Matthew O’Brien is an author and journalist who’s lived in Las Vegas since 1997. His first book, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, chronicles his adventures in the city’s underground flood channels. His second book, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas, is a creative-nonfiction collection set in off-the-beaten-path Vegas. He’s the founder of Shine a Light, a community project that provides housing, drug counseling, and other services to the people living in the drains.
At the urging of my friend Chip Mosher, and being from the South and feeling somewhat obligated, I’m currently reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I’ve been reading it the past month and a half and am about two-thirds of the way through it. Obviously, I haven’t found it to be a page turner in the traditional sense. But its unique setting (a Georgia mill town in the 1930s), eccentric characters (including the town drunk, an African-American doctor and two mutes) and poetic writing will assure that I finish it eventually (check back in around June).
I’m also picking my way through Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems (1947-1997). Obviously, he wrote some beautiful and thought-provoking poems, especially in the ’60s. But my secondary thought about the collection is: Man, he really overused the word “cock.”
Here are a few more titles towering over my wicker nightstand, casting a shadow on the bookmarks below:
Waddie’s Whole Load: The Cowboy Poetry of Waddie Mitchell — If you live in Nevada, you have to read some cowboy poetry (I promise I did not make up that title!).
Blue Desert by Charles Bowden — I discovered this collection of dispatches (at least that’s what I think it is) in a used bookstore in Tucson. The blurb on the back by Edward Abbey, one of my favorite writers, was enough to convince me to buy it.
The Rainbow Stories by William T. Vollmann — After a few people recommended Vollmann, I bought this collection on Amazon.com.
The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States by Joel Blau — I’ve been fascinated with homelessness—its causes, fraternity, effects, etc.—since the late ’80s, when I went to college in downtown Atlanta. Disappointingly, there seems to be a dearth of books on the subject. This one, according to my research (surfing the Net for an hour or so), is among the best.
Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi — An opportunity for me to learn more about Las Vegas and one of its favorite sons. Also, I understand that the former tennis star really trashes some people in it. Can’t wait!
What influences YOUR book selections? Do you like to read several books on a topic, or choose one and move on?