Bedside Table: Brian Dowd


I have a lot of books in a lot of places around my small house. Some are on a bookshelf in an order I haven’t quite figured out, others are stacked in front of my TV, on my coffee table, my desk, and just about every other flat surface that isn’t the floor. I don’t really read in bed (the only thing on my bedside table is a lava lamp), so I decided to pick some books from each spot.

In addition to my job at The Times, I also work at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore where it’s hard not to buy books when you’re around them all day. Most of the books I own are beat up, used books I’ve culled from many a bookstore, but ever since I started working at Bunch of Grapes, I’ve developed a penchant for buying new books which has kind of become my vice, but hey, we’ve all got one right?

First up is “Miss Lonelyhearts” by Nathanael West. A writer working in New York City during the Great Depression writes an advice column for desperate New Yorkers. It sounds sad, but it’s funny in a black comedy/satire kind of way.

“Border Districts” By Gerald Murnane was one I finished recently and had picked up because of a fantastic piece on the author I had read in the New York Times Magazine. It’s a real slow burner by a guy who has lived in the same corner of Australia his whole life. It’s labelled a fiction, but reads like an odd autobiography. In the book, a man reminisces on his life as he moves to a district near the border to search for a “primal knowledge.”

Lately, there has been an uptick of fish-monster-woos-woman stories which makes me want to recommend Rachel Ingalls’s reissued novel, “Mrs. Caliban.” The story centers on a suburban housewife who hears on the radio about the escape of a monster from an oceanographic research institute.

“Transit Comet Eclipse” by Muharem Bazdulj is a short book of three inter-layered stories of people trying to escape eastern Europe at various points in history. It was published by Dalkey Archive Press, a publisher known for printing lesser-known and subversive books.

I’ve been reading John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” an article originally published in “The New Yorker,” which tells the incredible and horrifying story of six survivors after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city. Not much of a summer beach read, but very important for journalism, history, and humanity.

I’m excited to start reading Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” which was a birthday present from my mom. It follows eight families in Milwaukee, WI as they try to keep a roof over their heads. It also won the Pulitzer prize which probably means it’s good.

At the bookstore we have a shelf of staff picks and I feel like I have to mention “The Hour of the Star” by Clarice Lispector and “One Man’s Meat” by E.B. White.

Lispector’s book is one of my staff picks and it’s an incredibly strange story. It’s short and can be read in one sitting. The story is about Macabéa, a young woman living in the slums of Alagoas, Brazil. She is poor, dirty, malnourished, orphaned, abused by her aunt, and people make fun of her when she says she wants to be Marilyn Monroe. While this all sounds horrible don’t worry, Macabéa is actually happy — and free.

White’s book is my manager Molly’s staff pick. It’s a collection of essays by famed writer E.B. White about his life during the 1930’s and 40’s living on a salt water farm in my home state of Maine. I’ve only read the first page and can’t wait to read more.

Last but not least is Samuel Chamberlain’s violent, melodramatic, self-inflating autobiography, “My Confession.” In 1844, at the age of 15, Chamberlain ran away from his life in Boston as a priest in training and ended up in the army fighting in the Mexican-American war. He later joined the infamous Glanton Gang to collect human scalps to claim bounties from Mexican authorities. I picked up the book because it’s what inspired Cormac McCarthy to write one of my favorite books, “Blood Meridian.”

Brian Dowd is a staff reporter at The MVTimes.

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