Bedtime Stories: Aug. 2017
- August 16, 2017
What do book lovers have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked one of them, and here’s what he said.
Ah, bed-table reading matter, the enemy (and sometimes the enabler) of sleep. I tend to have some basic rules for the books that end up in the stack. First of all, only paperbacks: If you nod off, books can end up in the bed with you, and who can even estimate the number of lives lost across the years and decades to the vicious corners of hardback books? It’s got to be at least a few.
Second of all, I tend to stack up books that I’m rereading rather than reading. Relaxed, stretched out, readying myself for sleep, I like thinking not only about the book in my hand, but what was happening in my life the other times I had that book in my hand.
On the top of the pile at the moment is Guy Colwell’s Inner City Romance, a Fantagraphics reprint of the amazing underground comic of the 1970s. It’s filled with sex and drugs, with violence both personal and social. It’s not a comforting thing to look at on the edge of sleep, necessarily, but it’s a great spur to uneasy dreams, which are the best kinds of dreams.
Right under that, there’s Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, a book that Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer wrote back in the mid-1980s. People say it’s a classic of scientific reportage or scientific history or scientific philosophy, but mainly it’s just a bracingly original treatment of the way the human mind encounters and processes so-called facts. I liked it the first time through and I’m liking it this time, too. I have read a little bit about the controversy surrounding the book; critics argue that the authors misrepresent or exaggerate the connections between science and politics and sometimes get the facts wrong (fake news!). Even that, though, only makes it more interesting in the present moment.
And then there’s Donald Westlake’s Why Me. Dortmunder novels should never been too far from your bedside table.
Those are the books on the top of the side table. On the top shelf inside the table, there’s a second level: big novels and books of poetry. Do I read those? Hard to say. I pick them up. My eyes move over the words. I might collect a phrase here or an interesting idea there. I am looking to be pierced by a shard. These get rotated in and out fairly often. At the moment, it’s Jorie Graham and Richard Hugo and Albert Goldbarth and Sharon Olds for poetry, and Pynchon and Elkin for fiction. I’ve read most of these books several times, so they’re like being in bed with an old friend. It’s all very conjugal.
On the lower shelf inside the table, there are books I’ll probably never get back to. It’s not the fault of the book. It’s my fault. James Gleick’s Chaos is down there, and Sissela Bok’s Lying, and one of Mike Gane’s critical studies of Baudrillard. Sometimes I look at those books and try to remember them.
Oh, now that I look, Jude the Obscure is down there, too. Hi, Jude. Remember when the schoolmaster was leaving and everybody seemed sorry? Remember how elusive peace and forgiveness proved?
Ben Greenman is a New York Times-bestselling author who has written both nonfiction and fiction. He is the author of several acclaimed works of fiction, including the novel The Slippage and the short-story collections What He’s Poised to Do and Superbad. He is co-author of the bestselling Mo’ Meta Blues with Questlove; the bestselling I Am Brian Wilson with Brian Wilson; Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? with George Clinton; and more. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Paris Review, Zoetrope: All Story, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere, and has been widely anthologized. His most recent book is Dig If You Will the Picture, a meditation on the life and career of Prince; his next book is Don Quixotic, a consideration of the current commander-in-chief.