Bedside Manner: In Memoriam
A few mournful words for books discarded
By Lindsey Flatt,
10:54AM, Mon. Apr. 30, 2012
My bedside table is like a mortuary where books go to be paid their last respects before they are invariably given up to the bookshelf; once safely interred, they will be gazed at fondly, with regret for the lack of appreciation given them during their brief tenure on said table, and with vague – and generally unfounded – hopes for their resurrection.
I would like to say that all these books had been dropped because I found the writing poor, or the plot turgid and predictable, but unfortunately that’s rarely been the case. The fact is, simply, that I either genuinely don’t have the time for them anymore, or that I devote my time to less high-minded pursuits. Like drinking.
As a child I literally had to be incited to put down my book, get off the couch, and, well, do something. (Seriously… a limit had to be placed on the number of hours a day I was allowed to read. And that limit was three.). When I first graduated college, I had high hopes for the amount of reading that I was finally going to get done post-grad; reading undictated by course lists, competitive intellectual snobbery, or time constraints. I owned so many books that I had read only one or two guilty chapters of before reluctantly dropping them, and buckling down to actual schoolwork. Now was the time to rediscover the piles that littered the floor by my futon. Within one summery week though, I realized how goddam burned out I was on reading after having done nothing but for four years. Had college *gasp* ruined my desire to read for pleasure? Would I succumb to lesser pursuits like obsessive Netflix browsing? Half-assed attempts at learning the banjo? Uninspired collaging? Yes, yes, yes, and… well, I actually thought some of those pieces were quite good. So I’m going to say no.
A year later, and my initial fear that a BA in English (“four years of college and plenty of knowledge”) had ruined me – or at least my ambitious reading list – for life is dissipating. Indeed, now that I am firmly planted in one location and have been able to give up couchsurfing and suitcase living, I can’t pretend that I don’t have the desire to plant myself ass-first on the couch (my very own!) and face-first in a book. Given the chance, I’m sure that I would stay that way for as long as I was allowed. But there just doesn’t seem to be the time anymore to grab more than half-hour or hour long snippets a couple times a week – if that. A lot of those books that I had read only a couple chapters of throughout college have been regretfully laid to rest, simply because it’s been so long, that I would feel compelled to restart them. Which I feel would be a waste of time when I could start something new.
The reason that my bedside table is such a mournful site/sight to me is that it is piled high with these books, and other more recent books; books that I’ve gotten halfway (or more!) into, which have been put aside merely because my interest was drawn to another (more novel) novel. I feel as though I have a certain degree of cultural ADD. I often take my hints for higher learning from the collective unconscious – allusions to the same unfamiliar work or artist by multiple sources within a certain period of time will have me scraping together my change for a trip to the store. But as soon as I am given another hint, Book A is “momentarily” put aside in favor of another work. (This method works well enough with music and film. It is not so hard to jump in on the middle track of an album that you had put aside in favor of the next new release. And while this may be harder to do with a film, both mediums require significantly less of an investment of time than, say, a 400-page novel.)
These many books sit there – found objects or doodled-upon scraps of paper marking places that may not be re-examined for months or years. Then, when these books have multiplied past the point of me being able to comfortably put down a cup (or, let’s be honest, a beer) on my bedside table; the oldest are culled. Those that I haven’t picked up in the longest period of time are bid a regretful farewell – who knows when I’ll see them again – and placed on my bookshelf.
This Bedside Manner Post is a respectful in memoriam to those books not given their fair due.
Gravity’s Rainbow, p. 355: Oh god, how many summers ago did I banish you to my bookshelf? Three? According to the piece of detritus acting as your place-holder, an eye-care appointment card dated July 2009, that’s about right. The last thing I remember about you was that we were with one of the main characters at a party – finding out that that whole octopus/girl rescue scene was more than it appeared to be. And there was something romantic going on. Will I ever pick you up again? Maybe one day. I’m sure that I would understand about just as much picking you up in the middle years later as I understood while actually reading you.
Dangling In The Tournefortia, anthropomorphic wolf doodle holding place at p.141, “Laid Up”; picture of cute, bespectacled boy cracking a beer – a picture that had been randomly inserted in this book when I found it – marking what is possibly the only Bukowski poem I really enjoy, “Grace” p.50: Much like your author’s relationships with women, my relationship with you was sporadic anyway. And mostly fueled by all the wrong things.
Sacred Games, p.143: Your place is being held by a health warning cut out from a pack of cigarettes I bought in Amsterdam; a man and woman shown from the waist-up in bed, facing opposite directions and looking disgruntled – with warnings in Dutch, French, and German that smoking can cause impotence. You were started during the last week of an Indian Fiction course, a 945 page “treat” that we were told we would enthusiastically devour as summer reading. I didn’t. Although one of these days, I would love to re-enter the Mumbai streets and sordid lives encapsulated in your crime-ridden (and well-written) pages.
Autobiography of a Yogi, p.14: A fascinating and beautiful bookmark of a skinny, top-hatted man playing cello holds your place. Oooh. I really didn’t get too far into you, did I? Maybe one day I’ll rediscover you when I need a spiritual reaffirmation, and Be Here Now just isn’t cutting it.
The Dubliners, p.70: A concert stub from St. Vincent – my first big show in Austin –marks your place at the beginning of “A Little Cloud,” and proves that I haven’t really given up on you for long enough to warrant your being shelved. But I obviously needed space on my bedside table for more than one beer. After Ulysses, I was prepared for a lot more experimental weirdness in you, and so far, your short stories have been rather quotidian. Step it up so that I don’t have to try tackling Finnegan’s Wake or something drastic. Cause that I really don’t have time for.
The Satanic Verses, p.229 (a wrinkled piece of paper bearing the name and email of the person to whom I owe this job holds your place): You were the book most recently resigned to the shelf, and I still consider you a work in progress. Although I’m not enjoying you quite as much as I did Midnight’s Children you are still written in that same sort of bounding, lyrical, tongue-tied exuberance that I find so satisfying in Rushdie’s work.
What I am Actually Reading Right Now:
Now that I’ve given you the rundown on books that have been left sadly unfinished for one reason or another, the only book that I would consider myself to be very seriously and actively in the midst of is The Collected Stories of Carson McCullers. Her writing is wry, and kind of deliciously creepy, just because it’s so effective at conveying the bewildering and terrifying emotional experience of being human. P.360 is being held by a piece of scrap paper listing a number of unheard of Scandinavian bands given to me by an older, leather vest and cowboy hat clad Norwegian man during SXSW.