on my bedside table.
There are several other not-so and only semi-depressing things in the mix. Consider the latest book from Matt Taibbi (I heart you, M.T.!), Griftopia, which is...OK, thoroughly depressing. It's an account of the financial crisis, told with classic Tiabbi snarkiness, which actually makes it far less depressing than it might otherwise be. I absolutely love Taibbi – he writes down on paper the things I think when reading or hearing about news accounts of failing banks, etc., but they're things that I seem incapable of being able to say with anywhere near as much wit or sarcasm. Currently hanging off the bedside table, and already branded by a slight coffee ring, is his latest attack on Wall Street, published in the March 4 issue of Rolling Stone. Definitely worth reading.
Also in the current rotation is a new book on the economics of marijuana, niftily titled Cannabinomics by psychiatrist Christopher Glenn. I read a lot of Drug War- related stuff. It's infuriating, but I truly believe (call me crazy or way too fucking optimistic) that prohibition will soon end. Possibly in my lifetime. And it can't come a minute too soon – drug prohibition has done nothing to curb appetites for drugs (news flash: people have always, and will always, use drugs) and, as such, has done less-than-nothing to curb supply. Meanwhile, however, prohibition is racist, has created an enormous and often deadly black market, and ruins both families and communities. Great work, Drug War! It's been said before, and I'll repeat it here: Prohibition doesn't work.
My other obsession is Scientology. I've been fascinated by the "religion" of L.R.H. for years – an obsession made worse during the time I spent working in Los Angeles at the Daily News. As we all know, L.A. is overrun by Scientologists – those freaky little folks! Since I've let my subscription to The New Yorker lapse (I couldn't take the stress of trying to keep up with 8,000-plus-word articles every week – it was making me feel shitty), colleague Nora Ankrum was kind enough to lend me the current issue, which features an article by Lawrence Wright about the screenwriter Paul Haggis' defection from the cult. Good stuff; super good. Of course, my addiction to this stuff probably makes me an S.P., but so be it.
Also in the current mix are two works of fiction borrowed from my friend Ryan Duran (Ryan, I swear I'll return them soon. For reals!) One is How to Be Alone, a book of essays by novelist Jonathan Franzen. I find them sweet and sort of sad, telling and to-the-point. The other is Dave Eggers' How We Are Hungry. I haven't read much, but I like what little I've digested so far. (Okay, Ryan, maybe it will be a while before I get them back to you...).
The secret about my bedside table is the schlock that lives there. By that I mean the cheap and ridiculous romance novels and the TV-to-book novels that live under the top shelf of the table – we can't have just anyone seeing these things, now can we? These books are not here because I think they're good. They're not good. In fact, they're quite horrible. (Current selection living below the shelf is the truly bad Murder She Wrote novel, The Murder of Sherlock Holmes by James Anderson.) But I've found over the years that a completely stupid novel is the best cure for insomnia. Let's put it this way: I sleep well.