Bedside Manner: Conditioning Exercises
How to fight sleep reading
By Austin Powell,
5:06PM, Mon. Jun. 6, 2011
Sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten how to read.
I’ve always maintained some level of literacy, of course, forming words, left to right, and taking Tylenol for any headaches that may occur, as David Spade once suggested. Yet over the past few years, a time dominated by RSS feeds and micro-bits of information passed along endless 140-character sequences, I seem to have lost the ability to read at length or with the intensive depth I acquired while studying literature at UT.
Too often I rely on books as some sort of visual Nyquil, a cue to clock out after mustering only a few pages. And I’ll keep doing this, time and again, spending several months to finish a single book without ever really knowing who the characters are or what’s going on. This was especially the case with Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a book that my dog Boris seemed to more thoroughly enjoy than I did – he ate most of the front cover – but on a dedicated second reading, I found myself enraptured with the simplistic ease of her prose and the timeless appeal of John Singer, the mute at the center of the Southern drama.
What you’ll find stacked on bedside dresser is my continued attempt to reverse this overall trend: an assortment of challenging (William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury) and light reading (David Sedaris’ hilarious Me Talk Pretty One Day). Most often I find myself returning to the short stories I cherish most, those crafted by Eudora Welty (The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty) and Raymond Carver (What We Talk About Love), treating them almost as conditioning exercises.
Two of the books – Chris Cleave’s Little Bee and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind – belong to my longtime girlfriend Kari, part of an unofficial book club she shares with my mom. I aspire to join one day, if I’m invited.
I’m currently making my way through, on assignment, of Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, a daunting, scholarly assessment of the (very) early roots of the late 1960s British folk revival that reads like a 600-plus page Mojo cover story. It’s been slow progress to say the least, but it’s always a good sign when books make you pull out old records, in this case Vashti Bunyan’s Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind.