David Davis is the author of Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Started a Running Craze and Marathon Crasher: The Life and Times of Merry Lepper, The First American Woman to Run a Marathon.
I’ve stopped buying books.
Please don’t hold that against me. My partner was just laid off from her job and, as you’ve probably heard, freelancing is sketchy these days. Fun times.
But I am lucky. Where I live, just north of downtown L.A., I’m close to three bountiful, public library systems—Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Glendale—and so my nightstand has become a personal circulation desk.
I keep the library cards in the glove compartment and, while I’m out doing errands, I’ll swing by the stately main branches. I like to browse the new books section. The randomness makes it a form of literary roulette: what will I stumble across? Last time was John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. A gem.
Oftentimes, I seek out books that are related to my work. I’ve been on a biography tear in preparation for what I hope will be my next book. I just read John Lewis Gaddis’ bio of George Kennan and Leigh Montville’s Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend.
I find that, with library books, I’m more open to the possibility. I heard Karl Marlantes speaking on the radio and sought out his searing Vietnam memoir, What It Is Like to Go to War. When I was interviewing a young woman for a story about youth sports, she mentioned a book I’d never heard of. I wrote down the title and picked it up later: Jack Lopez’s Cholos and Surfers.
There’s one other advantage. If at any point I’m bored or confused or overwhelmed —maybe it’s the prose, maybe it’s the subject matter—I close the book and return it to the nightstand. There’s always another book waiting for me on the stack, wrapped tightly in a plastic cover.
Do the books by your bed tend to be single-genred? Or are you a more eclectic stacker?