Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In the Crannies and the Nooks, There Are Books to Buy

There’s always something. There’s always some goddamn thing that wrecks my plan to get rid of more books each year than I bring in. (Other than my own lack of willpower, which is manifested both by my inability to stop going into bookstores so frequently and by my all-too-frequent willingness to drop a buck or two on just about anything.) Last year it was Borders going out of business, but I really was doing well this year. Before this past weekend, I had bought all of two books so far in 2012. (I don’t count literary magazines, whether I should or not.)

Then we went to the Benton House Book Sale last Saturday. Amy was looking for some books for Jackson and, well, like I’ve said, I don’t have to be talked into these things. Jockamo and Lazy Daze are two of the collection points for the donations that make this book sale work, and I’ve perused the contents of those collection boxes at various times, while waiting either for pizza or coffee. I was sort of hoping, based on what I had seen in those collection boxes, that I would be as unimpressed by the rest of the books at the sale as I was by the ones I got to see beforehand, stuffed into shopping bags and shipping cartons and whatnot. (Either way, it was certainly worth at least a look.)

Alas. You put enough books together in one place, and spend enough time looking at them, and invariably you can spot a monkey reading a copy of Hamlet on the floor under a table in the back corner. Or would have to be your bull. Anyway...I was going along just fine until I came to a pocket paperback copy of Gone with the Wind that was both well bound and in pretty good shape. I normally cast aspersions on pocket paperback books, for reasons that mostly have to do with how cheaply they are made and how hard they are to read. (At least, they’re usually hard for me to read. The print is often fairly small, and I don’t have the best eyes in the world to begin with. Unfortunately, this seems to be getting worse as I get older.)

This one was in good shape, though. The pages fell open nicely, and the binding was not cracked, or even slightly creased, and felt solid enough in my hands that I was confident it would remain that why while the book was under my care. However, it was only one book, and even though it was a (relatively) nice one, it was something I could pass up. I have never read Gone with the Wind, and it’s one of those that I hope to get around to reading one of these days; but that’s what libraries are for—to hold the books you want to get around to eventually until the day comes when you finally get around to them. If it had been something I felt reasonably sure I would want either to read again or to keep forever, then that would have been something different.

The next thing that I picked up and found intriguing was a Modern Library trade paperback copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s not something I’ve ever felt a burning desire to read, and I already have something by its author on my shelves (The Three Musketeers); but the Modern Library edition closed the deal. Modern Library editions are extremely well made trade paperbacks, with long introductions, often by other authors who have some sort of connection to the work they are introducing (such as Michael Cunningham introducing The Voyage Out, Arthur C. Clarke introducing The War of the Worlds, and Michael Crichton introducing The Lost World). The copy was not in very good shape, with a badly rolled spine and some discoloration on the pages; but it was not precisely in bad shape, either, and its Modern Library-ness made up for the other deficiencies.

At this point, I was considering two books I could easily have passed on; but I kept looking around anyway, because it’s places like that where you find the gems that both surprise and delight you. The gem for me, in this case, was a very fine trade paperback copy of The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño. Somebody out there is going to read this and think that Bolaño is overhyped, and they might be right; but I would disagree, mostly because I thought 2666 was great, but also because he is outspoken in his non-fiction and because his poetry can be a little bit dirty. He would be nearly as popular if he were still alive, but his untimely passing, at the age of fifty, pretty much cemented his status as a rock star. Now that I have a complete collection of the work of Richard Yates, Bolaño is the author I hoard when I find him in clearance bins and book sales.

There was no way I was going to pass up the Bolaño novel, so I went back and got the other two books I had been looking at, too. I maybe should have stopped there, but then I would not have found a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew, an early collection of his short stories. I wasn’t entirely sure I did not already have that book, but I grabbed it anyway. I checked the Stephen King bookcase when I got home, and sure enough, no Skeleton Crew. (Yes, I have a whole bookcase, of the three-shelf sort, with nothing but Stephen King books in it—and it’s overflowing.) I also picked up a copy of an old issue of Granta, and by that point it was well beyond time for me to leave. Amy and Jackson had long since paid for their purchases and exited the sale. I dropped a whopping $2.50 on my four books and one magazine, and in one fell swoop undid the modest progress I had made this year in reducing my literary inventory. I suppose there’s always next year...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Deep Thoughts #89

Funny how Michael Moore’s films are one-sided polemics, but 2016: Obama’s America is for the open-minded people who care about this country.

Monday, August 20, 2012

To Go and Paint Big Cities

I was all set to defend my liberal position, supporting President Obama for re-election, at the family reunion Amy roped me into going to yesterday—but then the discussion at our table never precisely turned to politics, and that was actually okay with me. I don’t pay enough attention anymore to hold my own very well in arguments with people who live and breathe this kind of thing. Once upon a time, I maybe could have done that; but not anymore. I’ll be glad to explain why I plan to vote for this or that person, but going back and forth with people who only want you to admit that they are right (even when they are not), is excruciating. I get enough of that shit at the old juke joint; I sure as hell don’t need to suffer it on my off time.

Used to be, when Amy would rope me into family things like that, I would just sit there quietly, and bite my tongue if something was said that rubbed me the wrong way. I never got out of that habit, even while I continued to self-identify as both conservative and Republican—which (to paraphrase George Carlin) I did, until I reached the age of reason. Yesterday, though, I didn’t even have to bite my tongue. The strongest thing said, vis à vis politics, was that Mitt Romney was “much better than Obama.” I disagree with that statement, but it’s not something that can be proven one way or the other—it’s just someone’s opinion.

Know when I did bite my tongue and should not have done? It was when I was asked about writing, and was I writing a novel? Well, yes, I am. Is it a horror story? Well, no, not so much. I know damn good and well what I am writing about, and largely how it’s all going to come together at the end—and yet I ran flat out into an epic fail when asked about it, even at this late date. WHY? Why can’t I just look a person in the eye and tell them that I am writing a novel in three parts about time (college), place (Irvington), and history (the Mafia)? Because I am ashamed of the fact that it took me this fucking long to figure out that I need to write about all three of those things, and that I can actually get them all into one novel?

When I started writing, which is going on twenty years ago now, I knew that I wanted to write about college, because that freshman year affected me deeply (fallin’ back on that ass, with a hellafied gangsta lean); Irvington was tangential for the first half of my life, but then in short order became both important to it and inextricable from it; and the Mafia...well...I mean, the Mafia doesn’t really exist, does it? Even if it does (wink wink, nudge nudge), my dad refuses to talk to me about it, so I’m just going to have to make that part up. (Yep, I got family issues on both sides, baby.) That part of this novel is what I plan to work on during this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I began the first part, the college part, during NaNo last year, and have been working with it since then, trying to get it right.

I’m not ashamed that it has taken me so long to get to this place. I’m a little bit disappointed, mostly with myself, but I’m not ashamed. What’s uncomfortable is trying to explain my work to people I don’t really know, people I have trained myself not to talk to. Habits are hard to break. I told myself yesterday before the family reunion that I would talk if someone asked—but that I wasn’t going to turn whatever I had to say in favor of one person into a backhanded attack on someone else. That’s what passes for restraint, I suppose; but no one asked. That might have been because I chose to leave my backpack, the one with the three Obama buttons pinned to it, in the car. Change takes time, and requires patience.

Deep Thoughts #88 - Special Topical Nuh-Uh Edition

The blame for the negative presidential campaign should go to the ignorant voters who respond to it, not to the candidates who engage in it.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Jackson Goes to School

Today was Jackson's first day of school, at Theodore Potter Elementary School, a Spanish Immersion magnet school in IPS. Their school, in the Cottage Home neighborhood, is undergoing renovation this year, so they are being temporarily housed in the former Frederick Douglass school on Pleasant Run Parkway, just down the street and around the corner from the Pleasant Run Trail and the grimy part of Fountain Square. Amy and I both took the day off so we could both take him to school and pick him up—and I actually managed to get some of the pictures I took this morning posted to my photos site.