Night Reading

Well-Read Bed

By Gretchen Giles

PEOPLE DON’T READ anymore, television has taken over our minds with a mush-creating mediocrity that has wrecked the culture, ruined our children–worse, ruined our dinners!–and has flung the humble written word right out the door with all of the ceremony accorded cabbage water and kitty litter.

Bah, bosh, humbug.

Because, oh naysayers, it appears that people are reading, they’re just doing it where no one else can see: in bed. Snuggled down, with tea or wine, alone or accompanied, most of us are going to bed with books. And unless the majority of our below-listed respondents are lying–and we don’t mean vertically–we’re all going to bed with good books.

Do most of these readers know who wrote these terrific works? Of course not–Rodney Dangerfield don’t know nuthin’ about respect compared to what writers get refused. Are the names of these provoking pieces of literature cherished by these readers? Get real. Therefore, take along a big ol’ grain of salt and head off with us to the dog-eared private world of the reading community.

“You caught me at absolutely the best possible time,” laughs Sonoma State University special programs director Bruce Berkowitz. “I’ve just finished a three-book run of real books.” Berkowitz takes the advice of any piece recommended by NPR personality Terry Gross, recently finishing Rivethead, a non-fiction work about the lives of steelworkers on the assembly line. He has also been breaking the spine on that examination of the effects of psychedelic drugs on society, Storming Heaven, and gnashed his way through the latest Patrick O’Brien seafarin’ novel. Nope, he can’t remember it’s title. But he’s certain that it was darn good.

What do the Independent’s writers read in bed?

Spreckels Performing Arts Center director Michael Grice spends most of his nights reading plays, so any diversion from work has to be fueled by Grice’s own unique adjective: “detectivy.” He’s been lost in the shut-up-and-talk world of neo-pulpist James Lee Burke, journalist Carl Hiaasen’s Skintight, and this one terrific book about how the Irish monks saved Western civilization. “I loved that book,” gushes an Independent editor about the latter. But can he muster up a memory of the title?

People, people.

Up in Healdsburg, Raven Theater co-owner Don Hyde offers a trio of alluring books, among them one of the early hard-boiled detective novels of the 1920s, The Adventures of Race Williams by Carrol John Daly. To counterbalance the molls and palls of that, Hyde is also reading short-fiction mistress Gina Berriault’s latest collection, Women in Their Beds, and Norman Mailer’s Oswald. We diss Mailer for a few minutes (this reporter will never forgive Mailer for his nosy speculation in his fictive bio of Marilyn Monroe of how she must have smelled), but Hyde has to admit he likes Oswald. “It’s pretty engrossing. The last couple of times that I tried [Mailer], I couldn’t get through him, but this is different.”

SSU lecturer Sue Carrell will at first admit only to snuggling down with School Girls, Peggy Orenstein’s study of how American girls learn (or don’t learn) in traditional classrooms, tending to be dissuaded by subtle instructional pressure from pursuing careers in science and mathematics. Under mild questioning, Carrell breaks down and offers up the real dirt: The Rainmaker by “that formula lawyer John Grisham,” she admits with a laugh. Carrell lost a few brain cells to that tome on the plane home from the recent Democratic Convention. “That was a party,” she chuckles of the convention.

Blues singer Sarah Baker and English professor J. J. Wilson are (separately) reading The Soloist by Mark Salzman. “It’s a critical thinking exercise,” declares Wilson. “It’s very fascinating, about a musician,” says Baker, who is also lugging The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf off to bed when she’s not entertaining herself lightly with The Musical Experience of the Composer, the Listener, and the Performer by composer Roger Sessions.

Wilson divides her nighttime between the Salzman novel and The 16 Pleasures by Robert Hellenga. “It’s advertised as erotica,” she says of this novel about a conservator working to restore books damaged by a flood, “but the most sensual parts of the book are the descriptions of rebinding.”

Guerneville mail artist Harley reads a perfect quatrain of the gorgeous and trashy before bed, including Nelson Mandela’s inauguration address (“It’s very, very beautiful and incredibly generous, considering that he’s someone who’s spent most of his life in jail”), Pierre DeLattre’s Tales of a Dalai Lama, NPR commentator Bailey White’s comic Sleeping at the Starlight Hotel, and the non-fiction The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. “It gives you an overview of what happened to Nicholas and Alexandria,” Harley says of Final Chapter, “including the finding of their bones. And, surprisingly, one of the Romanov princes now lives in Pt. Reyes,” he remarks, noting that this Romanov–an artist–is easily identified in recent family photos: he’s the only one wearing Birkenstocks. “But he’s a wretched painter,” Harley concludes.

Suzanne da Rosa, the Sonoma-based promoter who helps Readers’ Books stage the annual Poetry Festival, was moving when she came across her long-ago beloved copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. Surprised at how much she had forgotten of the plot since her first read, da Rosa is firmly lost once again in the magic and the realism. Copperfield’s Books’ Tom Montan is immersed in Where Wizards Stay up Late, the “down-dirty inside scoop” on the Internet, and Cindi Newman of North Light Books has gone south, recommending Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells, about a Louisiana family, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, a true murder mystery in the tradition of In Cold Blood, set in Georgia.

But our favorite is musician Jeff Martin, bassist with Joanne Rand and the Little Big Band. Martin admits to a predilection for Buddhist texts and Mix magazine, asserting however, that “I always read the Independent when I want to go to sleep.”

From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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