Book review

In 'Art of Lying Down,' a French writer praises horizontal life

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Nobody wants to be accused of lying down on the job. But they should welcome that, because when we're lying down we're often capable of our best and most creative thinking, or so author Bernd Brunner would have you believe.

By Bernd Brunner (translated by Lori Lantz).
Melville House ($19.95)

Here's a guy who eloquently obsesses on trivia, history, and often the more trivial aspects of history. If you like dissecting topics in every picayune way possible until you're ready to be a contestant on "Jeopardy," the author's new book "The Art of Lying Down" is for you.

This guy has serious author street cred. Just look at his jacket cover and the reviews for two of his previous works, "Moon: A Brief History" and "Bears: A Brief History," lavishly praised by The New York Times, The Washington Post and the most likely periodical to love an exhaustive study of the relatively trivial, The New Yorker.

Who knew simply lying down could be so complicated? Not me. Unfortunately, now I'm thinking about it way too much when I simply put my head down on the couch. Did you know people regularly slept in the same space as opposed to individual beds centuries ago? And sometimes on the same bales of hay or whatever was lying around that seemed at least marginally comfortable? They helped to keep one another warm, and comfortable sleep-space was apparently more scarce.

"When did separate sleeping arrangements finally catch on? Around the middle of the 19th century, critics began to condemn communal sleeping on hygienic or moral ground," Mr. Brunner writes. I would favor the hygienic condemnation.

But the book goes well beyond the history of slumber. How about the history of hammocks? When I was 5 years old my father was trying to catch some Z's in a hammock in the backyard, when I refused to stop yammering. So he sent me over to a buddy's house to borrow a "sky hook." When the buddy laughed at my ridiculous request, I began to realize I'd been had by Dad. Hammocks still trigger a slightly negative emotional response.

Christopher Columbus may not have discovered America (Columbus Day celebrants are welcome to debate that somewhere else), but apparently, at least for his European brethren, he discovered hammocks.

Mr. Brunner tells us, "During his first visit to the islands now known as the Bahamas, Christopher Columbus encountered hammocks that floated above the ground in the huts of the inhabitants. Because they were easy to fold up and transport and yet offered protection from rats and snakes, they quickly became standard equipment for Spanish sailors and later, soldiers."

That dude was always "discovering" something, i.e. ripping off someone else's idea or land. But they say Miley Cyrus is ripping off black culture these days, so I guess The Art of Ripping Off has a long and storied history as well.

There are a few celebrity mentions, Marilyn Monroe's infamous nude for example: "Douglas Kirkland photographed Marilyn Monroe from above in bed, hugging a pillow and gazing lasciviously into the camera with half closed eyes."

I have to disagree here. I didn't think Marilyn's gaze was not so much lascivious as playfully mischievous, a simple mildly naughty twinkle as opposed to full-on lust. See, this guy's gotten in my head and I'm more picayune about everything! Or would it be persnickety?

I love Groucho Marx's quote: "A thing that can't be done in bed isn't worth doing at all."

There are brief mentions of John and Yoko's Bed In for Peace, and Burt Reynolds' Cosmo centerfold, but modern-day celebrity lying down gossip is not a focus here. Some are ridiculously fussy about the art of lying down. Tenor Enrico Caruso, writes Mr. Brunner, "supposedly insisted on having three mattresses and no fewer than 18 pillows." Sheesh.

Speaking of fussy, there is the pugnacious fussiness of Truman Capote, a huge advocate of lying down, claiming his first drafts are always written while lying down in longhand, consuming coffee, tea and martinis, in that order. That way he can relax and obsess on his penmanship and punctuation as in "the weight of a semi-colon," as he puts it. Capote further offers, "Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance."

Which I believe offers a little bit of insight into how I see "The Art of Lying Down." It's awesome if you want to obsess on the topic; a tad tedious, if not.

Good night everybody!




John McIntire is a radio and TV talk show host and comedian in Pittsburgh (

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