Whatcha Reading?

Let’s get this straight: This is not book club.

This is a book…discussion. I thought it would be fun to talk about what we’re all reading, so we can all open ourselves to new avenues of words.

I’ve always loved to read. I cannot remember not having a book in my hands.

My grandmother — Gam — had a stack of books by her bedside, bookcases filled to overflowing throughout her apartment, and boxes to catch the overflow.  She leaned towards authors like Belva Plain and Nora Roberts. But what I liked, as a little girl, where the two decades worth of Readers’ Digests stacked on the bookcase in the back hall.  “These are easy to read,” Gam told me, putting on her reading glasses, opening the old magazines, and pointing with her pink fingernails, always freshly polished.  “At the end of the stories, there are always these little jokes.”

I built up from there.  I think I read every single Readers’ Digest published between 1977 and 1996.

I was the only kid in America told to put the book down and go out and play.  I read in the shower.  Sure, New York magazine gets wet, but it will dry. I read while walking down the street.

I love good fiction.  I check into about 15 newspapers a day, and subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post. I subscribe to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, New York magazine, The Nation, and for some reason I’m still getting Newsweek even though I haven’t paid for it in years. I also subscribe to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  I am considering The Economist and National Geographic.  I still dream of Brill’s Content and miss it with all my heart. (And because I’m an alleged journalist, all of these are tax-deductible. So’s my cable subscription.  Ha-ha!)

What I’m reading right now:

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, by Judith Freeman.

I adore Raymond Chandler.  An accountant-turned-writer, he created the legendary private eye Phillip Marlowe, a detective so hard-boiled he made concrete look soft.  My favorite Marlowe quote, from “Farewell, My Lovely:

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and left the room.”

Oh, that Marlowe!  What that man needs is a hug.  Anyhoo.  Chandler pretty much created LA’s noir image, and left Marlowe to carry it on his trench-coat clad shoulders.   What we don’t know a lot about is Chandler’s private life.  We know he was a — brusque — man.  Direct.  Like Marlowe. We know he liked to drink.  Like Marlowe. We know he liked women.  Like Marlowe.  We know he was private.  Like Marlowe.  Chandler had many of his private letters destroyed. What this book tries to do is piece together the life Chandler had with his wife, Cissy, who Chandler thought was eight years older than him, and was actually many years older than that, through all the places they lived together.

I just finished LaBrava by Elmore Leonard.  I try to ration Elmore Leonard, because if I don’t, I’ll go on a mass binge of Detroit homicide dicks and sleazy characters and complicated murder plots and old men screwing young prostitutes and faked suicides and decaying mansions and hot condos and strippers/models and coke deals and wind up not leaving the house for months. LaBrava is set on South Miami Beach, was published in 1983, and involves lots of booze, drugs, go-go-dancers, and a former Secret Service agent who went insane with boredom guarding Mrs. Truman.

SixThirty recommends Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin, it started as a serial in a newspaper, then went to book form, and then leaped to television. SixThirty says he’s ashamed it took him 33 years to read it; that’s how excellent it is.  He’s also just picked up Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray, a dark comedy about a kid who dies in an Irish boarding school.  How could this be funny, you ask?  Speaking as a child of many, many, Irish wakes, I promise you: It involves Irishmen and death and a donut shop.  I haven’t read it yet and can I assure you it’s full of hi-larity.

LoremIpsumDolor is just about to finish reading Independence Day, by Richard Ford.  It’s part of the Bascombe Trilogy. She says: “I can’t remember the last time I was so absorbed by a book.  … I find it completely engrossing because of the main character’s (Frank Bascombe) outlook on life. A 40-something divorcee going through what he calls the ‘Existence Period’, which I comPLETEly get, being a 40-something myself.”

LaZiguezon, whom we can all agree is a paragon of coolness, just ordered a studio edition of Faile’s Temple.  I am going to quote directly from her e-mail because I’m don’t want to mess the awesomeness of this up. “The book details their large-scale temporary installation of a temple they created for Portugal Arte in 2010. It also comes with a ceramic “Skull/Flower” patterned tile from the temples exterior.” Here is the link.

I don’t want this treated as a throwaway, but I want to include some wonderful reading for Black History Month in this, what will hopefully be our first This is Not Book Club column.  The New York Times Review of Books has a marvelous section to devoted to books for Black History Month, although it’s my fevered wish they won’t stay tucked away here in February.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, truly changed my thinking as a girl.  Growing up in a racist Irish Boston household, I had no idea what was going on.  It is a book that should be read more than once in the course of a lifetime.

So.  What are you reading?  And why do you read it?

For next week’s post, send me ideas at [email protected]. I want books, I want great blogs, I want magazines both mainstream and offbeat, I want anything that can be read.   Just tell me why you liked it and and why think others would like it, too.

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