Tag Archives: books are awesome

Bend One Over For Me


My wife is a librarian.

She’s a lot smarter than I am, as I may have mentioned before. Which probably explains why she had a career, first in the news (where she wrote the words you’d see on your trusted news sites — and sometimes coming out of the anchors’ mouths), and second in the school system, facilitating students’ access to the carefully chosen words of thousands of authors and information sources.

She’s an expert, is what I’m trying to say, on the written word. And I’m, you know, working on that. Needless to say, our house is full (yeah, probably overly full) of books. We keep books everywhere: the bedside table, the downstairs library, the shelf in the living room, the cubby in the kitchen, our children’s bedrooms, our personal spaces at work, our bags going to and from work. I even keep books in my car, and I’ve been known to sneak a page in at that one reeeally long traffic light. We give books as gifts to each other and to others. We know books, we love books.

But one thing you’ll find in my books that you won’t find in hers? Dog-eared pages.

 

See, I used to re-read books that I enjoyed. I still do that occasionally, but I just don’t have the disposable time that I used to have. There are still, though, those passages in books of all stripes that just hit me — a nasty literary hook to the solar plexus, a wicked narrative cross to the temple — that I know I will want to experience again. I may not have time to go cover-to-cover again, but when I’m jonesing, I can pick up a tome I’ve traveled before and browse the greatest hits.

But how do I find them again?

I have to mark them.

I usually try to keep a pencil quick-to-hand, but especially at home, that isn’t always the case. When I’m neck-deep in a gripping read, the last thing I want to do is put the book down and cross the room. I’m not doing that. Plus, even if I do have a pencil handy, what are the odds I’m going to see my pencil mark as I flip through the pages? Not great. Sure, there are highlighters for such quandaries, but highlighting reminds me too much of school, and this is leisure, not work. So highlighting is out, for me. (Unless we’re talking e-books. Which we’re not. We have some standards around here. [Just kidding. E-books are great. I have lots of them. But you and I both know that there’s nothing like the real thing.])

No, if you really want to find that knockout passage again, you need to mark the whole page so that you can open right to it.

Again, there are methods for such things. Some people, I understand, like post-it notes or little scraps of paper. To that I say, who has the time? If I’m not going to interrupt my read to get a pencil, I’m darn sure not going to go downstairs to the office to get a post-it to stick between the pages. I’m not going to sit here and rip up a piece of paper to make a dozen tiny bookmarks. (Also, they fall out!) Nonsense.

No, what I’m going to do, when I find that lexical 10-point-dive, is I’m going to do what any lazy (read: normal) person would do. I’m going to read it, realize I’ve just had my world rocked, read it again, then reach up to the top of the page and bend that corner over. Bang. Done. I didn’t have to get up, I don’t have to fiddle with other implements, and I’ve created an effortless-to-find mark in the book that will last, at the very least, until I open the book again.

It probably goes without saying (though I am happy to say it anyway) that I have a chosen handful of books so dog-eared that the unbent pages are rarer than their bent brethren. My copy of the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide comes to mind. As does my (and I shake my head a little at this) little pink-covered edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I may not have the time to read them again these days (for the fourth, or the fifth, or the forty-fifth time), but if I need a fix I can crack them open and browse through some of the passages that made me love them.

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Assuming I can find the passage I was looking for. Heck, I’ll find SOMETHING good on one of those pages.

If not for dog-ears, where would I be? Lost, that’s where.

Which, for my personal collection of Books That I Own, is fine.

But I’ve rediscovered the library, lately. And, oooooooooh, does my wife have a problem with me putting a dog-ear in a library book.

Because if books are sacred (and inasmuch as I hold that nothing is sacred, books may be the closest thing to it), then library books are doubly so. They belong not to one, but to all. They are a shared resource, a tool for the entire community. Bending the pages is damaging them, she says, as surely as is scribbling in the margins, bending the cover back, or dropping them in a puddle. I’m leaving the book in a less-than state for the next reader when I damage it.

And, as far as damage goes? Yes, I totally agree. Library books, by dint of their communal nature, are sacred and should be taken extra care with. (Don’t end a sentence with a preposition, they said. Avoid passive voice, they said. Rules are for breaking.)

But I hold that dog-earing, and even the occasional note in the margins (I wouldn’t write in the margins personally, but I don’t mind finding writing in the margins), is the antithesis of damage. It’s enrichment.

In fact, if I find that a book I’ve just checked out is dog-eared up already? Ooh boy, I know I’m in for a treat. A dog-ear in a book I haven’t read yet is a flashing neon sign, the finger of an unseen deity saying “the stuff you want in this book? It’s right here.” If it’s a nonfiction book, I’m opening right to that page. In fiction, I note that page the way you note the dessert table on your way into a buffet. Can’t wait to get THERE. (Seems like I’m having a food motif of late around here. Couldn’t possibly be the new diet.)

So, naturally, I feel that when I dog-ear the pages of an enjoyable book, I’m returning the favor. Paying it forward. Marking off the trail for the prospective readers yet to come. And if it does benefit the next reader, that’s awesome. But the truth is, I would do it anyway. Dog-earing a book is one of those rare acts which is both selfish and serves the community. I do it for myself, but it might benefit somebody else, too, and I think that’s awesome.

Heck, Kindle — or maybe it’s Google Books, or maybe both — will already identify for you the passages that other readers often highlight in the books you read. Isn’t this basically the same thing?

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The library-owned copy of “10% Happier” I’m currently working through. Sorry not sorry!

Still, my wife scowls at me when she catches me at it. “How can you do that to a library book?” she demands.

How can you not, I don’t dare say in return.

Except that, uh, the jig will be up when she reads this.

So … yeah.

Am I wrong for this? Or is this not a service we owe to one another?

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Just One More Page


I keep falling asleep reading.

More and more over the past year, but especially in the past few weeks, my day ends to the lethargic turning of pages, a heavy-lidded struggle to finish just one more chapter that becomes just a few more paragraphs then maybe I can actually finish this sentence before finally devolving to part of my brain knows I’ve read this word five times already yet I have no memory of it.

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And then, at some point, I wake up. The light is still on and the book has tumbled clumsily onto my chest and my wife is snoozing beside me and I’m overcome by sadness, because first of all I can’t remember what I read and second of all I’m going to have to read it again and third of all I’m awake late at night which does not bode well for the following morning. Sometimes I manage to bookmark my progress and put the book on the bedside table before I lose consciousness for good; sometimes the book ends up in the floor and I’ve doomed myself to rereading passages if not entire pages again the next night.

Could I learn from this? I could. Logic dictates that I should know when I lie down for the night whether I’m alert enough to pick up a book and grind through a few pages. But logic doesn’t know a damn thing about my life. I’m trying desperately to not be one of those jerks who goes to work, comes home, ignores his kids, and disappears into a black hole of bad TV and beer before he succumbs to unconsciousness, only to repeat the process ad infinitum until his life is as meaningless as the jokes inside a Bazooka Joe wrapper. I’m trying — perhaps not with Herculean effort, but trying nonetheless (damn you Yoda) — to improve.

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That means waking up earlier than I have to to put some miles on my sneakers. It means working on my novel or reading during my lunch break. It means playing some video games with the kids when I get home, or chasing them around the yard a little bit. And it means carving out time to read every night before I finally shut my eyes, even when my pillow’s siren song is at its most irresistible.

And maybe it’s because my reading fare of late is a bit, I dunno, drier than what I’ve read in the past. (This week’s tome: A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking.) Fascinating stuff, to be sure, but still — not exactly an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and the old man needs his sleepies.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


The Too-Good Book Blues


I’ve just finished reading a book that I’ve had in my “to read” queue for far too long: Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts. It came highly recommended from a number of sources, and though I don’t usually read horror novels, I have to say, it’s a hell of a ride. Possession. Fear. Devils and demons. (Maybe? Or maybe not? The book and its main character are kind of agnostic on the point, which is frustrating, but also powerful.) And a blindsiding final twist that doesn’t disappoint.

It’s one of those literally unpotdownable stories that keeps you breathlessly turning the pages.

Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it fills my head with all sorts of ideas and aspirations in addition to just being a bloody enjoyable waste of time. Bad because it’s over now, and I have to pick up something else to read, and whether the next tome I pick up will even come close is anybody’s guess.

English needs a word for this feeling: that vague hopelessness you feel after tearing through a proper humdinger of a story, that creeping suspicion that what comes next can’t hope to compare. (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows should get on that.)

In fact, I think it’s partially this feeling that’s had me so on the ropes creatively lately — in addition to the move, which swelled up and rolled out of control like the Thing and, bloblike, consumed my entire summer, I read John Scalzi’s Lock In at the beginning of the summer and it so filled me with this sensation that I couldn’t get interested in reading anything else for about a month. I pawed at Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and it just seemed to drag on. I nibbled on Matt Haig’s The Humans, and, though it’s really very entertaining (an alien puts on a human skin to stop a scientific discovery from reaching the light of day), I just kind of stopped reading it for reasons I can’t properly identify. Nothing wrong with the books. They just didn’t exactly seize me by the lapels.

But Head Full of Ghosts did, and now I have to deal with that. The next book up is Michael Crichton’s Micro, which I bought at the bargain bookstore and have put away 150 pages of in just a few nights. Not a bad start.

And, for that matter, look — it’s got me posting on a weekend again. Maybe the haze is lifting.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Page-Turner


Chuck’s challenge this week: Must Contain 3 Things. My three things: Library, Survival, War.

Ever gotten totally lost in a really good book? So did Elloree. Her story is below.

Page-Turner

In the flickering light of her dying candle, Elloree resembled nothing so much as a praying mantis in smudged plaid and oversized glasses. Her spindly fingers tracked like machines across the typeface, barreling toward the bottom of the page, then flicked it over with robotic efficiency. Her radiant eyes bounced from side to side as they drank in the words like so much water down the throat of a man dying of thirst. Her papery lips alternately pursed with puzzlement or curled up with satisfaction or opened just slightly to gasp with surprise. In a matter of moments, she had finished the book and tossed it on the pile of its brethren; another stripped-down carcass added to a growing pile of bones.

She rose, dusted her knees, and ghosted her way through the aisles. They towered over her diminutive frame like guardians, shielding her from the crimson light streaming through the windows, the streaked and scorched sunlight invading her fortress as it did for only a few times every day. She floated through fiction, bandied around the biographies, and reveled past the reference section, landing at last in her favorite section: Romance. She picked out a thick volume with a strapping bare-chested man on its cover and hummed dreamily to herself as she carried it back to her nest.

******

Rast’s shrill whistle pierced the evening, and Nell lifted her gaze from her bedraggled footsteps.

“Up ahead,” Rast whispered, as if afraid of breaking the dusty silence. “See it?”

She did. And as it always did when they approached another town, her throat tightened. Most likely it was just full of more of the same: smoldering corpses, shattered buildings, the haunting echoes of an entire community’s tortured final moments lingering in the air like poison. Occasionally, despite all the festering death, there would be some supplies. It had to be risked.

Nell straightened her pack on her shoulders, brushed an errant strand of soot-smeared hair from her face. “Let’s go.”

******

The sun was almost down, but Elloree hardly noticed. She never did, as the sunset looked the same as sunrise and much of the rest of the day. With the never-breaking columns of acrid black clouds streaming overhead, only an occasional ray of burning light would streak through, and then only briefly. The rest was darkness and smoke, and her candle was guttering. She lit another and continued her story.

******

The extermination here had been methodical and absolute. The roads were pulverized and difficult to walk on; Rast and Nell found their footing much more easily several feet off the road in the mud and weeds. The buildings were hollowed and skeletal, their shells weird misshapen silhouettes against the fading red light. No food. No survivors. Nothing left.

“Sun’s down soon,” Nell said. “Time to go.” She hated making camp in towns; you never knew when a sentry would pass over. They were better off when they could find a copse of trees or a rampant untended cornfield. But Rast wasn’t listening. He was squinting against the fading light, his three-fingered hand needlessly visoring out the sun. “There’s a light.”

“Don’t be stupid. I don’t want to get caught out here.”

“Nell. That building. Over there. It’s intact.” he pointed with his five-fingered hand. “And there’s a light in its window.”

Nell sighed and humored Rast with a look. He was daft as a post, but loyal, and he tried to help, bless him. He was also absolutely right.

The Septids razed every building they declared “tactically useful,” which included food storage, weapons repositories, residences, schools, churches, and offices. Occasionally you’d find a squat untouched, a shed or a low-slung warehouse. This building was small — probably too small to hold anything useful — but it was also definitely illuminated from within. Not by much. A light too faint to be mistaken for anything other than the reflected glow from the scorched sun burned at one window at the nearest corner. But that one window glowed while the others were dark. Rast’s sharp eyes had picked out something useful after all.

She turned to him and nodded, drawing her pistol. “Quietly.”

******

The cracked and smoke-stained door opened soundlessly as Rast leaned into it, and on practiced, stealthy footsteps, they stole into the wide open space.

A library.

For a moment, Nell simply gaped. She couldn’t believe the building was so intact, but it didn’t take long to figure out why. Books had long ago gone obsolete. They’d been digitized and collected into virtual storage, which was easier to police and took up less space. Most libraries had been decommissioned, but in some outlying towns it hadn’t been finished before the overthrow. And here they were, in a library.

With somebody else. At the end of the room, a shuffling of feet, a clatter of books. They edged around the shelves and aimed their guns at the tiny girl hunched over a novel in front of a ludicrous pile of books. Her eyes peered at them curiously through the thick lenses of her glasses.

She blinked at them, and they at her, for a few tense moments.

“How are you alive?” Nell finally asked.

Elloree shrugged.

“How long have you been here?”

She shrugged again.

The girl seemed so carefree, so unimpressed by them. Nell felt foolish. “How did you survive the war?” She demanded, her voice growing shrill.

“The war?”

Rast giggled foolishly. Nell scowled. “The war,” she explained, “that wiped out most of humanity. The war,” she continued, “that destroyed this town. The war,” she finished, “that somehow left you untouched. You didn’t know?!”

Elloree shrugged, looking a little sheepish. “It’s just… well… I’ve been reading.”

Rast began cackling. “Bookworm read right through the end of the world!”

“It’s just,” Elloree said, “that they were really good books.”


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