Ok— I’ll admit it. I dusted first. I didn’t touch the books. Having big books on top of smaller books makes me antsy, which isn’t a good way to get yourself into sleep mode.
These books pretty much trace my interests and concerns over the last couple years. My life has changed profoundly recently, so a friend handed me the book “New Life, No Instructions,” written by her friend, former Globe book columnist Gail Caldwell, who asks “What do you do when the story changes in midlife?” I haven’t quite figured out the answer to that question, but I’m looking forward, and enjoying Gail’s sense of humor.
I’m writing a book about a road trip my 90-year-old dad and I took across the country a few years ago. I decided to fictionalize it because I didn’t think I was famous enough (famous at all) to have my own memoir, and for other reasons that, well — you’ll have to read the book to find out why. But I’ve been reading other “fictionalized memoirs” to see the structure. That’s why I have Michael Chabon’s book “Moonglow” about his crazy grandfather. Whatever Chabon didn’t know, or couldn’t ask a relative about, he made up. The book is excellent.
Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” is one of the best books on writing I’ve ever read. Aside from providing practical hacks for the writing life (put your desk in a corner), King describes his recovery from a harrowing accident he had mid-project, and how writing was critical to his recovery. The book was so great that the New Yorker serialized it. I read the whole thing years ago, but keep it nearby for inspiration.
The Colum McCann book “Let the Great World Spin” is there because while in Dublin recently, I read his book “Transatlantic” and so loved it, I wanted to read everything else he wrote. This one is set in the time around 9/11, and I’m eager to start it. James Joyce’s “Dubliners” was another one I brought with me to Dublin, and was also one of our “Islanders Read the Classics” books.
I have to say that recently, I’ve been trying to catch up on New Yorkers. They seem to be arriving every two days, rather than once a week. Either that, or time is just . . . caving in on itself. The magazines are in a stack you can’t see, on the shelf under the books. But I need to start balancing out my magazine reading with my novel/non-fiction/everything-in-between books. My life just works better if I’m really absorbed in at least one good book. The collection of short stories is kind of the middle road for me. It struck me at first as a gimmick, but I was impressed to see that John Updike chose one short story from each year of the 20th century, without missing any major writers, without including anything gratuitous just to hit his marks. Look at a few years: 1920 — Sherwood Anderson “The Other Woman;” 1948 — E.B. White, “The Second Tree from the Corner;” 1967— Joyce Carol Oates, “Where are you Going, Where Have you Been?” and 1990 — Lorrie Moore, “You’re Ugly, Too.”
And the last book, on top — “Einstein’s Dreams,” by the physicist Alan Lightman — I put this on my bedside table because I’m trying to learn about physics (I have a child studying it in graduate school), and because the novel, which is comprised of separate fables, “conjures up theoretical realms of time, dreamt in as many nights,” by Einstein, and promises to describe how time flies, and how we might “capture it in a bell jar.”
Having pondered why I don’t have enough time to read all the books I want to read, and how that two-year-old who was just building Lego bridges became a graduate student of physics seemingly overnight, I’m looking forward to losing myself in these fables about “time in its marvelous flight.” And ideally, finding out how to capture some time in a bell jar.
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