Books are fun. They’re challenging, or escapist, or sweet, or harsh, or dry, or raucous, or inspiring, or insipid, or thrilling, or just there. I’ve had people tell me “I can’t imagine reading a book.“ I can’t imagine not reading a book. Sometimes the whole pile of books on the headboard of my bed (where there should be notches instead, I suppose) is just a big pile of blah; other times I could grab any one and be intrigued. I think that maybe too many lurking there, or on the nearby bookshelf, is often like a rock star having too many groupies waiting out in the hallway–it’s tough to choose one. Or, for that matter, it’s like a dried-up old man, needing some relief, wondering what particular image of female beauty to have in his head in the middle of a sleepless night. Some say porn images are a bad thing, that they give one a false sense of what sex is; I say that if you don’t have porn images to refer to at the appropriate time, you may end up all of a sudden, when wanting to think “hot new woman at work”, instead having co-worker Joe’s face (with whom you were discussing the fit of her jeans that day, hence the untimely correlation) pop into your head at the wrong moment. Utter disaster and needless, yet understandable, shame, most likely an awkward and unsatisfying finish.
If I just want to read to entertain me a little, to distract from the day and fall asleep, and I’ve just finished reading something, your basic mystery novel is often the most fun choice. So last night I picked up one that I’d bought at a rummage sale, a “thriller” called “Lying With Strangers” by a guy named James Grippando. Here’s some drivel from the prologue (assumedly the guy here is a rapist/killer staking out a potential victim’s place, after getting a job at a restaurant specifically so he could copy the victim’s husband’s apartment key, when the husband valeted his car there): “Gently, he touched the key to the metal and circled the opening, as if teasing before entering. With a steady hand he guided the tip to the opening and let it fall into the hole just the slightest bit, barely inside, and held it there for several seconds. He felt a sudden urge to ram it home but didn’t.” And on and on and fucking on. Yeah, we got it with the first sentence, that you think you’d be doing her a favor by teasing her with “it” while raping her, and the key-in-the-lock thing is a metaphor for that. What’s next–50 pages of how he got a job as a plumber so he could break in, mess up their plumbing, then get in and “lay pipe” in their apartment with her in the next room? Or work at the nearby deli, so he could “deliver the sausage” (slowly and teasingly, the massive, meaty, sausage) to her? I was wishing it was a summer Saturday night, and the neighbors were having a backyard campfire; I’m sure the book would burn quite nicely. No wonder James Patterson (He-who-doesn’t-even-write-his-own-crappy-books) recommended it. You know, I’m sure there are some intriguing twists and turns, some scary moments, with the plot, but I just can’t get past that stupid paragraph. This guy’s written, like, 11 books or so, too.
I go through periods where no books in the library interest me. One time in the last couple years, I was wondering around in the local one, trying in vain to find anything that caught my eye. I didn’t have a book in my hand, and suddenly one of the staff came up and asked me “Can I help you” in a tone which seemed to me to imply that I was out of place there. Seriously. I wouldn’t have been more offended if someone had told me, had I been there with my daughter, that she was slow or ugly or unmannerly or something equally awful and untrue. I was thinking: “Really? Really? I look like I don’t belong here or don’t know my way around a library or something?” I was just so offended. I know I’m ready to see the worst in folks sometimes, but it was something about the way she came up and “faced” me. She definitely wasn’t “hitting on me”; not only did she teem with “lesbian-seeming-ness”, whatever that may be, but her body language said she mistrusted and disliked me. No, female jerk, I don’t need help looking for books, and yes, I know my way around a library.
And that kind of thing (not finding books that seem interesting), plus my crap attention span which often results in an inability to finish a given book before it’s due back, is why I like picking up books at rummage sales and at the library’s used/discontinued book sale (that, and the ridiculous retail price of books). On the last day of the library book sale, you can get a whole Walmart bagful for 2 bucks. I usually look for “literature” or old “classics”, which to me means any old book I may have heard of, by any famous, usually dead, writer, whose stuff may have been taught in high school or college English lit.
So, since my little girl has to read 15 minutes a day to us for school, and often disdains her old books which are lying around here, and would rather just hang out with me or the neighbor’s kid or the computer rather than go to the library, I go to the library now mostly to pick up books for her. One I got recently was a book of corny animal-themed jokes from National Geographic (Such as: What did the egg do when he heard a joke?–He cracked up.). One joke in there, which I’d never heard, and thought was maybe wildly inappropriate for littl’uns, went like this:
Q: What do you call the mushy stuff between a shark’s teeth?
A: A slow swimmer.
Yeah, ha ha, Nat Geo, let’s strike fear into the funny bones of little kids. Anyway, since you’re dying to know what my 2 dollars got me at the latest book sale:
James Joyce “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”
Alex Haley “Roots”
Jack London “The Sea Wolf”
Faulkner, Joyce, Melville, Gogol, Porter, and Westcott “Six Great Modern Short Novels”
Victor Hugo “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
Stephen Crane “The Red Badge of Courage”
Ernest (puke) Hemingway “A Farewell to Arms” (well, I can’t stand him, but he’s supposed to be so great, so I figure I should suffer through most of his “biggest hits”)
Erica Jong “Fear of Flying”
Ruth Baird “I Was a Battered Child”
Willa Cather “My Antonia”
Henrik Ibsen “A Doll’s House and Other Plays”
John Steinbeck “In Dubious Battle”
Mari Sandoz “Love Song to the Plains”
William Thackeray “Vanity Fair”
Dante “The Inferno”
Billie Holiday with William Dufty “Lady Sings the Blues”
and a couple kids books, “How Animals Live” and “Simon Finds a Treasure”
Pretty sure I’ve read “A Doll’s House” and portions of “The Inferno”, but none of the rest of them.
Enough yappin’ about books, I suppose. I have to pick a book to read me to sleep with. But I must end on this fun note: Often the mis-hearing or misreading of something is better than the intended words, and I suppose this fits. Among the satellite tv channels I selected way back to flip through with my remote are several radio channels, which have a sort of floating “screen-saver” of the artist and song title, etc. for each song, with of course a limitation on the number of characters that can be shown in the little bubble that has the description. The other night the bluegrass channel had a song by some group called Paul Williams and the Victory Trio, which had the long name, as printed there, of “The Lord Still Lives in This Old Ho”. “Christian Mingle”, anyone?
Bluegrass–meh–only so much banjo I can take, but a few of the girl singers are pretty damn good. Well, ol’ Ralph Stanley is pretty good too, actually. Here’s Rhonda Vincent:
Alison Krauss and the boys:
The great Ralph Stanley: