Whether it’s waking up in the morning or crashing for a few minutes in the afternoon, I often find myself staring at the bookshelf directly across from the foot of our bed. The collection of books does not represent our favorites, per se. Those are in the living room. But there are still plenty of titles that spark my imagination.
Stacked on top is a quintessential yin-yang for Valarie on me. First there is a collection of philosophy books that she picked up at Powell’s recently, as part of a developing interest in the subject that seems in part to have resulted from the election. Underneath those books is a copy of Clyde the Glide, the Clyde Drexler autobiography I’ll probably never read but was very excited to have autographed by my basketball hero a few weeks ago. Then there is a collection of poems by Anne Sexton, a similarly suicidal and brilliant contemporary of Sylvia Plath that my friend Chad got me into about ten years ago (yikes!) when I was living with him in Washington, DC.
And speaking of years ago, one always minds to hang onto a few books read in college, which for me includes The Complete Works of Tacitus, from a history of ancient Rome I enjoyed freshman year at NYU, and Goethe’s Faust, which I enjoyed but can’t remember the class for which it was read.
Further down the shelf there are a handful of books about various Monty Python players, such as Cleese Encounters and The Life of Michael. There’s also an old hardbound biography of Thomas Jefferson that we got while living in New York when Valarie’s neighbors Jack and Stan, who lived across the hall from her apartment, decided to get rid of about a hundred different titles. Several more of their books are lying around here somewhere—and curiously, we’ve heard from Valarie’s old roommate that Jack & Stan now live in Portland. I always remember how one of them was working in the World Trade Center on September 11, but made it out safely. In shock that day, he apparently kept wondering, “Where is my desk now?”
There is a copy of Spalding Gray’s Impossible Vacation that is right at eye level as I lie in bed, and looking at it of course it’s impossible not to think of his suicide earlier this year. I remember reading an essay of his while I was working at Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville right after college. It was part of a collection called Drinking, Smoking and Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times. I remember reading Gray’s piece, about trying to score with girls as a young man in Boston, as I stood frying onions for a sausage lasagna.
Then there are all the little knickknacks sitting on the shelves in front of the books, which I’ll summarize briefly: (1) an antique 8mm movie camera that used belong to my grandparents that you have to wind up; (2) a plastic miniature of a Buddhist shrine in Tokyo that I bought as a souvenir there in June; (3) a miniature Oregon Ducks helmet a Nike designer gave me several years ago when I was writing a story about the football team’s new uniforms; (4) a magic 8-ball; (5) a small book of Chinese calligraphy and ink drawings given to me by the landscape architect from Suzhou, China who designed Portland’s Classical Chinese Garden, after a lecture about the garden he gave as part of a series I helped coordinate while working at the American Institute of Architects; (6) a framed photo of Valarie’s nephew on a fishing trip with her dad; (7) a miniature movie camera with the “Ebert & Roeper” TV show logo I was given as a souvenir from the Ebert & Roeper Film Festival At Sea, a 4-day Bahamas cruise I went on for a travel magazine this past April; (8) A framed prize-winning poem about Valarie’s recently departed grandmother (her “Nan”), written by Valarie’s niece; (9) a small plaster stature of the Buddha given to me by Brian Borello, a local artist, when he had a show at the AIA’s gallery a few years back; and (10) a copy of Sit On a Potato Pan, Otis, an illustrated book of palindromes I gave Valarie for Christmas several years ago.