(Drawing of Ned Riley by Vanessa Waring)
A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.
Ned Riley, a 48 year resident of Bolinas is an avid reader, avid family man, avid fiddler, avid soccer player, and ex-Marine, determined to never go down that road again. Used to ski, hopes to get to the mountains again. He also describes himself as both an aspiring session player on fiddle and also decent on Irish music and contra-dance; so-so on old-timey. He was the fiddle player for the group, Midnight on the Water and is still mourning the loss of that traditional dance band that so many people in the community enjoyed for many years.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading Jill Lepore’s new history of the United States, (These Truths: A History of the United States) It’s a great read, so much so that I’m two days overdue—sorry, Jane. She has a very different take, especially on colonial history. I had no idea how demographics drove events in the colonies—they were breeding like rabbits!
What’s in your pile of books?
It’s always a big stack of miscellany, sitting on the stairs. Jennie’s not too happy about that. Right now: William Safire’s Freedom: A Novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Charles Frazier’s Varina; Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy (about de-cluttering you house and life); Walter Alvarez, A Most Improbable Journey; and two Danny Carnahan music murder mysteries. Speaking of music, there’s always a big separate pile of music books—I’m unintentionally becoming an ethnomusicologist.
Do you read one book at a time or several?
Several, sometimes within the same hour.
Do you like to read paper or ebooks? Audio books?
Always paper. Reading is ritualistic behavior for me and I’ve never gotten comfortable with audio or electronic texts. If you can call them that. That said, I do read periodicals on line: the Guardian soccer section, the New Yorker and so on.
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?
I browse. I like serendipity, seeing what floats to the top of the churn. Sometimes I’ll track down a book that’s been touted on one of our walks or in a ’scriptorium’ gathering.
Do you have a favorite genre?
History, and period mysteries. Cookbooks.
I liked the historical mysteries that I read a while ago by C.J. Sansom. There’s a series of five novels (and soon to be a 6th) that I read a while ago. They all take place in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century. They feature an interesting detective who happens to be a hunchback named Matthew Shardlake. Good reads with a sense of place.
Any genres that you never read?
Science fiction, these days. Even though I was a fiend for SF as a kid. And I’m really bad about poetry, considering how many poet friends I have. Also, I’ve never been able to connect with Shakespeare.
What was your reading experience as a child?
It was my great escape from the trials and tribulations of life. And a way to skate on the chores. I particularly remember being blown away by James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. (After starting it for the dirty parts.)
Were there any books that made a big impression on you in your life?
Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language made a huge impression. What a comprehensive vision of the built environment he had! Also, Heino Engel’s book about Japanese architecture, (The Japanese House), Kenneth Roberts books set during the American revolution, Kipling, Mark Twain, especially the darker later books. We had a cheap encyclopedia, Collier’s, I think, that had segments from the Iliad and Odyssey scattered through the volumes. I read all of those.
Have you learned anything interesting from a book?
That’s why I love historical mysteries, if they have the ring of authentic knowledge. Even when the plot and characters are no good, you can feel like you’ve experienced a bit of how life was lived in that era.
Is there a book or books that perhaps impacted your consciousness a bit? (maybe something you read in your 20s?)
Like many people I had the Ayn Rand bug. For a while, then I realized how much I was being jerked around and worked up quite a hatred for that brand of bushwah. It was like getting an inoculation against libertarianism.
Is there a famous author that you ever wanted to meet?
Mark Twain. But it would be a mixed blessing—I don’t think he was just a twinkly-faced jokester. There was a very dark, pessimistic side to his take on this life and these United States. I don’t think he would have been surprised about how things are today.
What’s the last book that you recommended to a friend?
James Haley’s A Darker Sea featuring naval officer Bliven Putnam. He gets life on a 44-gun frigate during the War of 1812 just right. Plus how to squeeze out a living on a Connecticut farm in the early 1800s.
Is there a book that you always meant to read but still haven’t.
Nearly all of Shakespeare. And when I force myself, I still can’t find the connection. The blockage is certainly in me, and I would love to find a way around it.
Any highly rated books that you thought were over rated?
The Bible. Some of the language is magnificent, but it’s so bloody-minded, tribal, and boring.
What books do you return to?
Again, Christopher Alexander.
What kind of characters draw you in as a reader?
I like a certain perversity, people who tend to shoot themselves in the foot
Describe your ideal reading experience.
Sitting on the sofa during a light evening rain with a bowl of popcorn, MsSkitty, a small fire (the rain takes care of the spare the air effect) and something chewy that I know is going to take awhile like one of Neal Stephenson’s Jack Shaftoe novels.
To see other worlds, especially by-gone ones, and inhabit the heads of people other than myself.