Bookshelf Report: Reggie Garrett, his dogs and Salman Rushdie

The Bookshelf Report is an ongoing series where a Bushwick reader or artist shares a little bit about the books that occupy their shelves.

Reggie Garrett often performs with the Bushwick Book Club and will take the stage at the upcoming 3-for-3; Music Inspired by Books; Books Inspired by Water event. He is currently working on a song inspired by Jim Lynch’s Before the Wind.

To get to know him a bit before the show, Reggie let us snoop around his bookshelves. Here we go.

How do you organize your books?

After I’ve read them, primarily by author within genre – more or less. Then there’s the beside shelf and stacks that are “in progress”.

Be honest. What percentage of the books on this shelf have you actually read?

Probably somewhere between 85% and 90%.

What’s your favorite book on the shelf and why?

That’s an impossible question to answer. There are too many that I’ve really liked, for a variety of reasons. I like just about everything by Salman Rushdie, particularly “The Satanic Verses”, “Shalimar the Clown” and “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights”. No one else I’ve read improvises with and plays with language the way he does. I’ve read almost everything he’s written.

Michael Ondaatje is an amazingly poetic writer for a writer of prose. He has a way of talking around things in order for you to find your own way to the truth at the center. “The English Patient” is absolutely one of the best books I’ve EVER read (no way the movie could ever do it justice). I can say the same about Toni Morrison, whose books “Sula” and “The Bluest Eye” are among my all time favorites.

While searching for a copy of “Fahrenheit 451” for a class I was teaching, I chanced upon “Ring” by Stephen Baxter. It blew me away and I went on to read almost all his science fiction. Strange to say, but that was the first thing I ever read that made me understand and truly feel that I am a part of this great sweep of humanity, of life that came before me and will continue long after I’m gone. More important, that it’s not so much about ME as it is about US!

More recently I’ve been moved by “Between the World and Me” by Tanahesi Coates. It’s the first thing I read that makes absolute sense to me about what it’s like to be Black in America – that fits with my experience. To quote David Alan Grier, “Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it goes . . .”.

Everyone should read “Smoke and Mirrors” by Dan Baum (a history of the War on Drugs), “The Family” by Jeff Scarlett (about the unseen and insidious influence of right wing Christianity in our politics and foreign affairs) and “Different Mirror” by Ronald Takagi (a multicultural history of the United States). They all go a long way toward explaining WHY things are the way they are in this country. Can’t forget James Alan McPherson, Sherman Alexie, Barbara Tuchman (I’m addicted to History), Andrea Barrett, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and so many others I don’t have time and space to list . . .

What book do you plan on reading next and why?

Well, in recent years I’ve rarely read just one book at a time. I usually have somewhere around five to a dozen or so in play at any one time. Currently reading: “The Ascent of Money” (Niall Ferguson), “Joseph Anton” (Salman Rushdie),”Iron Winter” and “Ultima” (Stephen Baxter), “The Long Utopia” (Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett), “Galileo’s Dream” (Kim Stanley Robinson) and “The Passion of the Western Mind” (Richard Tarnas). Oh, yeah, I’m also finishing up “Before the Wind” by Jim Lynch. I believe I’m supposed to write a song about it . . .

When you have such a big stack of in progress books, how do you decide which one to pick up when? Do you try to keep these in progress books in different genres?

Usually, it’s determined by which one I haven’t read for a while. I figure the others can wait while I get reacquainted. Sometimes, if I get into a groove with one I’ll keep picking it up until I’m finished, or until I’ve read so much I have to take a break. As far as genres are concerned, sometimes I may find myself in a Salman Rushdie mood, or a Stephen Baxter frame of mind. Then I could end up with two or three books by those writers “in progress”. Truly, though, I have all kinds of books in progress at any given time.

I noticed you have a lot of photos of cute dogs on your shelf? What’s their names and what are their favorite kinds of books?

There’s a portrait of our first dog Dude “the Wonder Dog” (long gone). In there’s a photo of three dogs – left to right: Mingus (currently 10 1/2), Luz (she died about a year ago – we called her the “Mayor” because she ran and supervised everything) and Maddy “Dread” (she’s been gone about two years). On the left is an oceanside picture of my wife Linda with Luz on her last trip to the Oregon Coast).

In the hallway there is, left to right: Ella “FitzBella”, Mingus, Maddy Dread and Luz. In the back are assorted photos of our first two dogs, Dude and Terra “Tunes”. As far as their preferences go, I can say that: “THEY LIKE BIG BOOKS, AND I CANNOT LIE!” (sound familiar?) That’s because when we get engrossed and we’re settled in one place they can all pile on and just groove with it – nothing finer!

Thanks Reggie! You’ve inspired me to start reading another book to add to my “in progress” pile.

Do you have bookshelves? Would you like to be featured in an upcoming Bookshelf Report? If so, please let me know.