Tag Archives: books

No one checks, so go ahead and lie: “What Books Are On Your Nightstand?”

22 Mar

Bookshelf

A person I worked with years ago has since become a famous writer. He has a new book out and was interviewed recently by the New York Times. He did well, especially with the question, “What books are on your nightstand?”

Famous writers who are interviewed know this question is coming. From some of the interviews I’ve read, I’m inclined to think the interviewer should actually go out and check the nightstand.

As I read my former colleague’s interview, I thought about me, not him. He played it relatively straight, with just a touch of levity, and came off looking like the serious writer he is. Should I ever become famous and be the subject of an interview, I’m certain I would blow it with failed humor, misunderstood sarcasm and an attempt to show that seriousness is way overrated.

The worst of it would come with the “book on the nightstand” question.

Have you noticed they don’t ask the more precise, “What books are you reading?” In effect, the interviewer gives the serious writer a polite “out.” The books only have to be on the nightstand, not read.

I can hear myself taking advantage of this loophole and saying:

Mario-Vargas-Llosa“You know, prior to the interview I went to a consignment shop and bought this monstrous piece of furniture. I put it next to my bed and filled it with the great literature of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries –all the books Joyce Carol Oates has read. OK, now ask me that question again”

Even if I forced myself to answer the question properly, I’m sure I would ruin it by injecting too much honesty.

I’d probably say:

“Look, I get up early and really need eight hours sleep. When I go to bed, I’m tried. I pick up a book and in less than 10 minutes I’m out. Homer’s “Odyssey” is on the nightstand now. I plan to finish it by 2088.”

For me, the other troublesome questions are: “Who is your favorite author?” and “What is your favorite book?”

Most people can answer these questions. I cannot.

I don’t have a favorite color, favorite food or favorite movie, and I certainly don’t have a favorite author or book. The world contains so many varieties of great consumables that I just keep consuming and move on.

Memory also is a problem. I can’t remember which book I liked best. And even if I could, I can’t remember enough about a book to fully understand why I liked it.

I read Moby Dick in college and liked it very much – or so I recall. Yes, I can relate the general story, but I cannot recount specific structure or passages or style or the little stories that fell in between the big one.

When I read Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom” and Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The War of the End of the World,” I was convinced these monumental works could not have been written without the help of God or muse. Today, it would be impossible for me to go into detail.

Tolstoy_normalMy old colleague mentioned Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” as one of his favorite novels. I think I first heard about this book in a joke by Woody Allen, who said:

“I took one of those speed reading courses and read ‘War and Peace’ in one night. It was about Russia.”

After the joke, I decided to read the book – in considerably more time than one night. My recollection today is that I liked the war parts much better than the peace parts. But overall, for my taste, the book read too much like a soap opera (although I’m sure it was much better in Russian)

One doubts oneself when an opinion goes against the consensus of experts, and they consider “War and Peace” supreme. So I was relieved to learn Tolstoy didn’t think much of it.

This was documented in a journal kept by the founder of the college where I work. This founder, a humanist and early advocate of reformed Judaism, made a pilgrimage to Russian to meet Tolstoy, whom he greatly admired. At the time, Tolstoy was a messianic, cult figure trying to establish a new world order. He resided with his followers and acolytes on something resembling a hippie commune.

Tolstoy received the Jewish intellectual and asked if he had read his work. Of course, said the visitor, who mentioned “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.”

“No,” said Tolstoy. “Not that crap. I mean my serious work.”

The final difficult question in the standard interview with serious writers is:

“What books are you embarrassed NOT to have read?”

The serious writers save face and stay humble by mentioning one or two or sometimes a single author. I fear I would go on forever.

This is why I prefer the interviewer come to my home. When he asks that final question, I would just point to my monstrous nightstand and we’d be done with it.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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Biker/Writer Shares Experiences With Fracking

14 Apr
Author Seamus McGraw

Author Seamus McGraw

I recently attended one of those events where an author discusses his or her work in an intimate setting. From the outset, it was clear this would be interesting. After all, how many writers show up in leather pants, leather jacket, a Triumph T-shirt, shaved head, goatee and with a bike out front?

Upon entering the room, he placed a can of Drum tobacco and a pack of Zig-Zag papers on the table in front of him. He didn’t smoke during the talk, but he did roll. His best points were made while gesturing with the unlit fag.

After 45-minutes, he excused himself to go outside and feed his habit.

Lunch was served, but he said his lunch would be coffee. Do you have any?

He said he was a liberal but that 90 percent of liberals are idiots.

In the middle of the talk, he invited us – and anybody, for that matter – to a huge barbeque he holds every year.

Seamus McGraw-book coverThe man’s name is Seamus McGraw.

I’m embarrassed to say I did not read his book, but I will.

It’s about fracking.

Fracking is the common term for hydraulic fracturing, which is used to extract oil and gas from shale. It does so through a horizontal drilling process that pumps large amounts of water and chemicals, under extreme pressure, into the shale. The shale shatters and the gas and oil are released.

Fracking has put a glut of natural gas on the market and kept prices low.  It has caused coal-fired power plants to shift to the cleaner, cheaper natural gas. Most unexpectedly and perhaps most important, it will help the United States become energy independent in the coming decade.

It also may poison life forms that dwell near the drilling sites, or maybe even beyond them.

When Seamus is asked, “Are you for or against fracking?” he answers, “Yes.”

His book is, “The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone.” Those who read it said they didn’t see evidence of any leather-clad biker in it. Maybe the book is where he goes to hide.

Seamus failed at college, early careers and several marriages. He stumbled into journalism and writing, became successful, and then looked for a way to stumble out of it.

Around that time someone knocked on the door of his home in northeastern Pennsylvanian and offered him money for the fuel underneath it. He signed the papers and decided, “OK, one more book.”

What resulted got him attention, so now there is another book coming. It is on conversations about climate change — how we talk about it. Seamus believes that in politics and life we are divisive because we self-polarize. He said we are too blind or to stubborn to learn that under the surface we often believe the same things. His goal is to get to the point where we recognize this, and then move on to fixing our problems. Top on his list would be a national energy policy.

Seamus, soon to be 55, is a supreme raconteur. He seems incredibly knowledgeable on almost every subject. And, of course, his presentation is unique.

After his talk, I wished I could have seen him ride out of there. Unfortunately, I missed that. I guess I’ll have to wait until his next book.

Lanny Morgnanesi

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