Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fun With Library Books

So The Pook and I went to the library last weekend, and I checked out about 9 books of my own to read.

Oh, stop with the pretending to have a heart failure. I've always loved the library.

Except... I'm a germ-phobe.

I haven't always been a germ-phobe. Or at least not to the extent that I am now. And let me just say that my levels of germ-phobiness don't even approach those of many other people I know. I will, for example, touch the door handle when leaving a public restroom. Usually. Unless it's visibly foul.

But the library... I hold the library responsible for my germ-phobiness. Yes. I do.

You see, a few years ago I was a single mother constantly struggling to make ends meet. I was not at liberty to drop a hundred bucks a paycheck on new books (we won't talk about how much I was spending on my comic collection at the time). So we went to the library all the time.

And so one night, I'm sitting in my favorite chair at home, sipping a beverage and reading a book -- a Faye Kellerman detective novel. And I smell... something. Something like cigarettes. So I check the window, figuring someone from my apartment building must be out front smoking right near my window. But the window was closed.

So I sniff my own clothing -- I've never smoked a day in my life but maybe I went someplace that day where someone else was smoking and it got into my clothes. You know how that goes.

But still nothing.

And then I realize... It was the book.

The whole damn book.

Not just the cover, but every single page. Permeated by the smell of stale cigarette smoke.

And then I start examining the book more closely. And it's filthy. Filthy. It's filthy, and it stinks.

So I thought I'd just read it faster, and try not to touch it. Rest it on my lap, or on the table, and just use one finger to turn the pages. But soon, I felt like the smell of the book was bleeding into my hands. And every 20 minutes or so I was getting up to go scrub my hands clean. But I was really creeped out by thoughts of germs and bacteria and god knows what else crawling all over me.

I finished the book, and the others I had checked out at the same time.

But from that point forward, I've become this person who won't even touch a book in the library unless it looks relatively new. I inspect the edges of the pages to make sure they are properly colored, not deeply yellowed with age and dirt. If it passes those two tests, I flip through it to make sure there are no mysterious stains inside. And then, if not, I'm willing to add it to my check out pile.

Sadly, there are times when even this level of examination doesn't work, and I come home and get 67 pages into a pretty good read and suddenly, there's what appears to be a booger in one of the margins. Or a mysterious food particle in the crease between pages.

And it grosses me out. I mean, there's no better way to say it. It's gross and nasty and it kind of makes me hate people. I mean, what kind of person wipes a booger into a library book? Or any book for that matter? What kind of person thinks it's okay to eat over a library book, which by its very definition means it's shared with other people?

A gross person, that's what kind.

I don't even lend out my own books, because I see how other people treat books, and I can't have my own books come back to me in that condition... if they come back at all. My own father bends back the spines of his books. Bending back the spine of a book destroys it. Eventually the pages will fall out! And don't even get me started on the people who think that it's a good idea to turn down a corner of a book's page to mark their place. Um, how about trying a bookmark, people??

So of course dirty, smelly library books are going to send me into fits of rage.

But I think I've coped pretty well with this latest batch.

Until, that is, I found something mysterious on page 72 of Ruth Rendell's No More Dying Then. And then I became hyper-aware of how smelly the cover was, and my palms started to itch, and I was sure I was going to come down with pink eye or something equally disgusting if I kept reading.

But I did keep reading, and it was an entertaining book. And you should all be so proud of me for conquering my fear.

Until the next time.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Or Perhaps Not...

I'm never going to finish Freedom.

Honestly, people, I can't even get past the first chapter.

I have tried. Maybe I haven't done my best, but I have tried. I have tried in all different moods, all different places, all different weather (okay, that's not true because we've only had one kind of weather here for the last month: sunny and unseasonably hot), and I cannot find my way into this damn book.

There's nothing to grab onto. Nothing.

I feel like I'm missing something.

I've felt this way before: The Corrections. Cold Mountain. Memoirs of A Geisha. Twilight (although that's just poorly written, so I actually don't feel like I'm missing something so much as attempting to save whatever brain cells are left at this point in my life by giving it a pass). Anything by William Faulkner or Richard Ford. I can probably think of more -- books that I just don't get and can't understand their appeal, that is.

I used to beat myself up about it. But sometime around page 37 of Cold Mountain, I gave myself permission not to do this anymore -- not to force myself to read books just because everyone else was reading them, or because a bunch of people told me they were good. I gave myself permission to read books the way I read them growing up, back before the phrase Required Reading came along and tried to suck all the pleasure out of books (whose idea, by the way, was it that I major in English Lit in college? Because I'm pretty sure it wasn't mine!). I gave myself permission to not finish the book if it still sucked after 20-some-odd pages. And I wasn't going to feel like a failure if I didn't quite get into a critically acclaimed book. Those critics are reading for a paycheck anyway -- they aren't reading solely because it's fun. And you can't tell me that doesn't make a difference.

But still. This time I feel like kind of a failure.

I mean, how hard is it to just make a decision to read a book and then read the damn book???

I've read 71 books since late January. I'm midway through the 72nd. I'm (obviously) not counting Freedom. So clearly committing is not the issue. Doing the work is not the issue.

The fact is, the book doesn't speak to me. Several pages into the first chapter, I'm still confused about which family this book is actually about; nothing has really happened and there's all this backstory about people I don't know or care about. The sentences are well-constructed but they're sterile. There's no feeling. And not surprisingly, that was the same major issue I had with The Corrections. I don't think you can distance yourself this much from your narrative and your characters and still get your readers to give a damn about any of it.

So I quit. I give up. I hope everyone else really enjoys "the book of the century" (pfffft). I will not be enjoying with you.

Instead, I am going to finish this awesome biography of Walt Disney that I've been reading.

Maybe that explains everything...