Through experience, I have learned to always keep a book nearby for downtime at the doctor’s office or while waiting to shuttle my daughter to and from a school event.
Not just any book will do. It has to be broken into small chunks that can be digested relatively quickly, interesting enough to pass the time for 15 or 20 minutes, but not so enthralling that you are loathe to put it down.
Not every book meets those criteria.
For a while, a little paperback collection of great American short stories fit the bill quite nicely, but eventually I worked my way through all the stories I wanted to read and I was loathe to dip back into some for a second helping. (Great stories reward rereading, of course, but sometimes I like the shock of the new, too.)
My two latest waiting room readers are “The Good, the Bad, and the Mad” by E. Randall Floyd and “The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived” by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter.
The first is a collection of real-life eccentrics or peddlers of the odd, including Harry Houdini, Madame Blavatsky, and Robert E. Howard. The brief biographies are perfect for reading on the run, and I have learned some interesting things: P.T. Barnum shot to fame exploiting a little black woman who claimed to be the 161-year-old nurse of George Washington, and Edgar Cayce was a photographer who lost his voice but gained the ability to diagnose any illness – in his sleep!
The second book is a collection of fictional characters culled from myth, Americana, movies, and literature. It includes brief essays on Uncle Sam, King Kong, the Marlboro Man, and the Loch Ness Monster. The characters are also ranked by influence, and the fictional entity that comes in at number one might surprise you. (Mum’s the word on my end, though – you will have to pick the book up to see who “wins.”)
I am always on the lookout for the next good time killer, so if you have any suggestions, please send them along.