Friday, June 27, 2008

The Reading Room

As you know, due to my GVH and the medications for it, I spend a wee bit more time "in the facilities" lately than I usually have in the past. With any luck, I'll be off these meds by next year and things will return to normal. So, with many months to go in my Cavalcade of Commodes, I figured I should make good use of the time. So I went to the library (without Bambina; something I realized I have not done alone since she came home three years ago) to get myself some good reading.

Okay. So, I forgot that at the library you probably need to have some idea of what you are looking for before you get there. Unlike, nothing in the building popped up in front of me to recommend books based on those I'd already read. And then when I thought of what I might like to read, I realized that the books don't just magically appear in front of you; you have to go looking for the call number and then go looking for the book. How quaint! But since I couldn't think off the top of my head what I might like to read I just decided to browse and grab books based on whatever criteria hit me in the moment. Such as, sadly, "Oooh--that looks like some interesting binding!" or "Oh look! Such a small, cute book!"

By total happenstance, I ended up with some good ones. I'm reading them simultaneously for reasons of practicality: what you might want to read while sitting on the pot at 3pm might not be your cup of tea while sitting at 2am. The latter requires a lighter read due to fatigue and a desire to perhaps get back to sleep without feeling like you're abandoning a great story. Therefore, I give you:

ThingsIOverheardWhileTalkingtoMyself by Alan Alda.

After nearly dying from an intestinal obstruction on a mountain in Chile, Alda set out to give his second chance at life new meaning. This book is a collection of old speeches and essays, but it's also quite funny and rather philosophical. And, for my purposes, each chapter is a story in itself which makes it easy to put down at 3am.

Next up is an absolutely hilarious and awesome book called The Year Of Living Biblically: One Man's Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible I can't really do it justice, so I'll leave it to Publishers Weekly:
What would it require for a person to live all the commandments of the Bible for an entire year? That is the question that animates this hilarious, quixotic, thought-provoking memoir from Jacobs (The Know-It-All). He didn't just keep the Bible's better-known moral laws (being honest, tithing to charity and trying to curb his lust), but also the obscure and unfathomable ones: not mixing wool with linen in his clothing; calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods; trying his hand at a 10-string harp; growing a ZZ Top beard; eating crickets; and paying the babysitter in cash at the end of each work day. (He considered some rules, such as killing magicians, too legally questionable to uphold.) In his attempts at living the Bible to the letter, Jacobs hits the road in highly entertaining fashion to meet other literalists, including Samaritans in Israel, snake handlers in Appalachia, Amish in Lancaster County, Pa., and biblical creationists in Kentucky. Throughout his journey, Jacobs comes across as a generous and thoughtful (and, yes, slightly neurotic) participant observer, lacing his story with absurdly funny cultural commentary as well as nuanced insights into the impossible task of biblical literalism.
Oh, it's good stuff.

Next up, Thirteen Stories by Eudora Welty. I've always wondered how I've managed to get to 36 without reading Welty. I'm still deciding if she's my speed, but I do have to give her credit for some humorous, nuanced writing with a Southern flavor. One of my favorite lines involves a discussion of a not-too-bright woman who, as one character says, "could sit and ponder all day on how the little tail of the 'C' got through the 'L' in a Coca-Cola sign."

Another book I've just read for a recently-joined book club is Black Dog of Fate: An American Uncovers His Armenian Past by Peter Balakian.
This is actually a rather funny book about the author's childhood in New Jersey, as a son and grandson of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. And if you feel any doubt that it was a genocide, just read this book. He writes about growing up in a Jewish neighborhood and then moving with his family to the suburbs, as the family straddles their two worlds: being intentionally non-ethnically suburban "American" in the '60's, while dealing with the ghosts of a terrible, unspeakable tragedy that eradicated their history, people and homeland. It's a very enjoyable, funny, interesting, and heartbreaking story. And when you hear the recollections of his aunt and grandmother on what happened in Turkey, you will never doubt that the Armenians were systematically and prejudicially eliminated as a people.

I'm also in the middle of Kurt Vonnegut's In Retrospect. I can't say I think these are his best writings but, being Vonnegut, they are still better than most other people's best stuff. He definitely comes across as batshit crazy, but all for the reader's benefit. One essay is actually a letter home to his family during WWII, after being released from POW captivity. It shines a little bit of light on him as a person as well as a writer, when you realize what he went through in the war. The rest of the writings are going to be either awesome or dire, depending on your own personal capacity for all things Vonnegut. I'm liking it so far, but that's because I'm just accepting him for who he was and, even if I'm not loving the story, recognizing that it's still incredibly well-written.

And with that, I will now try to get some sleep. Happy reading, wherever you may open your book.

1 comment:

Utah Savage said...

Great selections. I often go browsing at the library. And I am rarely disappointed with my finds. This is how "I discovered" Ian Mcewan.