A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.
Jeff Manson lives in a cabin in a garden on the Big Mesa in Bolinas with his wife Vanessa and two young boys, Otis and Robin. He wears many hats here in town, including Friday Editor of the Hearsay News, opens a new window, President of the Bolinas Community Center, opens a new window, Office Manager at Larner Seeds, opens a new window, Host of KWMR, opens a new window’s West County Prowl radio show, and piano-player in the Coastal Scrubbers.
What are you reading now?
I’m currently enjoying The Overstory, opens a new window by Richard Powers. It is full of tender human drama, contextualized in the timescale of trees. I love the way he is able to insert some bold observations about the senseless devastation we are inflicting on our earth, within an exciting page-turner which even has moments of humor.
What’s in your pile of books? Do you read one book at a time or several?
I usually read just one novel at a time, and have a few non-fiction, how-to, poetry and/or philosophy books on hand that I more-slowly absorb. Right now my slow pile includes: The Location Sound Bible, opens a new window by Ric Vierien; So You Want to Talk About Race, opens a new window, by Ijeoma Oluo, and How to Do Nothing, opens a new window by Jenny O’Dell.
Do you like to read paper or ebooks? Audio books?
My brain absorbs information on paper best.
Are you a browser in the library or do you know in advance what you are looking for? Do you browse the library catalog or pick specific books? If so, how do you find out about them?
I am a library browser, and eavesdropper. I tend to not read book reviews and am always a little late to the party, getting over-exited about some book that was all the rage a year prior. I am lucky that my lovely and thoughtful wife Vanessa, who works at the Bolinas Library, opens a new window, is continually bringing home books that she thinks look interesting. We always have fascinating books circulating through our little house, and I just pluck one that looks good out of the stream.
Do you have a favorite genre?
As long as the writing is lively and compelling, I’m not genre bound. That said, I do end up reading a lot of picaresque magical-realism, such as Haruki Murakami, opens a new window and or Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, opens a new window.
Any genres that you never read?
I’m not a murder mystery guy, but that could change, I could be convinced..
What was your reading experience as a child? A favorite book?
My dad taught high school English and we were always encouraged to read. I loved all of Roald Dahl, opens a new window, especially Danny, The Champion of the World, opens a new window. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, opens a new window by E.L. Konigsburg was also a big hit with me as a child. I was thrilled by the concept of siblings running away to live in a museum.
Were there any books that made a big impression on you in your life? Have you learned anything interesting from a book? Perhaps a book that impacted your consciousness a bit?
Labarintos, opens a new window by Jorge Luis Borges really opened my 20 year-old eyes to new corners of the mind; that book re-arranged how I thought about the world! The Temporary Autonomous Zone, opens a new window by the anarchist philosopher Hakim Bey was definitional in my construction of a political/artistic identity, as was Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, opens a new window. I also remember around that time in my life, being on an extended surf trip down in Mexico and passing around Riddley Walker , opens a new windowby Russell Hobin amongst my buddies. It was probably the most experimental book I had ever read.
Is there a famous author that you ever wanted to meet? Maybe back in time?
I always have thought that it would be fun to zip back to hang out with Mary Shelley, opens a new window and Percy , opens a new windowand good old Lord Byron , opens a new windowet. al during that famous summer on lake in Geneva; smoke a little laudanum, write some scary stories… just make sure to stay out of anyone’s boat…
What’s the last book that you recommended to a friend?
The Shell Collector, opens a new window, a collection of wonderful and surprising short stories by Anthony Doerr, who wrote All the Light We Cannot See, opens a new window. Also I want everyone to read Michael Pollen’s How to Change Your Mind., opens a new window
What books do you return to? Are there any books you like to re-read?
For some odd reason I have re-read Jean Giono’s Second Harvest , opens a new windowa number of times over the past decade. It is a strange and sad little novel that takes place in a nearly abandoned village with love being found and each time I come back to it, I feel something new.
What kind of characters draw you in as a reader?
I’m captivated by characters with flaws; hapless, tragic or at least damaged in some way; I’m tired of reading about heroes and villains. I like characters who mean well, but get tangled up in some complicated web never-the-less. I re-read Cannery Row, opens a new window, by John Steinbeck, recently and was so tickled by Mac and the Boys, “just trying to do something nice for Doc” and somehow totally messing everything up.
When and where do you like to read? Describe your ideal reading experience.
I enjoy reading in a car parked somewhere out of the way on a rainy day, with the heater on, book resting on the steering wheel and a nice strong coffee in the cup holder. I love to read on the beach on a hot day under a big umbrella with no obligations (who doesn’t!)
I don’t care for reading in bed, drowsy at the end of a long day; the book always feels too heavy, and I can’t remember what I’ve just read, but that’s probably where I do most of my reading… oh well.
I love the intimacy and directness of a good book, the way an engaged reading moment can make the granularity of my perception finer; I see details in books that I’m too dense to ever pick up on in real life. Books allow us to enter another person’s mind and see things from a perspective beyond our own.