“When are you going to finish the ones you’ve already bought?” my wife often asks when I come home with one of the Writer’s Block’s distinctive red paper bags. Silly question. I mean, has she met me? Books all over the place (including, for one memorable stretch, half-filling a bathtub) has been a defining feature of our domestic life for 35 years. What you see here is a small slice. So, short answer to her question: maybe never! I’ve always been a rapid buyer of books, but a sloooow reader of them.
You’d think all this COVID-enforced downtime would fully activate a guy like me. READ LIKE THE WIND! But I gotta confess: The swarming anxieties of this thing — medical, fiscal, social, toilet-paperal — just wrecked my focus in weeks one and two. I’d look at this batch of pulped wood in my hand and wonder, what am I doing? So much is falling apart for so many.
I adjusted eventually, of course. But even before that, I found a stabilizing comfort in my home office, this tiny blue ecosystem of books, art, talismans, and, yes, even tchotchkes. Think of it as a diorama of what’s left of my mind: cluttered with trivial cuteness, like (1) the chrome pineapple I finally won in a hand-to-hand white-elephant gift sesh two Christmases ago, or (2) the plethora of hands that achieve just the right balance of adorability and weirdness; as well as personal connections, like (3) small ceramic sculptural pieces from a potter I know in Colorado, and (4) the stack of poetry chapbooks by onetime Las Vegas playwright Red Shuttleworth. I profiled him decades ago, and I sometimes consult his poetry — hard-edged demystifications of the West — when my own typing gets too precious. (I know, I know: Consult him now!) Also, owls (5) — if they don’t symbolize good luck, keep it to yourself. There’s artwork (6) by Brent Holmes (the orange one, exiled here because it’s just too bold and beautiful for rooms where the normal people live), Jorge Catoni, and Jose Bellver.
But mostly it’s about the books. (If you look closely, you can see I assembled some of the shelves (7) at cockeyed angles to give the room some zippity zow.) The longer, truer answer to my wife’s question lies in the levitating gestalt here, in which every book, read or not, is a wormhole of possibilities, ideas, moments of beauty, the workings of other minds. I can only speak for myself: The bookish, joyously unkempt mojo of my office has helped me nurture my (metaphorically!) feverish brain through the newly scrambled requirements of this job — and the existential demands of this moment.