14 October 2016

Reading Here, There, and Everywhere

By Art Taylor

Earlier this week, Cynthia Kuhn wrote a fun post at the Henery Press blog: "Professor X, In the Conservatory, With a Book," which looked at many different ways to read, places and times to read, and even types of books to read, or maybe the better word there would be editions or conditions, since she talked about the differences between brand new books versus used ones. I was struck particularly by Cynthia's observation that "many people are fond of reading in bed, snuggled under a cozy blanket with a book to send you gently off to dreamland. (Or, if you’re like me—routinely jarred awake when the book falls onto your face—not so gently.)"

I read each night before going to bed—and yes, more than once, I've had the book fall on my face, waking me up. (And then, instead of putting the book down like a sensible person might do, I just shuffle myself up a little higher against the pillow and settle in for a few more pages...until it happens again.)

I often find myself wishing I had more time to read—and while that was one of my first reactions to Cynthia's post, my second thought was sharper and maybe more in tune with what she was saying: I am always reading. Not only is it the last thing I do at night, it's also the first thing I do in the morning—scanning the top news stories from Washington Post on my iPhone there in the darkness, and then later reading the paper itself, and sometimes sneaking in a few pages of whatever else I'm reading in between parts of the morning routine. One of my New Year's Resolutions this year has been a chapter a day of War & Peace, as I've mentioned before, and I'll sometimes knock that out first thing, then throughout the day, it's reading at every turn—though not always traditional kinds of reading, I guess: emails,  Facebook status updates, stories linked to those FB updates, blog posts here and there; then the stories and essays and books I'm reading as part of lesson prep for class, and the student essays and exercises that I'm grading, of course; and somewhere in there, some reading for myself, dabbling in any number of stories and essays and books I have in various corners of my life.

I read in in bed, at the breakfast table or standing in the kitchen, in my office, and (yes) in the bathroom. I have read in the spare moments while waiting to meet someone or waiting at other appointments (haircut recently, for example). I've even read while waiting at stoplights—pulling out my iPhone and opening the Kindle app to sneak in a few pages; we're in Northern Virginia, after all, and that's a lot of time that could be, should be, used well! (No reading while the car is actually in motion, of course, at least not while I'm behind the wheel—though you won't catch me in the passenger seat or on public transportation without a book nearby.)

While I could go back through that list and those moments above and qualify that much of it isn't what I want to read, reading solely for pleasure—and isn't that at the core of the wish for "more time to read"?—I realized looking around today that I've actually surrounded myself with reading that's not assigned and not part of daily chores and routines (not part of staying plugged into email and the web), reading that is, in fact, just for me.

Maybe it's the distracted nature of our lives these days, but I'm usually juggling several books at one time—even not counting those I'm pacing out on my syllabi for class. I've got bookmarks in several titles I'm working through, reading a bit at a time depending on what calls to me most at a given moment, and I often read aloud to my wife Tara in the evenings, so we're frequently in the middle of a story from one anthology or another—and all these books stay within easy reach. 

For example, here's what you'll find on my nightstand right now (and a hat tip to Patricia Abbott, whose semi-regular feature on this also inspired me here):
  • Ian McEwan's Nutshell
  • Sarah L. Kaufman's The Art of Grace
  • Tolstoy's War and Peace—both a big hardcover copy of the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation and then the Maude translation on my Kindle
  • The Kindle itself—and tops on recently accessed titles, both War & Peace and Anna Katherine Green's The Golden Slipper (I taught one of the Violet Strange stories in class and I'm now reading/rereading others for fun)
  • Several single-author short story collections, including Ann Beattie's The New Yorker Stories, Ellen Gilchrist's Acts of Gods, and B.K. Stevens' Her Infinite Variety (hi, Bonnie!) 
  • Several anthologies, including The Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, In Sunlight or In Shadow, and The Folio Book of Ghost Stories 
  • The new Best American Mystery Stories anthology and the November issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, since I have stories in each myself and want to read the stories by the other contributors (hi, Rob Lopresti!)
  • Another EQMM, from December 2015, that I've already read and should put away somewhere
  • Sophie Hannah's Closed Casket that Tara passed my way with some enthusiasm, even though I still haven't read the first of Hannah's mysteries with Christie's Hercule Poirot (I'm behind)
  • Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files, which I pulled out because I was considering teaching it and need to revisit again anyway, even though I didn't add it to the syllabus

And as you can see, the list quickly gets qualified and commented on and... and why don't I have more time to read?

Just to round out the listing of books close at hand, here are the ones physically on my desk from my office on campus—not counting the ones I'm reading for class:
  • The first volume of the new seven-volume Collected Millar: The Master at Her Zenith, and those first pages of Beast In View really draw you right in, don't they? 
  • 100 Dastardly Little Detective Stories, which a friend dropped off to me and which I've already dived into
  • The July 2016 and September/October 2016 issues of EQMM (hello sometimes-SleuthSayer David Dean in each of those!)
  • The July/August 2016 issue of AHMM (hello to SleuthSayers Terence Faherty, Eve Fisher, Janice Law, and R.T. Lawton!)
  • Karen Huston Karydes' Hard-Boiled Anxiety: The Freudian Desires of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald and Their Detectives, which I've read and still need to review
  • The Describer's Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations... which reminds me, I'm supposed to be writing too in the middle of all this reading. (Where's the time for that, huh?)

What are you reading? And when, where, how do you read?

Top of my reading list next (I promise!): any comment you leave here. :-)


  1. When my late husband, Elmer, and I first opened our bookstore, Mysteries & More in Austin TX in 1990 we felt like we'd died and gone to heaven. Books and books and more books. It took about six months or a little less when we realized we'd never live long enough to read all the books we wanted to. Much less all the ones in the store. We had probably 90% mystery, and we put everything under the mystery umbrella. Thrillers, hardboiled, soft boiled, PI, spy, cozy, noir. We had 75 % used and 25% new. Mainly because we bought stock from everywhere. What a delight to reread Agatha, Chandler,Hammett, McDonald, Himes, MacDonald, Fleming, LeCarre Ludlum. Then to try to keep up with new and current writers. Local TX writers. So many books, so little time. When we closed the store in 1999 we bought an RV and began traveling all over the USA mostly
    west, our favorite thing to do every evening was to read, And since Elmer's death in 2005 I don't often get lonely because I have books to read. I highly recommend reading, Elmer always said, "If you learn to read you can learn about anything else."

  2. Art, I'm exhausted just seeing all the things that you have in progress ;) . I relate to a lot of what you say, including -- especially -- the book falling on your face. And our house, bedroom, office, and other rooms has that spread of half-read books, always a book within arm's length. Fun piece. Now get some rest...at least until the book hits you in the head.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Jan and Paul.

    Appreciate you sharing that great story about Elmer and your bookstore, Jan—and Elmer sounds like a fine and wise fellow, sound like y'all were lucky to have such adventures together.

    And Paul: Yep, it's a pleasure to be surrounded by books--but yes, always need to watch for what might be falling your way!

  4. Just finished THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE. I read in bed, in the late afternoon and while eating lunch!

  5. Thanks, Patti! That's another book on my to-read list--even if not physically on my nightstand!

  6. You must not have the late-night TV habit that grabbed my husband & me! I was a huge fan of Craig Ferguson, then James Corden, but have now switched over to Seth Meyers. Craig has a story in the new anthology edited by Lawrence Block which I think some of the Sleuth Sayers contributed to.

  7. I used to read on my Kindle at night before bed. I still intend to most nights, but lately, as soon as I shut off the lights and pick up the Kindle, I'm suddenly exhausted.

    I can't read in the car--motion sickness-but I do listen to books in the car, so that helps me whittle down my TBR list.

    Otherwise, I read at random times. I find I read a lot less fiction lately, spending way too much time on Facebook and blogs like this.

  8. Thanks for mentioning Her Infinite Variety, Art--hope you're enjoying it. You must have a big nightstand! I've got three small stacks of books on our bedroom windowsill, including one stack of books I'm previewing as possible gifts for grandchildren, checking to make sure the reading levels are right and the books don't contain anything that will make my daughter say I'm no longer allowed to buy reading material for her children (I'm pretty straight-laced, too, but she's a lot more cautious with her kids than I was with her). My husband and I have our heavy-duty gift-giving season coming up--not only Hanukkah but his birthday this month, mine in December--and several weeks ago we vowed not to buy each other any non-fiction books this year, because we both have so many piled up that we want to read but haven't yet gotten to. The vow is not doing well. So far, I've bought him three non-fiction books that I knew he absolutely had to have, and I was just on Amazon and spotted one I may ask him to buy for me. Maybe next year.

  9. Right now, by my reading chair, is
    Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend" and its sequel, "The Story of a New Name";
    AHMM, November 2016 - up next!
    Vicki Mackenzie - "The Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman's Quest for Enlightenment"
    Stephen King's "On Writing"
    Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence" (Winter's coming)
    Edmund Lenihan's "Meeting The Other Crowd: the Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland"

    and I just finished "Louisa" the new biography of Mrs. John Quincy Adams by Louisa Thomas (and, I might add, of perhaps the world's worst marriage.)

  10. Hi, Barb, Bonnie, Elizabeth and Eve —
    Thanks for the comments! I was out much of the afternoon and early evening; just catching up now.

    Barb: I know what you mean. I can usually read a few pages at night, but many times I'm too tired to do more than that. Even when reading aloud to Tara, not only does she sometimes fall asleep, but often I go on autopilot before I realize that I'm not even following the words I'm saying!

    Elizabeth: No SleuthSayers in the Block anthology (unless some of those authors have been SleuthSayers in the past), but plenty of good names. And no, we don't watch late-night TV--barely have the TV on at all these days, except news (for better or worse).

    Bonnie: Good luck with finding books for the grandchildren--and know what you mean about that vow not to buy books...and then buying them anyway. Today, Tara and I were in a couple of used bookstores, and we were like: Don't we have enough to read already? And yet.....

    And Eve: Sounds liks a great list of books there indeed! Winter's coming, yes--stock up! And Provence!

  11. Ha, Art! That is a LONG LIST of in-progresses. Whew is right! Enjoyed this so much and had to laugh at the repositioning after book-smash. That's when we know we are dedicated readers...

    Thanks so much for the nod. And I like your post better. :)

  12. Ha, Cynthia! I felt like my post was pale compared to yours--and yours had that great title.

    I don't admit to being in-progress on all of these; some are just waiting in the wings. But where story collections are concerned, I do indeed browse instead of reading straight through, so it takes a while on those usually!


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