What are you reading?

Since this post is being written on the Fourth of July, your friendly bartender wishes you all lots of sunshine, lots of moonshine (if you’re imbibing deep in the Ozarks) and lots of good-natured monkeyshines all through your day. Cheers!

And now the post…

If there’s one thing I enjoy seeing on the bar it’s a book that is lying face down next to a customer. It’s not only a great conversation starter as that book represents a topic the customer is familiar with, but that book (if you’ll excuse the pun) can speak volumes. If it’s a trade book it speaks of one’s career path, if it’s a bio it speaks of one’s heroes, if it’s a political book it speaks of one’s leanings, and if it happens to be a classic… a stalwart from the world of literature… well, clearly it speaks of a guy who doesn’t light farts.

But either way and any way I’ve never had a customer turn over his book where a stimulating conversation did not ensue. And sometimes (but very rarely) I not only get to learn from that book but to teach it… like I did in this conversation of three weeks ago.

“Do you mind if I ask what you’re reading?” I asked, of the man in his early twenties sipping on a single malt. It was Balvenie, as I recall, with a water back.

“Not at all,” he replied with pride, then he turned over his book which was  “Slaughterhouse-Five”. Now I’m already impressed on two levels with this guy, first because of his drink selection (when I was his age I drank Iron City beer in my hometown of Pittsburgh and the only malt that I knew was served by a soda jerk) and second because of his wonderful choice of authors. I love Kurt Vonnegut, been a fan of the man for years, and was actually saddened by his passing in 2007. There was no voice like his.

“Have you read him before?” I continued.

“No, this is my first,” he said, and by the looks of where the book marker was (I’m guessing around page thirty) this kid truly was a virgin in all things Vonnegut. Which of course then got me to launch into all things Vonnegut.  And by the time I had finished touting most of his works… especially “Breakfast of Champions”, one of the funniest, most bizarre satires ever written… I’d not only assured Balvenie that he had made a wise book selection but I had qualified (I think) for a stake in all future Vonnegut sales.

But what made this exchange even more poignant and why I cite it here as my prime book conversation, is because on the subject of Kurt Vonnegut I hit the jackpot. I had a personal story to add about the author.

In a bar where I used to work where I did the day shift, Kurt Vonnegut was a regular lunch customer and always came in alone with a book and a scowl. The man never said hello, he just passed with his eyes dead ahead to his booth and his soup. And what I perceived after almost a year of this to be aloofness and just plain coldness, one day proved to be shyness and profound humility. On the day of which I speak  he had come in with Allen Ginsberg, the late and famous beat poet, and as they passed the bar Mr. Vonnegut stopped and gave me a first-time smile, then he pointed to Mr. Ginsberg and said, “Today we have a celebrity in our midst.”

Damn, I thought… and then damn I couldn’t resist…

“Mr. Vonnegut,” I replied, “every day that you’re here we have a celebrity.” The man blushed and dropped his head, he grabbed Mr. Ginsberg’s arm and guided him to his table. And from that day forward, whenever the great Kurt Vonnegut would walk by the bar with his book and his scowl, he’d always break that scowl and give me a smile. Shyness… humility… and just as in his writing… plain old decency!

Yes, a book in a bar can lead many places which your friendly bartender has illustrated, and which also gets gets your friendly bartender to thinking. He’s thinking, what are you reading, dear reader, as we speak?  What is taking up your valuable time of  perusal? Is it “summer reading” or what they call a “beach read”? Is it a thriller, a bio, or maybe a comedy? If you decide to leave a comment this week (and of course I hope that you do) how about throwing your book onto my bar. Tell us what you happen to be reading at present and if it doesn’t start a conversation it can at least give us a title to add to our lists. Whaddaya’ think?

And as for me and what I’m reading? In addition to “The Most of P.G. Wodehouse” which I dip into once a month just to smile and experience pure genius in turning a phrase, I’ve just started “The Young Wan” by the wonderful Irish comedian and writer, Brendan O’ Carroll. He also wrote “The Mammy”… the story of Agnes Browne which was made into a movie starring Angelica Huston. The guy can put a tear in my eye faster than peeled onions.

I’m also reading The Steeler’s Digest which I only mention so you don’t think I’ve gone soft.

Until next week-end… over and out from Bar-land and Happy Fourth!

38 Responses to “What are you reading?”

  1. 1 Fargo July 4, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I just finished Liberation by Brian Francis Slattery. Not as gripping as Spaceman Blues, but still enjoyable. In the meantime I’ve got a collection of short stories on the subject of apocalypses that I haven’t started yet, but we’ll see.

  2. 2 JaJa July 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    In the middle of The Maytrees bt Annie Dillard. Loved, loved your post!

  3. 3 scribbler50 July 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks, Fargo and JaJa, we’re off and running already with a list of authors. I’ve not read either of your choices yet but maybe someone else has and will comment. Thank you for checking in.

  4. 4 MikeG July 4, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Currently, it’s a “beach read” by Tim Dorsey, _Florida Roadkill_. Loads of fun to read with a light buzz here in the bizarre state of Florida.

    And, wow. _Slaughterhouse Five_ as an introduction to Vonnegut… Talk about jumping in the deep end.

    So it goes.

  5. 5 Toaster July 4, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I’ve got a stack of papers on macrophages to read. I’ve gotten to where I feel guilty reading print fiction when I know I should be reading scientific literature, so I’ve been primarily reading comic books. Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Chris Ryall/Ashley Wood (Zombies vs. Robots), Ben Templesmith (Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse). Not exactly noble fare, but it serves as sufficient distraction.

  6. 6 Fargo July 4, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    @Toaster – Have you ever read Scud: The Disposable Assassin? If not, I highly recommend it. Cassanova, written by Matt Fraction, is also good. At least it was, I haven’t actually been able to keep up with any comics for some time.

  7. 7 MikeG July 4, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    On the comic book topic, I am enjoying the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. Good stuff, though I am late to the party.

  8. 8 Anonymoustache July 5, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Great story, Scrib50. And may I say, I am envious. I wish I’d gotten the chance to meet and greet Kurt Vonnegut. He was from Indianapolis y’know—we have a Peyton Manning Childrens Hospital here, but don’t have a Vonnegut Library, or a Vonnegut anything for that matter…I guess the Vonneguts must not have ‘contributed’ enough to this town….sad statement of our times.
    Anyway, your post got me thinking and I realized that I hadn’t read a book in months. The last one was “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, back in December of last year!
    I do re-read Wodehouse frequently also—a necessary thing, like a tune-up or oil change for your language engine after driving through the grime and muck of everyday reading, right? I think the last one I read on that front was a collection of stories from the Angler’s Rest, the favorite of mine being Mulliner’s introduction to Buck-u-uppo.
    But most of my non-work reading ends up either being on blogs or the series of Dr.Seuss, Jack&Annie, Magic School Bus etc—though since my daughter is almost an independent reader now I fear that my exposure to the latter class of literature will soon decline. Sadly.

  9. 9 physiobabe July 5, 2009 at 9:57 am

    In the midst of re-reading Gay Talese. Great post, Scrib.

  10. 10 jc July 5, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I’m reading Gender Knot by Allan Johnson for Zuska’s book club. Hope you all had a lovely holiday!

  11. 11 scribbler50 July 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for all the contributions so far, we’re putting an interesting list together. Quite a few I’ve never heard of and look forward to checking out. Keep ’em comin’.

    Toaster: Since you’re into comic books I thought I’d pass this along. On Friday night at a restaurant called Elaine’s I had a nice conversation at the bar with the great comic book artist, John Cassaday. I’ve shot the breeze with him many times before and the guy couldn’t be nicer or more down to earth. (In spite of all his unearthly creations!)

    Anonymoustache: I know the Mulliner story well and could’ve used some buck-u-uppo myself this morning! Thanks for your comment, friend.

  12. 12 Toaster July 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Sweet, some new comic books recommendations! I hadn’t been aware of SCUD or Cassanova, or even John Cassaday*, but I’ll have to check them out. Sandman by Neil Gaiman is indeed an incredible work of literature, and although I’ve been slowly collecting them, I have higher priority to Fantagraphic’s boxed set of the Hernandez Bros. “Love and Rockets” series, more Hellboy, and finally getting around to reading the Dark Phoenix Saga.

    If anyone wants deep, deep comics, check out Art Spiegelman’s “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale”.

    *That whistling sound you all just heard was my nerd cred flying out the window.

  13. 13 Katherine July 5, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    In the middle of not one but two Raymond E Feist books, both books are not what I’d call a starting point to his works. I’m also nearing the end of Self-made Man by Norah Vincent, which has been on hold for a little bit as I feel the need to break up my non-fiction with fiction. I’m glad you asked Scrib50.

    Seconding that Neil Gaiman is awesome.

  14. 14 Catharine July 6, 2009 at 4:33 am

    I’ve recently been reading some of Binnie Kirshenbaum’s work (three in a row). The novel A Disturbance in One Place comes about as close to perfect as anything I’ve seen in a long time. Also loved Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I share your enthusiasm for both Vonnegut and P.G. Wodehouse.

  15. 15 Donna B. July 6, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I’m going to put myself in time-out because I’ve never read Vonnegut.

  16. 16 d-a-p July 6, 2009 at 11:10 am

    what a great story…its really cool when you get a chance to actually meet one of your heroes…i usually read mystery stories just to pass the time…but believe it or not i just finished “the shack”and found it really worthwhile…
    keep up the good work…these blogs are some of my favorite reading times…

  17. 17 scribbler50 July 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Katherine: You’re glad I asked and and I’m glad you stopped by, thanks for your contribution. If you’re reading two R. E. Feist books at once, the man MUST be good. I’ll look into him.

    Catharine: Thanks also for your suggestions (“close to perfect” says a lot) and it’s nice to know there are still some Wodehouse fans out there. Cheers! Or, “What ho!”

    d-a-p: Glad you’re still having fun over here. I’ll check out The Shack.

  18. 18 bluefoot July 6, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Since life has been slamming me hard lately, I have turned to my favorite PG Wodehouse stories to make me laugh out loud. (“Right Ho, Jeeves is the pinnacle as far as I’m concerned.)
    I’ve just finished “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein, which I enjoyed immensely even though it’s not my usual fare.

  19. 19 scribbler50 July 6, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks, Bluefoot… always happy to welcome another reader from the shire of Wodehouse. But since you mention Jeeves, a funny thing happened to me which was not so funny at all regarding that collection. And that’s the TV series done years ago. A customer talked me into getting the set which is available on NetFlix and I’m now sorry that I did. That’s because I had a completely different image in my head of Jeeves and Bertie (a fabulous image of old world starched dignity supporting this Woosterian blithe ineptitude) which came nowhere near to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The actors did a fine enough job all right but Fry seemed far too young and Laurie wasn’t the Jeeves at all I’d imagined. Now when I read those stories again I can’t get those actors out of my head. Not the worst thing that will happen in my life but damn I’m sorry I saw them. Oh well, time will have to pass I guess so I can recreate my guys because those are among my favorites of the whole Wodehouse shebang.

  20. 20 d-a-p July 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    …just the opposite happened to me…
    i never read the wodehouse books…
    but i watched the t.v.series and loved it…
    to me those two were “jeeves” and “bertie”…
    now i have to read the books..but i’m afraid my visual image will be those two actors…both very good by the way..

  21. 21 Comrade PhysioProf July 7, 2009 at 8:27 am

    if it happens to be a classic… a stalwart from the world of literature… well, it clearly speaks of a guy who doesn’t light farts.

    This is definitively untrue.

    I just finished reading Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, by Leonard Zeskind. Scary shit.

  22. 22 scribbler50 July 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Which begs the question, Comrade Physioprof, do you use matches, a Bic lighter, or a welder’s torch?

  23. 23 Janet July 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Great post! A lot of nice moments here. As someone who has always loved to take a book to a bar, it is nice to know that the bartender appreciates this too. And, of course, wodehouse is just the perfect summer read!

  24. 24 Jennifer July 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Another great post…

    I’m switching back and forth between 3 books right now:

    Sedaris, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”
    Jung, “Swampland of the Soul”
    O’Connell, “The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa”

    After I finish these, I plan on a cheesy, trashy, tell-all biography. I love those in the summer.

  25. 25 scribbler50 July 7, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Jennifer: You’ve got quite an impressive variety going on there… top-notch humor, the meaning of life and the mysterious wonders of nature. After all of that you WILL need a cheesy, trashy tell-all to escape to. That said, (and if I type really, really fast) I’ll try and have my autobiography ready for your consumption by August 1st. Thanks for adding to our list!

    Janet: You and your book are welcome anytime. As I said, book carriers are often my most interesting patrons. Thanks for your kind words.

  26. 26 Jennifer July 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Correction- the swampland book is by Hollis… a Jungian. The correct answer was stuck in my swampland of a mind. 🙂

    I’ll be awaiting your autobio. The clock is ticking.

  27. 27 scicurious July 7, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Always reading 2-4 books at once am I:

    Mooney and Kirshenbaum: Unscientific America
    Lee Kirkpatrick: Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion
    Fawn Brodie: Thomas Jefferson: an Intimate History
    And I just finished Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex: the Unconventional Wisdom of Economics.

    Wow. I never read anything fun…

    Definitely recommend Maus, very powerful stuff. Also I recommend Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.

  28. 28 scribbler50 July 8, 2009 at 12:17 am

    “Wow” indeed, Sci, I’m not only impressed I’m intimidated! Maybe a little “fun” reading IS in order. Have you ever heard of, “I love you, Beth Cooper”, by Larry Doyle? It’s about to come out as a movie but the book was a great ride. Definite “fun” reading… I loved it.
    Thanks for adding to the list.

  29. 29 bluefoot July 8, 2009 at 10:43 am

    hey scrib –

    I was somewhat disappointed in the BBC productions of the Jeeves books, but not to the extent that you were. I wasn’t a fan of Stephen Fry’s portrayal of Jeeves. Though to be fair, there’s no amount of acting that could equal Wodehouse’s writing. I once saw an interview with Stephen Fry discussing that – i.e. how do you give the impression of Jeeves shimmering into existence, bearing a tray of the vital oolong, or even better, one of his pick-me-ups? (And where the heck can I get a recipe for one of those??) I definitely warmed to Hugh Laurie as Bertie, but the pictures in my head of Bertie and Jeeves are still my own.
    And I want to have a drink at the Drones Club…though perhaps our favorite bartender wouldn’t appreciate people bunging about bread. 🙂

  30. 30 scribbler50 July 8, 2009 at 11:58 am

    The “bunging about bread” reference eludes me, Bluefoot, could you fill me in? (And yes, to be able visit the real Drones Club would be off-the-charts phenomenal.) And you’re also right about Laurie and Fry, it’s just as you stated… no amount of acting could equal Wodehouse’s writing. It’s almost an unfair proposition. You sound like a real expert on this stuff, thank you so much for sharing your detailed thoughts.
    PS: I’m working on a recipe for a “pick-me-up”, I’ll let you know if it rises to Jeeves-ian heights.

  31. 31 Donna B. July 9, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Sci reading about sex? So unexpected!

    I’m still reading The Horse, The Wheel, and Language. It’s slow going because I’m staying at my Dad’s house which means I have less time for the internet and other reading.

    Definitely going to check out some of the books mentioned above.

  32. 32 the ed man cometh July 10, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Dear sir,

    What a sublimely satisfying anecdote. My only regret is that I’d not pried it out of you before!

  33. 33 scribbler50 July 10, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    ed man: About time you left a comment around here, ya’ bum! Oh… and welcome.

  34. 34 Erin July 19, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I just found your blog and am enjoying it. I didn’t know bartenders were interested in my reading material!

    I have a vastly different definition of summer reading than most. Summer is the only time I have the brainpower to read good literature and interesting non-fiction works for fun. In that vein, I just finished Nabokov’s Lolita and am now reading a history of colonial journalism (Infamous Scribblers by Eric Burns).

  35. 35 scribbler50 July 19, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Erin: Thanks for checking in, I’m glad you found my bar (I mean blog). Welcome aboard. Interesting that you’re reading a book with the word “Scribblers” in it. Your friendly bartender goes by “Scribbler50”.

    Now get busy and catch up on my past postings!!!

  36. 36 bluefoot July 20, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Sorry for taking so long to get back to you; I’ve been travelling. Re “bunging about bread” at the Drones: a couple of times in the Jeeves books, Bertie mentions throwing bread (or rolls). He says that it is common to throw bread at someone to get their attention.

    I am hardly an expert (alas, I have read only a fraction of the Wodehouse canon) – I can only attribute the skill of the Master as the reason my brain can recall bread throwing….

    I can’t wait to hear about the results of your “pick-me-up” experimenting!

  37. 37 scribbler50 July 20, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Bluefoot: Thanks for clearing up that bread bunging thing. I’ll have to try it the next time I want someone’s attention.

  38. 38 scicurious July 31, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I’ve decided it’s time for fun reading! Off to read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”!!!

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