Night Table Reading

I have a confession. Uh – sometimes, I really enjoy an issue
Vanity Fair. Occasionally I have
to pick it up, like a fix or something. But I only read it for the articles, I
swear. It’s really just like People, but with harder hitting gossip, nauseating ads
for obscenely expensive crap, and features on architects. It’s virtually an art
rag now, have you noticed? (Not that this really grants points in its favor.) I
bought one in the airport on my way to Miami
last month that had articles on Richard Prince, contemporary Chinese art, and
young Picasso. January had a (not very enlightening) article on Jeremy Blake ’s
pointless crazy tragic Scientologists-killed-my-girlfriend suicide. suicide.jpgAnyway,
they have that “on my nightstand” reading column thing, and I sometimes wish
they’d ask some nobodies like us, because I think that my bedtime reading (and I bet yours) is
more interesting than Henry Kissinger’s, or Tommy Hilfiger’s, or Michelle
Pfeiffer’s. Most are so predictable, so canned; some premeditated choice as
statement to appear intelligent, balanced, or current. Look everyone, I’m
reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, War and Peace, or a new
translation of the Iliad: or it’s flavor of the month stuff like David
Sedaris (anyone else find him insufferably cute? oh "This American
Life," how I both love and despise you!) something about tipping points or
blinking, or another tome decrying the evils of Bush (though I do appreciate
the raging anti-Bush slant of VF).

But
hell, it’s all good; books at bedtime are an intrinsically noble thing. I’ve
been taking particular solace in them lately since I’ve been hiding from art
(please, stop calling me! I just need some time alone right now. It’s not you;
it’s me…), and watching too much TV. Our neighborhood got fiber-optic
internet/cable recently, and they gave us every station free for 3 months, plus
the DVR. Every single one — though we probably really only ever watch about 8.
Especially loving Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,
Ramsey’s Kitchen
Nightmares
on BBC (sometimes I really wish I could get away with
yelling at a lazy student "you fucking donkey!" a la Gordon; tough love
baby, its tough love), and not having to wait a year to see the last season of The Wire
when it comes out on Netflix…

Book
time has become a sort of special, rarified alternative time, a take-it-at-your-own-pace balm for the speed of
internet/cable life, by nature more personal than the spectacle at the heart of art watching these days: scheduling the visits, assessing the
contexts, jostling with the crowds, wrestling with inherent need to analyse and
posit.

To
me, curling up on my right side late night in bed with a good book is really almost a
form of prayer, a ritual established in childhood and carried on with only
occasional lapses since. I’m sure my mother had something to do with it. A
chronic insomniac and workaholic, over my lifetime she’s probably averaged
about 1000 pages per week. After a trip home for Christmas, she sent us back
with a box of her recent cast-offs, and we now have a four foot stack of
award-winning literature at the foot of our bed to last us through the year.

I
just wanted to sing praises of some favorites read in the last few months. Please
take advantage of the comments thing to share your current or recent faves. I’d
like to know what everybody’s been digging, virtual book-club style…

1)
“Courbet”- Linda Nochlin ’s collected essays on her favorite topic. Courbet just
stays perpetually fascinating, enigmatic, and Nochlin digs deep.courbet_autoportrait.jpg

2)
“A Life of Picasso, volume 1: 1881-1906” the lauded first volume of three by Picasso friend and expert John Richardson. I admit I got stuck half-way
through, but plan to revisit soon. You can feel bogged down in the
fine-tooth minutiae, and Pablo truly just wasn’t ever very likable. Deftly written; like
the way it jumps forward and back.

3)
“The World of Jeeves,” PG Wodehouse. Sure, I’d read
a story here or there, and seen some “Masterpiece Theater” episodes, but
when my uncle died last year, I found this 700 pager hidden in one of the piles of junk that made just getting in the apartment tough (Yeah, just like on one of
those TV shows. We filled six, 20-foot dumpsters. 6!) Anyway, I would read a
single Bertie Wooster melodrama each night before I slept. Crushed when it
ended. Recommended to combat bouts of melancholia, or fits of Anglophilia.

4)
The Buddhist Priest Myoe: A Life in Dreams ,” by Hayao Kawai. Living in 12th century Japan,
contemporaneous with a number of revolutionary Buddhist teachers, Myoe was the
first human to consistently record his dreams over an entire lifetime, from
teens to death at 59.myo-e_detail.jpg
He showed a relatively modern, psychologically astute
capacity to interpret his dreams, neither mistaking them for prophetic
directives from the gods, nor as errant aberrations of the psyche to be
dismissed. Riveting reading, written by "Japan‘s foremost Jungian
psychoanalyst."
(I was inspired to do the drawing, seen here in a detail, from a statue of the
monk.)

5)
Jim Harrison’s memoir
“Off to the Side.” I simply love the way this man writes; he’s probably my
favorite prose stylist of the last 50 years or so. His language feels built by
a sure hand, unpretentious, natural, solid, with an awareness of what it is to
suffer and love and ache for things, people, places. "The Road Home"
may be my favorite novel of all time. Nothing is omitted, nothing is out of
bounds. A failed artist himself, he writes about art with affection and
sympathy, as he does of birds, animals, and the earth. And in this autobio,
sex, strippers, booze, France, hunting,
Michigan
,
dogs, etc. Doesn’t much care for Texas,
though. Can’t say I hold that against him, or much blame him.

6)
Last and by no means least (my favorite book of 2007 actually): “The
Maytrees
,” Annie Dillard’s latest novel, 10 years in the writing.
Interviewed, I heard her say that it was upwards of 2000 pages, that she boiled
down to an essential, bony 215, creating more the effect of hard-hitting,
crystalline poetry. Here’s a nice passage, opened to at random (they’re easy to
find): “She shipwrecked on the sheets. She surfaced like a dynamited bass.
She opened her eyes and discovered where on their bed she had fetched up. She
lay spread as a film and as fragile. Linked lights wavered on the wall. The
linked lights looked like chain mail. They moved blindly over the wall’s
thumbtacked Klee print of Sinbad. The tide rising on sand outside bore these
linked lights as if on a platter.”
I also read her first novel recently,
“The Living”. It documents the lives of coastal settlers north of Seattle
from about 1850 to 1890. I particularly remember three pages where she lists
all the brutal ways people died in that time just before nearly everything we
generally understand as basic safety, medicine, and communication were even
considerations. Despite obvious gains, what we’ve lost sometimes makes the cost
of the trade seem steep.

Happy
reading, perusers of Glasstire and other fine literature! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

also by Titus OBrien

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2 responses to “Night Table Reading”

  1. I can’t get behind you on Sedaris, but Ira Glass, his swallowed L’s, his poignantly banal pauses! I too listen in despite myself.

  2. I was a longtime fan of VF in the Tina Brown days, but gave up on it shortly into Graydon Carter’s tenure. At a time when covers should have been featuring Benicio del Toro and Chloe Sevigny, he turned to weird TV starlets I’d never heard of. It was like he was being spoonfed by agents, like Clear Commerce playing whatever the record companies pay them to play. The straw that broke this camel’s back was his fictitious, masturbatory correspondence with a drunken writer. Carter should stick to politics, which he cares about and does well, and get out of the celebrity game. The fluff side of VF long ago went to the dogs.

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