I've managed to get through a few dozen pages of the newest Best American Nonrequired Reading, a book that I make an annual read alongside its older sibling Best American Short Stories. This year, the Eggerian staff has added a new section to kick off the collection. Basically, it's a hodgepodge of items spotted on the Internet, such as a sampling from the hilarious Chuck Norris Facts Website. Yesterday, I found out that Chuck Norris has written a column responding to this website and all of the purported facts. This sounded like a possible fount of entertainment until I heard that it was actually the debut of a regular column that Norris, whose tears can cure cancer, will write at the righter than right conservative site WorldNetDaily. Well, so much for the fun. In the article, Norris tells us that he doesn't so much mind the "facts" but he wants folks to remember that "without him, I don't have any power. But with Him, the Bible tells me, I really can do all things – and so can you." That's how he responds to all of the facts about him. Humor interruptus. Ah well.
Anyway, this year's BANR has been blessed with a great introduction by Matt Groening. I guess it should be pretty obvious after watching The Simpsons all these years that Groening is a heavy reader, but you can tell from this excerpt that he's an addict. Hell, he even mentions "the book blogs":
Even though there’s not time enough in the day to fulfill all my pressing obligations, I am still finding new ways to obsess over books and reading. I decided in 1999 to plow through the great books of the twentieth century, chronologically, and here in mid-2006 I have finished H.G. Wells’s Love and Mr. Lewisham; Jack London’s first collection of short stories, The Son of the Wolf; Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie; L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz; and Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, all published in the year 1900. At this rate I should be finished with the great works of the previous century sometime in the next three hundred years.
Then there’s The New Yorker, now available in complete form on several annoying CDs. These too I’m plowing through chronologically, and after a year I am almost done with 1925, the first year of The New Yorker’s existence. I’ve been reading jazzy quips about Charlie Chaplin, Prohibition, and the Scopes Monkey Trial. The most intriguing thing from 1925 so far is an ad for a Ring Lardner book, What of It?
And of course we mustn’t forget the book obsessive’s treasure trove of books about books: the reading guides, the long lists, the shortlists, the book blogs, and the reading journals. I have collected a few dozen book guides, ranging from the squaresville How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler, to the breezy Read ’Em and Weep: My Favorite Novels, by Barry Gifford. My favorite is Martin Seymour-Smith’s Guide to Modern World Literature. He seems to have read every novel in every language, and has a pretty cranky opinion about almost all of them.
I try to surprise myself by reading outside the genres I usually gravitate to. Fed up with the repugnant current political scene, I decided to bury my sorrow through biographies of all the American presidents. Currently I’m reading 1776, Washington’s Crossing, and His Excellency, George Washington, so I have a ways to go. And at a beach house a couple summers ago I found a tattered copy of The Best Sports Writing of 1947, which contained “Lethal Lightning,” a great article about Joe Louis by Jimmy Cannon, and now I’m thinking I gotta read more sports books. And recently I discovered the weird, outsidery pulp fiction of Harry Stephen Keeler, the author of such intriguing titles as The Man with the Magic Eardrums, The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, The Case of the Transposed Legs, and Y. Cheung, Business Detective.
And I still want to read all of Dickens, Wodehouse, Twain, Pynchon, Patrick O’Brian, and John le Carré — one of these days.
You’ve gotten this far, so you’re probably as messed up as I am about reading. Let me conclude with a list that will keep you up late at night when you’re supposed to be sleeping or making love: Wolf Whistle, by Lewis Nordan; You Play the Red and the Black Comes Up, by Eric Knight; Dog of the South, by Charles Portis; The Fan Man, by William Kotzwinkle; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon; and short stories by Steve Almond, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O’Connor, Matthew Klam, and Shalom Auslander. And don’t forget the pieces in this very anthology. They’re not too shabby either.