Every so often, usually after she’s watched a few episodes of Hoarders and worries about a future where she’s keeping dead squirrels in the freezer and live ones as pets in our apartment, my wife starts cleaning out her book collection. She’ll get rid of novels and cookbooks, old textbooks, memoirs and coffee table books. Some we donate, others we just leave in our apartment lobby for people to take. Occasionally I think about following this path and ridding myself of some of my books, but then I stop and think: What if I want to read that book again? Or read it for a 12th time?
The books lining our shelves aren’t just for decoration, nor are the ones in the 10 boxes back in my parents’ basement. I need them, I tell Louise. I go back to read certain chapters or every chapter. I don’t keep — hoard — every book. On our trips to South Africa I always bring about a dozen books for my in-laws, as they’re so much more expensive to buy there and everyone needs some murder mysteries or spy novels in their life. But the ones I keep…yeah, those come down from the shelf on a fairly regular basis. But those books fall into separate categories:
REFERENCE BOOKS THAT AREN’T BORING REFERENCE BOOKS
If there’s a book about the Lakers, I probably have it. There are classics like Winnin’ Times by Scott Ostler and Steve Springer and The Show, an oral history, by Roland Lazenby. But there are also ones by Mark Heisler, Charley Rosen, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, and more. If A.C. Green ever writes a book about remaining chaste in the decadent NBA, I’ll probably buy that too and then compare it to the sexual conquests detailed in Magic Johnson’s autobiography. I usually break these out when I have a question about Lakers history or I’m debating with some rube on a Lakers board. What exactly did Jerry Buss say when he introduced Pat Riley as head coach during the 1982 season? Did anyone want to take Sidney Moncrief over Magic Johnson in the draft? I dig through the pages and find the information and satisfy myself or a mistaken poster.
Charlie Pierce is one of my favorite writers and his collection of his sports stories, Sports Guy, is a great book. Remember the famous GQ piece about Tiger Woods where Tiger told dirty jokes, the story that led to him becoming a robot who never says anything interesting? That’s in it, among others. But Pierce also writes about Warroad hockey, Shaq and Ben Johnson. I pick it up when I want to read Pierce’s unique voice. David Remnick is now known as probably the best magazine editor in the country, but he was — and remains — one of the great writers as well. His book is called Reporting: Writings from The New Yorker. If you see it, buy it.
Several New Yorker collections have a home in the Fury household, including Life Stories: Profiles from The New Yorker, which includes famous stories like Lillian Ross’s profile of Hemingway, and Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker (no, not every piece is by Woody Allen).
Among the others: Sports Illustrated’s collection of the magazine’s best writing and another one that focuses just on football.
With all of these books I probably won’t read them straight through after the first time. Instead I pick them up, open up to a random page and disappear into the work of a master. But more often than not I won’t stop with just one story. A recent relevant example? David Grann’s The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, which includes a remarkable piece on the Aryan Brotherhood, a group in the news again as a possible link in the murders of Texas prosecutors. Grann’s story is haunting and frightening and I dug back into it after watching a recent piece on the Texas case.
For some reason it took me years to read anything by Michael Chabon. I don’t even remember why I avoided his books like Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Finally I took the plunge with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and I know the reason I avoided that one for awhile: The title. What the hell would it be about? But I finally started it and when I was done I regretted it because I simply wanted it to go on and on. I’ve now read most of his novels at least twice and Yiddish three times. His plots have always interested me but what keeps me returning is the writing. Chabon’s sentences are beautiful, smart, joyful and hilarious. I read them and wonder how he did it, where did the similes and metaphors come from, how did he land on that phrase?
Chabon’s latest, released in fall 2012, was Telegraph Avenue. It’s certainly not my favorite Chabon book. The story itself, set in a doomed music store run by a pair of friends whose wives are also in business together, didn’t grab me at all. Not that big of a music guy. But I’m a Chabon guy and that means in a year or two I’ll return to Telegraph Avenue and disappear into his words, if not that world.
BOOK I REREAD WHEN I WANT TO OVERCOME CHILDHOOD NIGHTMARES BUT INSTEAD SPARK ADULT ONES
Very specific category with only one entrant: Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Miniseries terrified me as a kid, the book did the same when I finally read it as a teen. I think it’s one of his best books but certainly his scariest. Awhile back I picked up another copy at the store and read it in my big-city apartment — and felt the same as I did when reading it in a small town just like Salem. Checked the windows for floating vampire children, left a light on for awhile. Failed to conquer the demons. Will give it another attempt in a few years — with the lights on.
HAVE I READ THIS BEFORE, WAIT, YES, I HAVE AND NOW I KNOW THE TWIST
Obviously this doesn’t happen with books in our place now. Instead it’s usually related to a library book. Maybe I read a mystery novel years ago and then pick the same book up in the library, not remembering the author or the plot. The premise sounds intriguing — obviously something deep in my brain remembers it was a good read — and I check it out. In the early chapters characters, settings or even phrases sound a bit familiar. “God, have I read this?” I think, but I don’t completely remember it so I move forward. At some stage it clicks, and I remember that the lawyer grilling his client is actually the one who committed the murder or the Russian spy we thought had died in the Cold War has actually been living in North Carolina all this time and is now a good guy. I remember the twists and finales and have to decide whether or not to continue. If the writing’s good enough I will, but with many books once you know the twist there’s not a lot of reason to finish.
READ THE BOOK, SEE THE MOVIE, GO BACK AND REREAD THE BOOK TO SEE WHAT WAS LEFT OUT OF THE MOVIE
Most recent example was Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher, a typical shoot-em-up action movie based on the book One Shot by Lee Child. I’ve read all the Reacher books and usually finish them in two days, but One Shot was one of the first ones I read a few years ago. Obviously the movie has to leave out certain scenes so when I got back from the theater I scoured the shelves for One Shot and quickly finished it off that week, all the while trying not to imagine the diminutive Tom Cruise in the lead role.
OTHER BOOKS I REREAD OFTEN, WHETHER IT’S HALF OF THE BOOK OR ALL OF IT FOR VARIOUS REASONS
The Sweet Season by Austin Murphy (St. John’s, Gagliardi, etc. Yes); Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (Nonfiction novel? Ridiculous phrase. Tons of problems with the book, which continue to be written about today. Still fascinating, still incredible writing); Sunday Money by Jeff Macgregor (one of my favorite writers, but another book I avoided for awhile. NASCAR? Yes, NASCAR and now one of my favorite books. Like Chabon, MacGregor writes sentences that make me jealous as often as they impress and inspire); Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger (Even as Bissinger slowly goes insane, his classic work stands, as important as ever, as good as ever); The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam (Perhaps the best book ever written about my favorite sport? That’s going to get read again and again); The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille (just a book about a lawyer and a mob boss, but the voice of the narrator is so unique, funny and occasionally heartbreaking it carries the book); Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind (Focuses on the directors of the 1970s, guys like Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg. Amazing tales about the movies and the cocaine — among other drugs — that fueled the men behind them. Incredibly entertaining, whether writing about bad sex or a troubled script).
Of course there is a problem with reading these books over and over. That time could be spent finding new works by new authors or old books by old authors. And that is a concern, because I do want fresh voices and great new books. I want to read those — and probably read them again.