More people have taken to reading during the coronavirus lockdown. And many of them prefer real books over the e-editions. In turn, publishers are facing a paper shortage.
Not on my account. I’m a slow reader. I don’t burn through that much paper at a sitting.
But I’ve always got a book going. Every afternoon, I spend half an hour to an hour reading. I relax in a somewhat ratty chair. It still has claw marks from a cat that died earlier this year. On my right is a chess table my father made. He got into furniture making after retirement. I’m writing this on a desk he made.
He did not pass his woodworking skills and craftmanship on to his second son, though I did make a bookshelf once. I spray-painted some boards and blocks. Blue for the boards, yellow for the blocks. I balanced the boards on the blocks.
I was very proud of my work. My wife, not so much. Cindy had me haul my bookshelf to the curbside for bulk trash pickup. You wouldn’t know it was a bookshelf. Just some boards dropped by the roadside. I think the blocks are in the shed.
I don’t miss it too much. We have plenty of bookshelves, all crammed with books.
The chess table has books, too. They’re stacked horizontally. Most are the books waiting their turn for the reading hour. I rarely have a go at more than one book at a time. The table has a mix of books waiting in the wings.
Cindy bought me a few for my birthday. There’s “Ghosting the News,” a brief read from Margaret Sullivan, media critic for the Washington Post. It focuses on the slow death of community news in America. Well, if you’re reading this, you’re lucky. The Dispatch and its PinalCentral sisters are the exceptions. They’re family owned and keep tabs on Pinal County and its cities, courts and schools. And Melissa St. Aude writes great features on the people who make life interesting.
I know. It’s a plug for the company that signs my freelance checks. But I wanted to get that on the record, because it’s true.
Another book in waiting is “The Golden Spruce.” It’s a nonfiction work about a guy who disappears after plunging naked into a river in British Columbia and later cuts down a big tree. I’m just summarizing the blurb on the back. Like I say, I haven’t read the book yet. I probably got the blurb all wrong. Kind of like William Barr’s summary of “The Mueller Report.”
Some books on the table I keep handy for browsing. “Roadside History of Arizona” by Marshall Trimble. It’s usually there. Two books are compilations of columns by Molly Ivins. She died in 2007. She was an unabashed liberal who wrote liberally about Texas and U.S. politics. And she was funny.
She spoke of both Bushes, but not in glowing terms. Of the first President Bush, George H.W., she said things weren’t going well for him as he entered the 1992 election season. Throwing up on the Japanese prime minister. Gaffes on the campaign trail. Disarray in the White House. And the Houston hotel he called his home-on-the-range filing for bankruptcy.
Ivins writes: “As a lady at Harvard Medical School once said to an applicant who had killed his parents. ‘Well, these things do happen.’”
Too bad Ivins isn’t around anymore. She’d have no shortage of material.
I have a few more unread books on the floor to my left. One is “Northwest Angle,” a mystery that takes place on a remote piece of Minnesota bordering Canada. The Northwest Angle has something to do with a surveying error that created an odd notch along the U.S.-Canadian border.
I learned about the Northwest Angle from another book, “Northland.” The writer traveled along the international border, from Maine to Washington state. The book is on a shelf by the front door. It’ll be offered as a trade-in at a local bookstore.
My current read is “The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde” by Erle Stanley Gardner, starring Perry Mason. It’s good escapism for these troubled times. Perry Mason in pulp cuts a lot more corners than the Perry Mason of ‘50s and ‘60s TV. And the pulp version of Della Street is a hot number. She gets in the car “with a flash of leg.”
My favorite mystery writer is Raymond Chandler. You can’t top “He stood out like a kangaroo in a dinner jacket.”
Over the years, I’ve cracked open a few classics. Once read, they don’t go out the door as trade-ins. I find room for them on our bookshelves. Kafka. Dostoyevsky. Dickens. Mark Twain. Melville.
I hope I’m not tested on them. I don’t score high on retention.
Reading “Moby Dick” probably took longer than the time Capt. Ahab’s spent in pursuit of Moby Dick. The book is something of a tutorial on 19th century whaling. Of course, the great white whale’s the thing. For hundreds of pages, Capt. Ahab is ever in pursuit of it. Talk about obsessed.
We now use “Moby Dick” as a metaphor for any single-minded, unrelenting chase of something you can’t stop thinking about. I see it as a metaphor for the Democrats’ obsession with their own great white whale, except he’s kind of orange.
Full disclosure: I’m a Democrat. Spoiler alert: The whale wins.
Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at email@example.com.