With a couple of exceptions, I now only own 3 books. I recently passed on my favorite to someone who might discover something new, even though the words, though translated, are ancient. I don’t know how many books I’ve obtained, only to pass them on to someone else. If I do that, you should know that I found it to be meaningful and want someone to have that same feeling.
Books are worlds. Anyone who disagrees isn’t a bibliophile. I am. You wouldn’t know it by the number of books I own. Having beloved books is certainly a comfort. “I’ll grab one and re-read it,” so many say. For the most part, we don’t follow through. Life is too fast, there are too many distractions, and who has that kind of time? We all do. We just rarely make it. Also, there are so many great books being written, especially by first-time authors. If I miss a book and want to drown in it again, I will find a copy at the library or in one of the new or used bookstores here in NWA.
I love the sight of a mass of books, especially if they are haphazardly placed. This usually means the owner’s fingers often pluck them from their respective perches and read them. The same is true for worn pages, coffee stains, or signs of wear. Books are like us, wrinkles and aged experience. Their contents don’t change, but how we behold them when we take the time to read them certainly does. It’s amazing how many times I’ve reread something only to find that I have changed even though the letters I’m reading have not.
Books aren’t possessions, though we treat them as such. They are like cats, beholden to no one. They are also like cherished photos, ones that sit in closets or under beds, sealed away for safekeeping; they’d rather be seen and touched and remembered for what they are. Time will desiccate the living hands who neglect them.
They are old friends. Though unvisited, they wait for us, timeless and frozen in amber.
One of the benefits of having hundreds of extra full-size candy bars is that it is easy to reward the growing list of delivery people showing up at the house. It’s rare for a driver to respond without appreciation as I hand them a couple of candy bars. It’s like a tip, except it’s for people we wouldn’t normally tip. If I were left to my own devices, I think I would have a basket of chips, cookies, and candy bars – and let the driver choose. If you’re interested in experimenting with it, I recommend you give it a try. It’s a benefit to the driver and it will lift your spirits a little. It might make the driver make a little more effort for your deliveries in the future.
Note: I have hundreds of full-size candy bars. But I haven’t eaten a candy bar in at least seven months.
Potato chips are a bigger risk than candy bars ever will be. The easier method to deal with temptation is to simply not have unhealthy snack choices in the house. I can’t make that decision for everyone, even if the presence of ‘real’ chips is akin to a bag of cocaine lying on the counter. The same is true for real cheese of any kind.
I visited a Dollar General store the other day. As I often do, I grabbed a helium balloon from the party aisle, took it to a huge cemetery near my house, and let it go. This time, I wrote words on a scroll of paper, rolled it up, and tied it to the truncated balloon string. (Sort of like the “write-the-letter-you’ll-never send.”) I didn’t plan on getting a balloon that day. But the balloon corral on the ceiling was stuffed with innumerable balloons. I’ve done the balloon thing on and off my entire life. It’s a stupid bit of fun trying to see how long you can spot the balloon against the immense backdrop of the sky.
It was damn near impossible to take good pictures that day, being close to noon. The sun was relentlessly beating down, washing everything out in a bright pattern. I planned to park on the newer section but the caretaker was struggling to mow the 4,500-gravestone cemetery on that end. I walked out to a random section and took a couple of selfies. I noticed by coincidence that I was standing in front of one of tombstones of one of a friend’s grandparents. It gave me a laugh, the coincidence.
Recently, I told a therapist that I loathe the entire concept of burial, but that I love cemeteries. She laughed. We could have talked for four hours about the absurdity of our rituals. Cemeteries fascinate me. Not just the range of names and types of stones, but the idea that there are thousands of stories buried where I’m standing, lives as complicated as mine, and all of them extinguished.
Like the life on this eye-catching stone. Leonard “Cowboy” Kilpatrick. I could discover so much about his 37-year life. Were I to kick over a few clues, I have no doubt that I might find myself with a longer list of questions. He had a lot of siblings. Whenever I go deeply into someone’s story, one like Cowboy’s, it never fails that a strange series of revelations and coincidences would align. I’m still in awe of how many ways all of us are both separated and overlapping. I don’t find it macabre that we’re all marching toward oblivion, although the loss of so many stories continues to bother me.
I forgot how much I love the terse prose style of Robert Parker, and of his Jesse Stone character. Most people seem to know him from the CBS movies starring Tom Selleck. While Pat Conroy’s purple prose resonates in my heart, the stripped-down way Parker wrote fascinates me.
My cat Güino stares at me from his perch in the bedroom window. The sun is making sporadic appearances this afternoon. If the rays are bright enough, the prisms cast their rainbows around me. The absurd thickness of the pillow is amusing.
Take a hard look at the circumstances and context of the words, “You’ve changed,” or “You’re not the person you used to be.” Clinically speaking, it is possible that the person saying this is saying it because you’ve stopped behaving in a way they want you to.
This isn’t necessarily an indictment of you – or the other person.
Sometimes, though, it is.
There’s no two ways about it. We all need to grow, change, adapt. Especially if any part of our behavior isn’t reflective of who we are or who we want to be.
I was asked to examine the phrase intensely: “You’re not the person you used to be.” It’s a therapy response. One of the things I came away with is this: IF someone says it to you in an emotional or angry way, it can’t be taken at face value. There’s no proper defense against it, and not just because all good adults change significantly.
I almost forgot to start taking allergy medication again this season. Allergy medications confound my hunger response. And no matter what the packaging says, it causes both sluggishness and excitedness, no matter what it is supposed to do.
Someone related to my deceased wife went back to prison for something related to her parole. I don’t have any details but it’s distracting and needless. A few years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to keep her connected to her old life and to imagine there was a reason to hold out hope. I can’t imagine going from living a normal life to being put back inside. She’s 26 with a young daughter.
One of the objectives of me going to therapy is to figure out cognitively what shifted in me that makes it harder for me to sleep. I’ve never been one to require eight hours. But having gone through a phase where sleep evaded me taught me that it is very dangerous for me to go very few nights with inadequate sleep, especially less than five hours. I learned that it is stupid of me to try to make decisions or to hold conversations while in such a state. Trying to keep a sleep record is harder than it sounds, too.
Regarding men on social media: As the tendency to post a profile picture of himself wearing sunglasses increases, so too do the odds he is a narcissist.
Corollary: the greater your resistance to this idea, the more likely that you tend to think such men are more attractive.
I letter bombed Ford Motors. They chose to not do the right thing in regard to a failed transmission with my Ford Focus, which had only 55K miles on it. I bombarded their social media people first. When that went nowhere, I shifted to a comprehensive letter containing the history of the failed transmission design and my involvement. I mailed that letter to several different people within the company. It was like the old days, when “Letters From A Nut” was something I aspired to. I finally got a tepid response back from Ford. Just like Andy Dufresne did in “Shawshank Redemption,” once he got his foot in the door with the bean counters, he started writing TWO letters a week. After all, what is it really going to cost me to try to get Ford to do the right thing? Shame on Ford. Callous behavior is expected of large impersonal corporations, of course. But that’s why I shouldn’t take it personally: they screw everyone equally. Or mostly equally. There’s comfort in that.
I bet you will find something interesting in this article:
My 4-lb. book arrived today: “The Stand,” by Stephen King, the uncut edition. I’ve read it before, although the last time was many years ago. Given the backdrop of the lunacy of the superflu in the book, this book seems both macabre and appropriate.
It’s fitting on several levels. Most importantly, there’s a minor character in the book who shares my birth name. The Walking Dude kills him. After 53 years and 5 days, my footprint on this world isn’t much more lasting. My greatest achievement has been to avoid the certain path that my upbringing imprinted on me.
When I opened the packaging imprisoning the book, I handed it to my wife, saying, “It might be the last book I ever read.”
“Don’t say that!” she chided, even as the weight of it surprised her.
Like everyone else, we both knew that it could indeed be the last book I buy. I said it in humor, an absent-minded quip, motivated mostly by its length.
We may have all passed innumerable and unseen last experiences.
It’s always been this way.
The difference today is that few of us can keep the curtain closed – or our furrowed brow of concern camouflaged behind busy lives. It’s the pace of our previous lives that kept us from sitting in silent concern.
For many, the whirlwind is subsiding, leaving the evidence of unexamined lives and unappreciated pleasures.
The Stand ended with victory for the world, as it continued on.
Ransom stood at the kitchen sink, the book folded open in front of him, the fingers of his tired right hand forcefully holding the pages down so he could see them. Minutes before, he casually opened the book and skimmed the first paragraph. Minutes later, he was on page six and his mind was in the new world created by the book he underestimated.
He briefly looked up, across the wide living room, and out into the rainy street, trying to extricate himself from the clutches of the book. He failed to note it wasn’t raining when he started the book or that the cup of coffee next to him on the counter by the coffeepot had long cooled. He began devouring the thickly layered plot. Each word seemed interminable as his eyes flashed across them, vivisecting the complexities of language and people inhabiting the pages. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the words were somehow written in a foreign language.
Last Saturday afternoon, Ransom went to Birdsong Books in a town over from him. It was his little secret place, one filled with books of both beauty and content. Minutes seeped past him at an alarming rate while he walked the shelves inside. It was the embodiment of how he felt while discovering new worlds inside of books.
“What are you looking for?” a small voice asked him. Ransom looked up from his shelf to see a young girl standing about five feet away from him. In her hands, she held a sloppily bound book.
“Everything,” he replied, with a smile and mischievous wink. He could already tell that the girl was interesting. Her hair was pulled away from her face and the ponytail was stuck haphazardly along the right side of her head.
“It’s a good thing I found you here. I’ve been waiting to give you this.” Upon pronouncing the words in her little musical voice, she stepped forward and extended the book toward Ransom. Without thinking, Ransom reached out and accepted it. It weighed much more than he expected. His hands cradled the sides of the book as he took it, as the pages seemed slightly loose inside it. It reminded him of the sensation of being handed a cage with a restless animal inside it.
Behind him, a book fell from a shelf. Ransom momentarily turned to see what had fallen. When he turned back toward the girl, she was gone.
“Hey!” Ransom weakly shouted. He quickly went around the shelves, only to see the owner looking at him with an odd glance.
“Yes?” asked the owner.
“Oh. Did you see the girl who went by? She handed me this book by mistake.” Ransom was certain he was being pranked. The girl certainly seemed capable of such an endeavor. The owner, although witty and personable, wasn’t the type to participate in shenanigans, however.
“If she handed it to you, it was no mistake.” The owner peered at Ransom knowingly over the rim of his glasses. The edges of his eyes belied a slight smile forming on his face.
Ransom handed him the book, and the owner skimmed through it. “It’s not mine. That much I can tell you for sure.”
The girl was nowhere to be found inside the bookstore.
After a few minutes, Ransom took the book home with him. He placed it absentmindedly on the table adjacent to the front door and forgot he had done so. Until this morning, when he awoke, certain that he had been dreaming about the girl he’d met at Birdsong Books.
In the dream, the ponytail girl sat on a bench next to him, pronouncing each word as she lovingly read a page from the book open in her lap. Ransom heard himself say in the dream that the girl sounded like she was reading out loud in italics.
The girl turned to lock eyes with Ransom. “You must finish the book! Time is escaping.” She grabbed his arm with her small fingers. In the distance, someone played a xylophone with keys tuned to be slightly off.
Ransom woke up fully energized as he started his morning routine. While starting coffee, he looked across the kitchen bar counter and to the front door. Next to the door sat the book. As the coffee brewed, he could hear xylophones, ones which sounded familiar and provocative. Without realizing he’d done so, Ransom went to the book, picked it up, and returned to the kitchen. He poured a cup of coffee and flipped open the cover of the odd book.
As he began to read, the xylophones filled his ears, and the world slipped away.
We all vividly recall colorful memories of carnivals, ocean beaches, or sunlit birthday parties. Many of us have an unseen bond with a few select books, ones so rich and engrossing that we often mourn a little with their completion. The memory of a great book fills our minds with joy as easily as childhood happiness.
Often, a first-time author will pour his or her soul and wit into a book. Without recognition, these books can fade, despite their hidden potential to ignite people’s minds. Those which pluck at our heartstrings and nostalgic memories deserve a chance to flourish and reach more people.
If you’ve yet to hear of “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” by Talya Tate Boerner, I envy you. Your first time reading this treasure is ahead of you. The prose flows like melting ice cream on the back of your hand and the people and places in the book walk through your mind with a vividness that’s difficult to master as a writer. Talya’s mastery of language is equal to Pat Conroy, though her words are more sparse and evocative.
I heard of the book through social media. An avid reader I know spoke highly of it. Since I hadn’t heard of it, at least not that I remembered, I had a tinge of doubt. Buying it on Amazon was one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding a book. Since then, I’ve given the book to several people, all of whom have nothing except warm praise for it. Each book has passed from the original owner to someone else, a secondhand gift of true love for those who might receive it.
For those who might have grown up in eastern Arkansas or in some other rural community, you’ll find yourself back in those tilled fields, with your hands touching the rough edges of a cotton plant or your bare feet carefully treading on the boards of a long front porch. If you’re really lucky, you’ll hear the muffled bang of a screen door slamming shut in the summer as someone you love hollers at you for doing it – for the thousandth time.
“The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” is a love story for a young girl’s childhood. It will make you stand up and look out on your current world and feel like we might have taken a curved path as we grew up and turned away from simple connections. The book stunningly hides a story line of acceptance and redemption inside, one between a stubborn dad and daughter; many of us will find ourselves comparing ourselves to one or the other.
My only wish is that Talya Tate Boerner would write a dozen more such books. In a world filled with books equal to her first, most of us could find happiness in their pages. It is a book like hers which whispers to me long after I’ve finished reading it.
For anyone with a love for reading or storytelling, please find a copy of this book. I’m sure that you will not regret the time you spend inside its world.
Barbara closed her book with resolve, knowing that Pat Conroy’s love of the land which defined him would welcome her once again as soon as she opened the pages. She leaned over to kiss her husband David, even as he paused to remove himself from the world of John Irving. “I’ll be back in a minute, my Lowenstein,” she whispered. He nodded and peered at her over the rim of his ridiculous reading glasses.
She cast aside the bedspread and climbed from the bed. Though the room was a historical catalog of the shared lives of her, her husband, and daughter Elizabeth, Barbara no longer needed to cast a glance at the myriad collection of photos to remember each individual memory. Most of her days filled with recollections of the life they shared before Elizabeth departed. Nineteen eighty-five might as well have been another life. In many ways, it was.
She walked barefoot from the room and turned left, heading toward the darkened room which comprised the epicenter of her life and once belonged to her daughter. She counted the eight paces to the window and pulled it open. The warm breeze enveloped her as she exited to the roof. Tonight, she could smell the honeysuckle floating on the air. A night like tonight was the last one Elizabeth had enjoyed, slightly more than one-third of a century ago.
Barbara knew that on so many previous nights, her daughter Elizabeth had emerged from the same window to smoke. Unlike her daughter, though, Barbara limited herself to a solitary cigarette. She hadn’t smoked a puff in her life until her daughter had died. Since that night, she hadn’t missed a single night without smoking. Rituals demand adherents.
In the event of rain, Barbara would smoke under the overhang of the utility shed, just like Elizabeth. As the drops fell, they reminded her of the minutes her daughter failed to enjoy. Thousands of droplets, accumulating at her feet. At times, she imagined that she could feel each one as it fell.
David knew better than to question his wife. Contemplation requires tranquility, if not silence. Although he would never admit it, he loved his wife more for her dedication to the ritual of remembrance than almost any other thing. He couldn’t bring himself to join her on the roof, even as his absence sometimes drove a wedge between them. 33 years had failed to convince him otherwise.
Barbara measured her inhalations as she watched her quiet neighbors. If anyone now saw the glowing tip of her lit cigarette high on the roof, he or she no longer questioned it. Barbara’s loss was intensely private. When she finished the cigarette, she flicked it out into the yard. David didn’t mind. Collecting the butts was part of his ritual, one he did without comment. In his heart, he knew that one day he would give anything to have the chance to pick up after the people who were no longer with him.
Barbara paused on the other side of the roof, one leg draped over the windowsill. Elizabeth was somewhere out there, in a place of unknowing. Barbara sighed and headed back to her Lowenstein, even as her heart called into the blanket of night.
If someone says, “I should be so lucky!” it implies that they know they’ll never be that lucky. Everyone except those recently hit on the head with a Wile E. Coyote anvil easily recognize the words spoken and the intended meaning. The word for such a phrase is ‘idiom,’ which can be loosely defined as ‘words which have incorporated a meaning not easily evident in the words themselves.’ In other words, an idiom can take on any meaning we ascribe to it, regardless of how divorced it is from logic, lexicon, and lippitude. The more vibrant and involved a culture is, the more likely that the language used has evolved in an infinite trajectory, one more often determined by confused and seemingly incoherent words.
Those most invested in the idea of a stagnant and static language usually tend to be those who incorrectly think they’ve arrived at the imaginary train station marked as “Correct.” They tend to look at a painting and see that the proportion is slightly off rather than observe that a great work of art sees them as well, in part precisely due to its defect. While language’s mechanics might be best understood in the mind of a master, it is on the lips of the young and those dancing around the fringes of normal usage who see to it that it undergoes the transformation which grants our words magic.
Usage, collectively or popularly applied, constantly creates idioms that defy their own origins. Entire books have been written on the subject and a million doctoral candidates have expounded on the folly and futility of language. The well of this subject will never run dry, as most of its underpinnings sit on opinion rather than science. The rules can be any we choose. Regardless of our choices, none of us will ever learn ‘Standard English’ as a means toward poetry or as a dialect born in our infancy.
For me, it is sport to watch educated and well-intentioned people gnash their teeth at one another for esoteric perceptions of correctness. Almost all who do battle on the field of language do so at their own peril. At feud’s end, the language has already expatriated itself to foreign terrain, evolving even in the midst of disagreement. For those who’ve not noticed, I root for the team advocating a dose of anarchy.
Another peculiarity of our language is that we can juxtapose both negative and positive connotations of the same words and phrases, yet mean exactly the same thing. Our language is stuffed with examples, ones which remind us that language is not math and the roadmap toward language in no way follows a logical course. If I shout, “I can’t hardly wait!” you know that I’m full of enthusiasm. On the other hand, if I shout, “I can hardly wait!” I mean exactly the same thing. Both listener and speaker understand the context and content of the contradictory utterances. You can artfully quibble with this specific example but be warned that our language is an arsenal of similarly-defective pairings.
When you snarl your lip and smugly make your assertions, you are not presenting the scholarly front that you anticipate; you’re demonstrating an unwillingness to bend to reality. Language is not math and it certainly isn’t logic. Its consistency lies only in the recognition that it cannot be learned like a finite subject.
We use the word ‘awesome’ without stopping to consider that ‘awful’ also derived from the same root. Usage redefined the intention of the words. I could literally write a list a mile long, one filled with words which have drifted away from their linguistic docks, often to mean the opposite of its cousins.
Having written all the above, I move to one of my most cherished phrases: “I couldn’t care less.” An idiom which reveals the flawed understanding of its detractors more efficiently would be impossible to find. Many an argument has been waged by those using the word in the presence of those who’ve made up their mind about an idiom that means exactly what it is supposed to.
There is no real controversy here, not really. Before this phrase appeared in popular usage, even before its counterpart of “could care less,” people always said, “No one could care less than I.” If said aloud, this phrase sounds as if it had been born in the stilted and feverish imagination of a terrible English writer. It died precisely because of its ridiculousness.
Saying, “I couldn’t care less” in no way conveys confusion, except in the mind of the person who doesn’t understand language, idioms, or the dynamic and evolving presence of our language. If you persist in your insistence that “I couldn’t care less” isn’t correct, you are doing so in contradiction to all evidence to the contrary. You have become contrary yourself.
Language is whatever we decide it is to be.
The sacrosanct of today will soon lie dormant on our lips, replaced by what is to come.
You don’t need my permission, of course. You certainly don’t need my approval, either. Likewise, you are entitled to roll your eyes in derision, mockery or contempt at anyone who corrects you for your punctuation or grammar in a text message. Unless your relationship is based on inequality, you should also expand this idea to include all private messages.
I’m not advocating total disregard for decorum – it’s not an invitation to use the ceiling fan to shave your back hair. Rather, my point is that anyone who takes the time to admonish you for informal text communication is a bigger nuisance than any perceived wrongdoing from sloppy language.
If the other person is chiding you good-naturedly, it doesn’t count as snobbery, so try to let those instances slide without a street duel. I’m not advocating that you be an ass to light-hearted cajoling or ridicule. What I am asking is that you take charge of your life and stop worrying about grammar and content when you are informally communicating. We didn’t vote on this concern – so ignore it.
It’s amazing how much of your life can be lived in this manner. Even a life perfectly lived will draw criticism, right down to the style of pants you wear or how you like to eat your french fries.
Those who relish correcting grammar can’t be stopped, so it’s best to adopt the position that they all suffer from the incurable disease of Grammar Tourette’s Syndrome, except their affliction stems from the mistaken idea that they are arbiters of grammar, spelling, and usage and this status compels them to lash out in self-appointed glee.
Sidenote: English doesn’t have a committee to decide usage or structure. It’s a fluid, evolving mass of ridiculous logic and rules. It belongs to all of us. Standard English is a myth we strive for without pausing to consider that it’s a moving target. Even if we understand the rules, they certainly don’t hold sway in our intimate private lives.
Life is short. Using tools for rapid, convenient communication should not be an ordeal or an exercise in English 101. Be as vigilant as you find it necessary to be and adjust accordingly. But if your blurbs to others are treated with a hostile eye, assume that the person complaining is a bit of an ass and go about your life as if his or her presence in no way determines how you’ll live. That part is most certainly true.
One of life’s greatest pleasures is knowing the rules and ignoring them. No matter how vigilant you are with language, you’re going to make mistakes. Even when you’ve followed all the rules, there will still be disagreement, even among the most educated and learned individuals. Language is not science, nor will it ever be. Since it’s always evolving, become a deliberate part of that process and reject all the components and obligations which don’t serve you.
Take a moment and really, really piss off a language purist. Write as you will and laugh when the sputtering objections commence. If they’ve taken the time to let you know how irritated they are by your lack of adherence to the ‘rules,’ you owe it to yourself to help them get over their unnatural affliction.
Get out your phone and text someone now. Pretend that you’re drunk and can’t spell any word longer than ‘eel.’ You’ll thank me for it.
Apostrophonies: a word to describe those dedicated to the linguistic contortions of logic and denial to justify the continued existence of the apostrophe.
After years of watching the apostrophe debate ebb and flow, I’m voting that we eliminate it. Most of our communication occurs verbally and we’ve survived centuries without needing to wave our arms when an apostrophe is needed.
The grammar brigade can gnash their teeth in protest as they make the tired argument that tradition trumps utility or that our collective language will lose some of its elegance. It’s snobbery to decry nonstandard usage and it bemoans the history of every single change to our language.
Elimination of the apostrophe isn’t a capitulation to the myth of uneducated misuse or modern texting; it’s an overdue necessity. Our language has continuously evolved, and usage determines its structure. We have no arbiter of official usage; “Standard English” is a myth perpetuated by those whose livelihood depends on it, comprising a cabal of dusty minds looking backward.
To make matters worse, many people don’t realize we have a verb to describe the insertion of an apostrophe: apostrophize. Or ‘apostrophise,’ if you’re in the country in which our language was birthed.
One can make subtle arguments regarding those instances when an apostrophe MIGHT reduce vagueness, but if this is your argument, you can’t turn a blind eye toward the other 3 dozen ways in which English contains aberrant structures which inhibit clear understanding.
Contractions, plurals, plural possessives, apostrophes-of-omission, and all other usages have exceptions which don’t further the objective of language or increase its beauty.
Like it or not, we can literally change the language in any manner we see fit. We’ll either rid ourselves of the apostrophe or worsen its usage as people struggle against its ongoing and needless usage in our language.
The apostrophe should get its coat and make a graceful exit before we kick it in the seat of the pants.
Purists might miss it but I’m certain they’ll find another rallying cry of illogic to focus on. Those insisting on tradition always do.
Please remember that I love language but despise the focus on mechanics. Language should not be an obstacle to expression.
P.S. Remember that I’m not advocating for a free-for-all in regards to all rules, so please cook up a better point about what I am NOT saying.