Sunday, June 27, 2010

Waiting

In my previous post I talked about weight, so in this post I'll talk about waiting.

I've been spending a lot of time in doctors' offices over the past few years, which means I've been spending even more time in waiting rooms.

The time I spend waiting varies from doctor to doctor, but it's usually pretty consistent for each doctor. You shouldn't really have to spend an hour in a waiting room just to see a doctor for five or ten minutes, but I don't really mind, since waiting rooms are sometimes pretty good places to catch up on your reading. Not always, though -- sometimes they're too noisy.

I'm pretty easily distracted, but I don't need absolute silence or anything like that when I'm reading. So if people want to quietly speak to each other, that's fine with me. But a lot of people are unfamiliar with this simple courtesy, so they speak in loud voices and end up making a lot of distracting noise.

As I said, this varies from one waiting room to another, so naturally I have favorites. But in most of my favorite waiting rooms I don't even try to read, since I know from previous experience that the wait won't be more than maybe ten or fifteen minutes.

I have a few herniated disks in my lower back, but most of the time they don't bother me. However, every now and then I'll do something like lift something too heavy, or lift something the wrong way, and I'll end up in severe pain. So I have a back doctor that I see once in a while. You always used to have to wait forever before seeing him, and it was a fairly quiet waiting room, which made it an ideal place to read, as long as you weren't distracted by the intense debilitating pain in your lower back. But the last time I was there, they'd added four or five widescreen TVs that constantly and repeatedly play videos advertising how highly-rated their physicians and orthopedic facilities are. The sound blaring from the speakers was so loud that I couldn't avoid it, no matter where I sat. I tried reading, but it was impossible. The next time I go there, I'll have to bring earplugs.

One of my favorite places to read has always been the outpatient cancer center at Cedars-Sinai. You can usually find a fairly quiet place -- especially now that they've done some remodeling -- which is fortunate, since this is one of the places I usually have to wait the longest. And when the nurse takes you to an examination room, you usually have a pretty long wait there as well, but it's even quieter, except for the occasional nurse who wants to take your blood pressure or your temperature or ask you a bunch of questions about your symptoms or what drugs you're taking.

But even though I just got through telling you about one of my least favorite and most favorite waiting rooms, that isn't really what I wanted to write about.

What I wanted to write about is what I've been reading in some of these waiting rooms. I don't remember everything I read, nor do I remember the order I read them in, so they're listed here in the same order they appear in my bookshelves: alphabetical by author, then chronological by year published, except in cases where there's no room on a particular shelf, which forces me to stack some books on top of the row of books.

First, there's Paul Auster, one of my favorite writers. He's often referred to as a "postmodern" writer, but that's a pretty useless term as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, the books I read in waiting rooms are Travels in the Scriptorium, Man in the Dark, and Invisible. There was a piece on him in the New Yorker a while ago, and not a very complimentary one. The guy said that Auster's work is too formulaic. Well, sometimes it is, I suppose, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, since the formula changes enough from one book to another to keep things interesting.

Then there's Roberto Bolaño, whom everyone seems to like. He was recommended to me by an old friend of mine who also happens to teach poetry at the university level, and even though his tastes and mine don't always mesh, I don't dismiss his recommendations offhandedly. The book I read was The Skating Rink. It got pretty high reviews on Amazon, as did all his other books, but you're probably more interested in what I thought. Well, there is something lyrical about the way he wrote but, sorry all you Bolaño fans out there, this book didn't do much for me. I admit I read it in less-than-ideal circumstances -- I read it on and off over a couple of months, so each time I picked it up, I had almost no memory of what I'd read the previous time. Still, I'm not likely to read another Bolaño book for a while.

This post looks like it's going to be a lot longer than I wanted to be, so from this point forward, I'll try to keep it brief.

The Women by T. C. Boyle: I'm a big fan of Boyle, but I don't always like his historical fiction. (I had to plow my way though Riven Rock, for example, but that was about the worst of it.) The Women is about the women Frank Lloyd Wright was involved with, but no matter how dramatic or explosive those relationships were, after a while I just lost interest. I also thought I should be reading an actual biography of Wright rather than a fictionalized history of him. Still, anything he writes, I'll read, because most of the time I really enjoy his books.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo: I don't remember this book too well -- I vaguely remember that it was somehow related to the 9/11 incidents -- so I'll just say something about DeLillo in general, which is that I tend to like his newer books more than his older ones. His early books seemed heavy and dense, but his more recent stuff seems breezy and airy without being any less engaging.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich: I just finished reading this book a few days ago. Back in the '80s I read a lot of her books, but as they became more about American Indians and less about people in general, I sort of lost interest. But I read a glowing review of Shadow Tag so I decided to pick up a copy. It's definitely worth reading.

The Sea Came in at Midnight, Our Ecstatic Days, and Zeroville by Steve Erickson: I read these books one after the other with no other books in between, which may seem like a lot of Erickson to take in at once, but it turned out to be the right way to do it. The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days were written years apart, but in some ways they could be different chapters of a larger book, and Zeroville is just one of those books you don't want to put down, for some strange inexplicable reason. Reading anything by Erickson is usually a challenge, but the rewards are generally worth the effort.

After I finished the Erickson books, I thought about reading the Inherent Vice, the latest book by Thomas Pynchon. I'm so far behind on my Pynchon that it isn't even funny. The last book of his I read was Gravity's Rainbow, and that was back in the '70s. He's written a few books since then, and there a copy of each one in my bookshelves, but I haven't read any of them yet. He can be pretty challenging to read as well, so I decided on something more accessible instead.

But before I get to that, I have to mention David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad I read it, but I honestly don't know if I liked this book or not. Maybe it's because it's actually six loosely-connected books whose literary connection is sometimes more tenuous than the glue and binding that physically holds the pages together. That's not a criticism, though -- it's exactly the way the book should be. Reading it wasn't always that great an experience -- especially the part that was written in some post-apocalyptic patois that bore only the flimsiest resemblance to modern-day English. I'd never heard of David Mitchell before -- maybe you haven't either -- but a lot of people apparently have, and a lot of people apparently liked Cloud Atlas, since it's supposedly being made into a movie sometime this year. When it comes out, I'll definitely see it, if for no other reason than to see how anyone could possibly turn this book into a movie.

Okay, the next book on the list is Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler. This was the book I decided to read after I got through all the Erickson books. I've read every one of her novels, and this is her most recent, but the strange thing is, I don't remember this one at all. I don't know why. But since I liked all her other books, I'm pretty sure I liked this one too. I have a vague memory of reading it, and I have a vague memory of liking it. I just can't remember what it was about. I read the blurb on the book jacket to refresh my memory, and it turns out it's about a guy with amnesia, which is interesting to me but not very helpful. Maybe I'll just have to read it again.

And that, my friends, brings us to the end of the list. I have an appointment with a new doctor on Monday, so I have no idea how long the wait will be, but just to be safe, I've decided to bring a book along. The book is Point Omega, the latest novel by Don DeLillo. I haven't started reading it yet, but if I ever write anything more about doctors' waiting rooms, I'll be sure to let you know what I thought of it.

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