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On the Couch with Philip Roth, at the Morgue with Pol Pot

December 15, 2009

by Charles Simic
from The New York Review of Books blog

As a rule, I read and write poetry in bed; philosophy and serious essays sitting down at my desk; newspapers and magazines while I eat breakfast or lunch, and novels while lying on the couch. It’s toughest to find a good place to read history, since what one is reading usually is a story of injustices and atrocities and wherever one does that, be it in the garden on a fine summer day or riding a bus in a city, one feels embarrassed to be so lucky. Perhaps the waiting room in a city morgue is the only suitable place to read about Stalin and Pol Pot?

Oddly, the same is true of comedy. It’s not always easy to find the right spot and circumstances to allow oneself to laugh freely. I recall attracting attention years ago riding to work on the packed New York subway while reading Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and bursting into guffaws every few minutes. One or two passengers smiled back at me while others appeared annoyed by my behavior. On the other hand, cackling in the dead of the night in an empty country house while reading a biography of W.C. Fields may be thought pretty strange behavior too. more

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