I’m always up late–later now than I used to be–and nowadays often wake up in the middle of the night worried about what’s happening in America.
My brain races immediately into what I think of as Solving The World mode.
But of course it doesn’t and, ergo, I don’t. So after a few minutes I pick up one of the books I’m reading to be distracted, to be soothed, to be wrapped up by and rapt in another, better–because certain and finite–world.
Like Susan Chira, I have found re-reading Jane Austen offers maximum enthrallment and the benefit of falling back asleep empathizing with both Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and wondering how they will ever find love…even though I know how the story ends.
All my life, though, along with great books I’ve read mysteries, thrillers, policiers. They are my bread; I can’t live without them. So Austen and Chekhov sit beside John Sandford on my bedside table. And I am constantly re-reading Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck books, and Cornwell’s two best Smileys.
Last night, I found what follows in Raymond Chandler’s The High Window. I copy it for you now because we all deserve to be ravished by great writing, if only as an escape from the surreality of our lives.
In and around the old houses there are flyblown restaurants and Italian fruitstands and cheap apartment houses and little candy stores where you can buy even nastier things than their candy. And there are ratty hotels where nobody except people named Smith and Jones sign the register and where the night clerk is half watchdog and half pander.
Out of the apartment houses come women who should be young but have faces like stale beer; men with pulled-down hats and quick eyes that look the street over behind the cupped hand that shields the match flame; worn intellectuals with cigarette coughs and no money in the bank; fly cops with granite faces and unwavering eyes; cokies and coke peddlers; people who look like nothing in particular and know it, and once in a while even men that actually go to work. But they come out early, when the wide cracked sidewalks are empty and still have dew on them.