Category Archives: Books

The Quick and the Dead

“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.

It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.

Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).

I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.

And that’s what made me think of the boy.

It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.

The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.

“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.

His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.

“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.

We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.

The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”

There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?

And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”

His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.

So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.

“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”

I guess what I’m saying is this:

I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Children, City Life, People

About Fran

As I said:

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch.

Again, to reiterate: “Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library.”

She makes that distinction. How could you even begin to fault that? Really.

How could you deny it?

To wit: someone’s been ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come every Friday and Saturday at Fran’s library, and Fran is on it.

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

  1. Most likely a woman. Fran is rather convinced of that, given the apparent gendered nature, as it were, of the evident act, though I have my doubts. But this is Fran’s Thing.
  2. A fellow library patron; one lives in the neighbourhood, given the frequency of the crime, the opportunity afforded by it (this is not an offence committed from a distance).
  3. Someone who must come to Fran’s library on New Magazine Day because Fran goes to the library on New Magazine Day. That person, whomever they are, has thus far managed to somehow get to the new magazines before Fran (the magazines arrive Fridays and Saturdays, but the timing of their arrival varies greatly).

WHY?

Who knows? Someone quite inconsiderate. Someone desperate? Someone.

My suggestions (which Fran took into serious consideration): A collector. Someone who wants material proof of their proclivities. Evidence of taste, action, deed.

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

Someone who had it in, personally, for Fran – who knows her habits, her routines, her likes and dislikes, and is making some kind of point about it. A point of contention!

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

They, whomever they are, must be taking the magazines home, ripping out the relevant pages and returning the magazines before anyone gets wise (again supporting the proximity theory).

Unless

To avoid suspicion, they are ripping the pages out within the library itself. The magazines NEVER LEAVE THE PREMISES, are never checked out in that person’s account. There’s no paper trail.

The perfect crime.

To this, Fran brought up a good counterpoint: her library is small; you’d hear the ripping (these being quality magazines with good, glossy thick pages).

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

“Single stalls. I’m watching,” was Fran’s response. “And I’d still hear it.”

UNLESS

I showed Fran the tiny pair of folded scissors on my keychain.

“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Fran.

I asked what the staff at her home library thought of the whole sordid affair. The state of things.

(I wonder how the hoity toity library would handle something like this. Or is this a hoity toity library problem?)

“It’s like they don’t care,” said Fran. “They do, the staff there do care, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

So to them I will only say this: You are not alone. Fran is on it!

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, People, Places, Politics, Relationships, Routines

SERIOUS BUSINESS

Yesterday (March 15th, 2018) was the first day of the Friends of Toronto Public Library Clearance Book Sale over at the Toronto Reference Library. All items, library discards and (here’s the important thing, the key) donated books, most of which are in good, gently used condition: $.10-$.50.

Cents to the dollar.

***CASH ONLY***

Best deal in town. Can’t be beat!

See the impetus? Sense the urgency?

The Plan:

  • Wake up early.
  • Dress.
  • Eat pre-breakfast (boiled eggs prepared from the night before).
  • Make sure phone fully charged (again, ensure this is done the night before).
  • Grab extra bags (for books).
  • Bring cash, bring pockets full with change (Correct change matters; correct change = ADVANTAGE).
  • Take out dog.
  • Leave home.
  • Arrive early: no later than 9:00AM, a half hour before the book sale (in recent years, word has gotten out and people, lots of them, come for the sale even before the doors to the library open at 9:00AM…these are serious people).

I am a serious person…when it comes to books and massive book sales (when it comes to this massive book sale). This is a serious book sale.

Things. Did. Not. Go. As. Planned.

Woke up on time, but hit snooze and spent way too much time in the bathroom, forgot to boil eggs, grabbed breakfast bars only after the absurd amount of time it took to remember we had them in the first place and the panic that ensued thinking I’d have to go into this, one of the biggest book sales of the year, hangry, took out the dog, bolted from home only to find transit delayed, trains so slow, so slow and lumbering, arrived at library just before 9:30AM and found myself forming part of a very long line that went through the building, out the door, and around the block.

IMG_7714

Evidently, I am not the only serious person serious about this most serious sale.

Serpentine line, like at amusement parks, or celebrity wakes. Too many people, so many bodies blocking the doors it was a fire hazard. There was some confusion as people shuffled, and were shuffled, to and fro:

“Whomever believes the are at the end of the line, put your hand up,” said the burly library security guard. Many hands, scattered here and there, scattered all around, came up. Shot up into the air.

Libraries have burly security guards? This one does. Seriously.

The line was broken up; people waiting after a certain point (this was, roughly, underneath the stairwell inside the main foyer) were asked to line up outside, against the building and down the block. They politely obliged, so wiling they were to get into this sale that waiting in line was an accepted exchange, a hardship readily borne.

So serious.

People from all walks of life were there, but I could see clusters that mirrored each other: kids off from March break (serious ones, of course, who waited patiently for their turn at the books), retirees, university students (more than a few reading textbooks as the lined lurched forward at irregular intervals), obvious hoarders. Many brought backpacks and tote bags and suitcases, the kind with the wheels on the bottom and an extendable handle, for ease.

(Kind of wish I had thought of that, extra baggage in this case would have served as an extra advantage. For serious.)

I spent my time in the line chatting amiably with a woman named Fran,* who told her work she had an important “appointment” that morning which could not be rescheduled. Not a lie. Good on you Fran!

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch (“Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library”): someone’s ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come on Fridays and Saturdays and Fran is on it. Together, we came up with some more interesting theories about who this person could be, and how to catch them.

Fran and I separated once we were finally ushered into the sale, way back towards the back of the big, reliable building by a volunteer who, one hour into the sale, at 10:30AM, was already losing her voice wrangling so many book-hungry people, poor woman.

“Bye, Fran! Good luck!”

Mayhem inside, but of a managed sort. Totally doable, and worth it for the books. Rows and rows and tables full of them, ten cent paperbacks, fifty cent hardcovers, although a lot of what was on offer seemed already picked over.

IMG_7715

Some people grabbed boxes which had been emptied of books for the sale and filled them with the books from the sale. Some people went from table to table, methodically running their hands over spines and covers, picking up titles that intrigued them. Others grabbed at the books, regardless of title, condition or type, and threw them into bags and boxes.

Takes all kinds.

I spent two hours at the book sale, jostling about, snatching books were I could. For all that trouble, I good a good haul: 14 books for just over $4.50.

You can’t beat that, and hard to dismiss it.

The sale goes on until tomorrow (March 17th, 2018, 9:00AM-4:00PM). So many people, so many books: the volunteers, mostly older people wanting to do good by the books, are heroes.

One, overheard on my way out: “Once we started posting about on Facebook and places, the sale has become so popular. It’s like we can’t keep up. We just keep refilling the tables and they just keep buying.”

12:30PM. There was still a line that went through the building, out the door, and around the block. More people outside waiting to get at the books inside.

IMG_7720

The best laid plans indeed.

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

* Not real name. I got you, Fran!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Hobbies, Ritual, Thrift

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 2)

(con’t from Monday’s post)

The BOOK BINGO sheets were prominently tacked on the wall near the stairway leading up to the managers’ offices, a veritable dead zone for employees like me. Dallas, my manager, caught me a week or two into The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of Twenty-Fifteen, standing in her way, staring at the sheets, paralyzed by indecision.

The sheets glared back, white and hot and waiting.

“You know,” Dallas said. “You’re allowed to read whatever you want.”

“This isn’t a test. Just pick a favourite,” came her voice, tinny and smelling faintly of copper.

“I’d like to know your favourite,” said Dallas, and smiled.  

***

(Dallas’s teeth were sharp and yellowed. Rumour had it she had a fake tooth, but no one knew which tooth was the fake tooth. It was anyone’s guess.

I sometimes imagined her taking her new tooth, fresh from the dentist’s office – a brilliant enameled chip, or maybe a hard, alabaster nugget if it was a molar and meant to crush and grind – and staining the tooth with tea bags and coffee grounds on her kitchen table, late into the night, and doing so until she was absolutely certain no one, not one living soul, could tell just which tooth was the fake tooth as she smiled at them from behind dead eyes.)

***

Rumours are many-edged, double-faced things that can cut and bite you if you approach them the wrong way. They proliferate like vermin; spread like wildfire.

Which also means that rumours can be useful – travelling fast and burning away at things until their cores are naked, exposed.

Eventually, it hit me again: the categories didn’t matter.

It was the books.

The books were the key.

***

“Why the Hell would you read Fifty Shades of Grey as your BOOK IN A SERIES? That book is pure, unadulterated smut. And it’s not even good smut.”

“You sure, Dallas?”

“Trust me.”

I read, I adapted. I read some more.

The Secret is your IMPORTANT BOOK? Dallas and I love that book,” boasted Houston, another manager and Dallas’ husband (the place was pretty incestuous, but only insofar as most office environments are incestuous, which is to say not very much, by comparison). “You know,” he continued, lowering his voice, “It’s, like, an open secret.” He winked. It was foul.

I read.

It became a source of power, and a refuge.

The Art of War isn’t an EPIC POEM!”

“It is, Phoenix, if you read it fast enough. The Chinese starts to rhyme.”

“Are you joking?”

It saved me from myself.

***

Did I read all the books I marked off on my BOOK BINGO sheet?

Yes.

Did they fulfill their categories?

Yes.

Were they good books?

Honestly: any book that sets you free is a good book. Any book that does precisely that is worth its weight in fucking gold.

Yeah. I won BOOK BINGO that year. That year, I got bragging rights and learned so much compared to what I eventually gave away. And then I found work in a better, more supportive environment.

There is no doubt about it. It was because of the books.

***

I wonder: did the others who partook in The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 do the same as me? Had they recognized the power lingering on the other side of books?

If they had, I didn’t notice, which of course would have been the whole point.

 

THE END

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Education, Employment, Interruptions, Jobs, People, Relationships, Ritual

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 1)

My interest in doing anything diminished by something like 98% whenever I’m specifically asked or told to do it.

Perhaps I am a contrarian, but I doubt it.

This tendency, this character trait, this human flaw, whatever you want to call it, thankfully does not interfere with my work life, which makes me a Good Employee. For all intents and purposes.

Maybe not a contrarian then, but simply a pragmatist.

Whatever it takes.

Look. I tried to get along with my office mates (I try to get along with everyone!) but it isn’t always easy or convenient (or wise) to do so. Offices especially can be strange environments – few resources (promotions, photocopying privileges, pens & paper) makes for some intense competition and, in my case, produced some rather toxic rivalries. Everyone seemed to know this, but that isn’t the same as saying it was acknowledged, openly or otherwise.

Or is it just me?

(It’s not just me.)

*****

There are things people did to ease the tension: some brought in cookies and candy, others organized office potlucks, a few nominated themselves (or were nominated) as to go-to people to for those wishing to celebrate their birthdays at the office (after work hours, and we all had to chip in for the cake).

There were few birthdays at the office.

For a while we were allowed, encouraged even, to bring dogs in to work (“Pet dogs,” reminded our boss, Tucson,* pale, immaculate finger wagging in the air, adding his usual linguistic garnish as a way to stay at the head of the decision, though it may have been a directive rather than description, it was hard to tell with him).

But the dogs quickly became bored, then destructive, then somewhat belligerent (they could sense it too, the tension, and were getting spoiled from the cupcakes people fed them under their desks).

A NO DOGS policy was instituted.

For a while after that, there was nothing, save the baked goods and the potlucks and birthdays as rare as black, winged unicorns (or promotions).

Then came BOOK BINGO.

*****

Phoenix came up with the idea, and it seemed a good one. It seemed inventive and sound and, most of all, harmless. We were, after all, a group of smart, educated people, who often professed our love of books in the narrow, sagging hallways of the ramshackle building that housed our cubicles, on the tacky carpeting that ran beneath our shared workspaces like an oil slick; in the upstairs kitchenette with the broken microwave. Some of us were even in book clubs.

Book clubs, even!

*****

The categories listed on the BOOK BINGO sheets that Phoenix printed out for us seemed interesting and (dare I say it?), fun:

 

B-3: A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL.

I-5: A GRAPHIC NOVEL.

N-2: A BOOK WITH A BLUE COVER.

G-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED IN 2015.

O-4: A BOOK WRITTEN BY A FEMALE AUTHOR.*

 

“Where’s the harm?” I said.

And Phoenix smiled.

*****

In the end, five of us (it was a small office, despite everything), signed on for what was already being hailed (by Phoenix, ever the ringmaster, ever the MC) as The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 (pronounced “twenty-fifteen”).

Because not only had we agreed to play, we would play big: no rows or columns of B or I, or the like or that ilk. Not even impressive diagonals would do. The winner would be declared the first to complete the entire BOOK BINGO sheet (all twenty-five squares, minus the star in the middle that marked the free space). The good space.

The prize would be bragging rights (or cake if we all wanted to chip in for it).

*****

Bragging rights I wanted.

Bragging rights I understood. Bragging rights were how you got around a place like the place where I worked, how you carved out a space for yourself and kept it that way.

I got books out from the library. I took gathered books that I had purchased from second-hand stores and garage sales and had always meant to read, sometime IN THE FUTURE, when the time was right. I made piles and lists. Books towered on my nightstand. They littered the floor, crept onto the bed and invaded my dreams.

I consulted BOOK BINGO sheet, and took a closer look at the categories carefully picked out by Phoenix:

 

N-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED THE YEAR YOU WERE BORN.

O-2: A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

N-5: AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

O-3: YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

 

And it hit me.

Each category – it asked a lot. Each would give the people I saw every day – and really only because I was paid to be there (seeing them was, in a way, incidental to being there) – a little something of myself.

It hit me hard.

*****

(Was this a bad thing? Was it bad? It didn’t seem good. Not like it mattered at that point. I was in, do you understand? I was making progress, even.)

*****

I remember thinking: I am a Good Employee. I can do this. This is good.

Besides, I reasoned, maybe I was being silly. Perhaps I was overreacting in order to compensate for the state of things. Seeing ulterior motives and indulging in paranoid fantasies where there was only collegiate goodwill and a genuine, concentrated desire to connect. I was seeing entitlements where there were only efforts to create a more open, friendly, happy place to work.

A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

But then there was never enough pens & paper.

AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

There was never enough to go around, if certain people needed it.

YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

And I was not certain people.

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

________________________________________________

* Not real name. All names, and possibly genders, have been changed to obscure the identities of the very real people that lurk just behind those identities.

* This required a special category???

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Dogs, Employment, Jobs, People, Pets, Places, Politics, Relationships, THE FUTURE

House Haunting

 
I like to walk around in other people’s houses when they are not there. It thrills me.

I like to open kitchen cabinets and refrigerator doors and I like to peer under beds and parse paint choices and peruse bookshelves.

I like to straighten pictures and nudge knick-knacks just a touch to the left, just a touch to the right.

I walk, I look, and I wonder about the people.

Would they notice the planter askew, where I had moved it with my finger? Would they mind that I used to bathroom? I startled the cat on my way to the bedroom, poor thing. I creaked the floorboards going up and down the hallway.

Tee-hee! Ha, ha, ha!!

I think about how fun it is to haunt people, and then how ultimately pointless.

Tee-hee.

And then we gave notice on our apartment, and for a while I wondered about my own paint choices, the books lining the shelves in my living room, the contents of my refrigerator. My plants, my furniture, the crusty dishes I left in the sink.

And I thought about being haunted.

Do I want to live somewhere where the people before had painted the walls a deep, insistent mauve? Where the kitty litter had been kept, of all places, in the kitchen? Where Anne Rice enjoyed such an undeniable presence?

And which Anne Rice? Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned? Anne Rice, The Pious? The Once and Future Anne Rice?

Does it matter?

There were hand smudges on the walls of my new place. I painted over them but sometimes when I pass along the hallway, I can almost just see them.

And I admit that for now I will avoid looking directly into the dirty mirrors strewn around this place, I will throw away the greasy microwave that was left here, I will sprinkle “Nature’s Miracle Just for Cats Urine Destroyer Intense Urine Stain & Odor Remover” around this godforsaken place like freakin’ holy water.

I think that would be best, don’t you?

Ha, ha, ha.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Books, Change, People, Places

That Monkey On Your Back

 
They came at us from the front of the room and as they picked each person off one by one, good intentions flaring like the quivering proboscis of an enraged primate, I grappled for a response I could maybe live with for the rest of my life.

An education seminar that begins with six suspiciously keen and terrifically alert presenters, all of them eager to feed upon the attentions of a captive and as yet hapless audience, is a deadly, deadly Thing indeed.  8:15AM sharp.  Bright shiny eyes, grinning from ear to ear. Gorgy faces gazing back at them, totally unawares.

The subject was reading – literacy – how do we as The Concerned get The Youth to enjoy reading as everyone everywhere, naturally, should.  Or something.

Suddenly:

“Without thinking about it, tell us what your favourite book is!”

TEAM BEEFCAKE.

See how they sparkle in the sunlight?

A trick!

A question the answer to which serves to define the questioned for the questioner according to level of intellectual and/or emotional and/or aesthetic maturity – or possibly even to showcase the supposedly advanced capacities of the asker – and infused with an unquestioned imperativeness (WITHOUT THINKING…TELL US) that mires it, all of it, in all kinds of smug, self-satisfied celebration.

A mess.

I am not good at giving people advice.  Any “advice” I do give can easily be broken down to its essential elements: a heady blend of avoidance and denial, topped with a generous dollop of after-the-fact rationalization.  Bait and switch. Cut and run.  That kind of Thing.

But I want to help here. I feel compelled to ease the blunt force trauma of the trick that is the question that is a mess.

I really do.

And if only to get that wild, demented monkey to stop clawing deep into the raw flesh of your back and off of you already!  To stop it from biting up and down your neck as it clings there, frothing at the mouth.

They haunt me still.

It’s in the eyes where they get you, really.

 
The Alchemist

Sensibilities aside, invoking the title of this book at least puts you on par with the nine other people in the room who already sighed it out as their answer.  It is the classic hide-as-a-face-in-the-crowd tactic.  Much like that time in church when you didn’t feel like singing the hymns so you just mouthed “tomato, tomato, watermelon, tomato” until it was, finally, over.  Or come to think of it your entire career in middle school choir, which you saw through just so you could satisfy the extracurricular requirements established by the board of education – the ones that evidently demonstrate your well roundedness and civic mindedness, thereby setting you on the right path towards a bright and prosperous future as a valued member of society.  And everybody.

Loves!

The.

Alchemist.

 
War & Peace

Go ahead and fire off this salvo at them – a real fatty – and do it with everything you have in you, and especially if you’ve never read War & Peace. They will not call your bluff. They will move on after a moment of dubious yet acquiescent pause. The risk here is just too great. The stakes too high for anyone to do otherwise.

 
Black Beauty

“But not the one with the horse.”

 
Catcher in the Rye

A lot of people find this book admirable not just as reading material but as evidence, unequivocal, of a mind able to slice through the phoniness of society just like everybody else who has read this same exact book in high school for 11th grade English because every single copy of Life of Pi had been checked out and there was, like, no way you were going to take the bus across town on a Friday afternoon to the main library just to get it.  So you might as well let them have it. Go with it.

 
How to Train Your Cuttlefish

GRIPPING… an extraordinary achievement that completely redefines everything we thought we knew and then some. [How to Train Your Cuttlefish] is both deeply rich and luxuriously illuminating…[an] utter tour de force! With cuttlefish.”

 
 I, Platypus

No lies.  You’ll probably get called out right away for this one, but that actually makes it worth the effort. And if you don’t? Still totally worth it. You cannot lose.

 
The Phantasmagorical Journey Through the Outworlds of Nibs and Doon: Oridon’s Lament (First Edition, Vol. 2)

Extra points (10, 000+) if you can: 1) say this with a straight face and 2) preempt any follow-up questions as to the actual existence of this book (“Really? I’ve never heard of it”) with a dramatic, over the top eye-roll. Then flip the table and leave the room without another word. Have a sandwich and congratulations!

 
The Bakers’ Dozen

I dunno.  But sounds good, doesn’t it?  Legitimate, even. If pressed, try: “It’s a mixed-genre mystery thriller/cookbook. It is very psychological.”  That should do it.

Indigenous in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

These lovelies are known as Persians. Their pinkness is literally and figuratively the icing on the cake.

 
Shakespeare’s 10 Things I Hate About You

Yes. GO THERE.

 
Infinite Jest

“By David Foster Wallace? Have you heard of him?”

No?  OK. Then, yeah.  With raised brow and laudable guffaw I repeat: Infinite Jest.”

Yes? OK. Never mind. My favourite book is, uh, The Alchemist. It changed my life or something.”

 
Like I said.  Cut and run.
 

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Filed under Books, Education

THE CLASSICS

I was over at a friend’s place a few nights ago, and he said that he had read the classics but not Jane Austen because her books are “all about marriage or something.”

As a Jane Austen fan and something of a reader of myself, I was slightly offended but not utterly surprised.

We often belittle the Things we only possess and are only really inclined to possess a passing familiarity with.

Here are some authors and books – CLASSICS – which I have not read:

 

Charles Dickens

Yeah.  Never got around to anything of the Dickens.  But I can surmise.  Urchins, cobbling, buggies and blacking factories, a magician…?

And a stacked audience.

You should see what this man can do with the Statue of Liberty!

If I were to write an autobiographical novel, I’d call it Siegfried & Roy.[1]  It would, naturally, draw on my childhood experiences of big cats and the men who love them.

Here's a secret: the Tiger is me!

Sexy Sandwich!

 

White Fang

Jack London.  Right.  I actually watched a Canadian TV show back in the 90s called White Fang, which starred an unhyphenated husky instead of a wolf-dog.  Kind of like Memoirs of a Geisha, which had Chinese people playing Japanese people, all of it and everyone caught up in a lavish production.

Memoirs of a Geisha is not by a geisha just like White Fang is not by a wolf or a dog.  But canines at least – and in any form, so far as I know – cannot write.

I’ve never read Memoirs of a Geisha either, and neither has Jack London.

It’s safe to say that we both never will.

 

Plato’s The Republic

I “read” this only in the sense that I had a first year university lecturer who summarized The Republic from her wonderfully meticulous and wondrously vapid notes, verbatim. It was a weekly, three-hour long class in the dead of winter and my only real accomplishment during the whole Thing – the whole ordeal – was that I lost all my vitamin D that semester.

These were the days before the easy wisdom of Wikipedia, you see.  I guess I could “wiki” Plato right now and impress the shit out of all of you (unless, of course, you all “wiki” it too and then we’ll all be standing, exposed, in a pool of our own inadequacies).  But simple ease has never been much of a contender to absolute laziness.

I just don't need to know how deep the rabbit hole goes, you know?

WHOA! Just take blue pill.

So…yeah.  According to Plato, this – everything this – is, um, The Matrix.

 

Walden (or Life in the Woods)

What I know of Walden, I’ve managed to piece together from fractured coffee shop conversations, The Simpsons and a snippet or two from CSI (who knew?). Not to mention my own prejudices, which can be shockingly astute.

Yes.  They are.

So, ok.  Deep breath.

Annnd…this-is-a-book-that-is-a-social-experiment-that-is-about-a-man-who-decides-to-leave-the-drudgery-of-modern-society-for-the-simplicity-of-life-in-the-woods-as-he-experiences-it-let’s-face-it-from-the-luxury-of-his-(upper?)-middle-class-sensibilities.

He sits on pumpkins and thinks that that is just neat.

If  you're doing Walden, would you also have to read Walden while you're doing it? Or would that be too much?

"March 15th. I wish I brought a TV. Oh God, how I miss TV!"

I think this is really a book that is about having your cake and eating it too, even if you have to bake it yourself (and not entirely from scratch).

Although I have not read Walden, I have read A Walk in the Woods (1998), in which Bill Bryson writes that “Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as he could stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core.”

Sounds apt.  Exactly apt.

 

Steppenwolf

What is with wolves and literature?  How about something kicky and new?  Steppennarwhal!  Steppenmanatee!! Steppenhippopotamus!!!  I’d be all about that.  Totally.

Anyway, the internet tells me that Steppenwolf is this:

 A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life.

It is also this:

I like to dream, yes, yes

Right between the sound machine

On a cloud of sound I drift in the night

Any place it goes is right

Goes far, flies near

To the stars away from here

Perhaps I should read Steppenwolf while listening to Steppenwolf.  Maybe they’ll sync up.

 

Moby Dick

This is a kind of a cheat because I am always continually trying to read Moby Dick. The intent is always there, nice and solid, but the execution is always sloppy at best.

"Who had had his fill of K-OS' Crabbuckit!  Except that was not true, Crabbuckit is 'coo.  They should teach it each day at the skools!

"There once was a man from Nantucket" is not, incidentally, the way this book starts. But it should be.

10 months later and, like, 280 pages in, and it turns out it’s about a whale.

And revenge.  Or something.

Sweet revenge.

 

References

Bryson, Bill. (1998).  A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Broadway Books.

 


[1] (The Cindy Phan Story!)

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Book Club

I like taking the subway to get to Other Places because I can do Other Things while I’m at it.  It’s like a kind of wondrous, effortless multitasking.

I love to battle it out in the underground.

Game on, game on.

Sometimes I listen to music.  I mean, how often can you just listen to music?

(Finally!  A chance to enjoy MMMBop, on repeat, without distraction).

(And in plain sight of a Society at Large that is none the wiser.  HA!).

(Mmm bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du...)

Seeing double plus one.

I know you're in here...somewhere...

(I never stopped loving you, Taylor Hanson).

Sometimes, I people watch.

(That woman looks drained and downtrodden; she needs a break.  That man is robust, yet unfocussed, and just a little bit glib; he has had too many breaks).

(Everywhere I look pants are getting both tighter and bagger.  It’s like one is compensating for the other but I’m not sure which is doing which).

(Did I just indadvertedly make eye contact with that old lady?  Shit.  Look away!  No, wait.  Don’t look away!  PRETEND YOU’RE ASLEEP AND DON’T KNOW ENGLISH).

Hell is...

Happy 7:00AM, People! Watch me as I'm watching you.

Sometimes, I just, kind of, you know…space out and go from there.

Just…

…kind of…

…you know…

ZzZzzzzzzzzZZZzzZZzzZZZzzzzZZZzzzzZZZZZzzzZzzz.....

Amen, sister friends.

Mostly, though, I read.

I love to read on the subway because I win at reading on the subway.  I absolutely DOMINATE.

But it is not without its perils.

After all, nobody wants to LOSE at reading.  It’s all a matter of knowing when to pick your battles.

At a Tim Horton’s?  Go ahead, pull out that brand new copy of Jean M. Auel’s The Land of the Painted Caves.  Read it over timbits and half-eaten crullers and lowered expectations.  “Ooo” and “ahhh” whenever the mood strikes your fancy.  Laugh your head off.  Or not.  Who cares?  WHO CARES??

At a Starbucks?  Best then to go with that worn copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra that you picked up at Goodwill for just the occasion.  Be sure to smile indulgently at the page every now and then, and to nod your loving approval to a brilliance not unlike your own.  Chuckle, a little, to show your engagement with the DISCOURSE.

But the subway…

…On the subway, reading is an art.  Of war.  You have to know the terrain you’re on that particular day and adjust to the conditions and – this is critical – to know to withdraw when you have to.  It’s not like listening to Rock N’ Roll Razorblade, or reading from a Kinkle or Kooboo or whatever the hell, which you can do with the immunity of anonymity.

My other iPad is a Millennium Falcon.

iPad Dude! Damn you and your impunity from my scrutiny!

NO.

Because maybe today is a Dan Brown kind of day.  Sheep!  I shall raise the stakes with my rare edition of hitherto unpublished Mark Twain manuscripts!

But what if The Autobiography of Mark Twain is the Name of the Game?  Why, then, I shall counter with the Collected Works of the Emmanuel de Mure Volstein!  It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t exist; even if he did, you still wouldn’t have heard of him!

The Help.  The HELL?  HA! Allow me to retort with The Hunt for Red October, because it’s the better movie.

Twilight?  You’re better off with the movies in the way that people are better off trapped inside burning houses than under churning seas.

No surprises in the end, but least you’re not wet.

Shakespeare?  SHAKESPEARE! Shit…Oh shit.  How am I supposed to know if you’re reading in earnest or with ironic detachment?  Is there a book report due or a play in production?  Is Kenneth Branagh up to something??  Too many variables here.  Best to rock myself gently to the soothing melodies of Middle of Nowhere and live to fight another day.

(Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose/You can plant any one of those/Keep planting to find out which one grows/It’s a secret no one knows…)

You may ask: must I live this way, constantly on edge?

YES.

Because sometimes you have to lose to win.

Because sometimes the content of the book isn’t as interesting as who’s holding it by the covers.

Because sometimes Tenuous Something is better than Ample Nothing.

But sometimes…

…Sometimes I think that Things would be easier if I just read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

"She was there to sell makeup, but the father saw more..."

"Put it away! Put it away!!!"

But the world doesn’t work that way, and it is in moments like these that I realize that I just can’t betray the standards I have set for others to impose on me.

It’s just easier to accomplish Things without really having to accomplish anything and that’s what we call SUCCESS in the end.

It is a hard Thing, living for others; entering the combat zone weary, battle scarred, knowing that in my heart of hearts, my love resides elsewhere.

No word of a lie: I LOVE Fran Drescher.  She is great to me.

This book has everything.

But I shall persevere.

(In an mmm bop they’re gone/In an mmm bop they’re not there/In an mmm bop they’re gone /In an mmm bop they’re not there/Until you lose your hair. But you don’t care).

(Repeat Chorus).

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