I’ve noticed recently that a lot of people are writing letters to themselves in the past. Usually, the letters are to their teenage selves because the teen years are almost always pretty rough. The letters are meant to be encouraging, I guess, or to offer advice, and I remembered my teenage self. He had some social issues and self-esteem issues and there was some family stuff going on, so he could have used some encouragement from his future self.
As intrigued as I was about writing a letter to my teenage self in the past, I knew I had to be careful with it. I didn’t want the letter to be very specific. There was a slight chance that my teenage self would read it, and any information that could change my past behavior might lead to incalculable alterations in history or cause a butterfly effect. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading lots of science fiction, it’s to not mess with time and history. If my letter caused me to change anything I did in the past, it could completely change what’s going on right now.
This presented quite the dilemma. I really didn’t want to mess with the possibility of a butterfly effect. Still, writing a letter to my teenage self was tempting. It would be nice to contact my teenage self. It would be a good writing exercise, a way for me to get out of my comfort zone (writing is my comfort zone; sending a letter through time travel isn’t). Besides, he probably wouldn’t get the letter anyway. Too many things would have to go right for it to work.
After a lot of thought (at least a couple minutes), I decided to compose a safe letter and try sending it to my former self. If it worked, at least the letter wouldn’t cause any harm. I was pretty sure of that. And it probably wouldn’t work anyway.
So I wrote what I thought was a safe letter:
This is your future Jimmy about 30 years in the future. I just wanted to say hello and let you know that you’re future is great. Hang in there!
Your future self (I don’t want to tell you what people call you now because that might influence your behavior and cause a time ripple)
As far as letters to past selves go, this one seemed harmless. I found an old hardcover book that I had bought when I was nine–years-old (I was a book hoarder) and placed the book in a shelf that I had when I was a high school student (the shelf had belonged to my grandparents, and I got it when I was in tenth grade). I thought if I placed the note in a book I owned in high school and put the book on a book shelf that I owned in high school, maybe the note would find its way to me when I was in high school.
I know, it was kind of a stupid thing to do, but how many people really have the opportunity to communicate with their past selves? It was worth a try.
A few days later, I returned to the book and found the note, and, as much as I couldn’t believe it, there was a hand-written response at the bottom. It was in my handwriting too. Wow! I was shocked that I’d written back to me. I hardly ever write back to anyone. Even now, I rarely even respond to emails or texts. But then I thought about the implications. I checked my memory. My career (well-paying but unsatisfying) was the same. I clearly recalled everything about my wife and daughters. I was pretty sure nothing had changed in my life with because of my letter. Then again, if something had changed, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell.
Convinced that everything was stable, I read my teenage response.
Dear whatever your name is now,
You risked causing a time ripple for that? Next time, tell me something I can use. And it’s “your future,” not “you’re future.” I guess I suck at grammar 30 years from now. Have you gotten any letters from your future self? I hope “you’re” future self writes better letters than mine.
I folded the note and put it back inside the book. I guess I was a prick 30 years ago, I thought. Maybe I deserved to have self-esteem issues.
And then I realized, I’ve never received a letter from my future self. That’s the problem when you write a letter to your past self, your past self at least knows he/she will be alive in the future, but if you never receive a letter from your future self, then…
Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!
I began flipping through every single book that I owned. After all, if my future self sent me a letter, I would have no idea which book he would slip it inside of. And my future self (if I have one) would know to write me a letter because he would know how worried I am about having no future self.
Every day now, I flip through every single book I own, hoping to find a note from my future self. I’m thinking of selling off all my books except one (I haven’t decided which one that would be yet.), so that my future self would know exactly which book to put his note in, and it would save me a lot of time every day. If I had never sent that stupid letter to my smartass teenage self, I would not be in this situation now. If I had it to do all over again, I’d never write that letter to my past self, and if I wrote it, I’d never send it. It really bugs me that I might not have a future self, especially since I don’t know when my future self stops existing.
I wonder if there are alternate universes where I’m thinking about sending a note to my past self. If there are, I’m going to write letters to my alternate selves and tell them not to do it. Those teenage selves probably won’t appreciate it anyway.
So… future self, if you’re out there, reading old stuff that you (and I) wrote and laughing at it, could you please slip me a note and let me know that you (and I) are okay? I’d feel much more secure. Please? Hello?
Have you ever written a letter to yourself in the past? If you did, how much information did you put in your letter? What kind of response did you get? Did it cause a ripple in the time stream, and how could you tell? Has your future self ever written you?
Whenever banning books is mentioned, book readers get outraged. I understand that. I don’t like other people, especially people I don’t know, making my decisions for me. Banning books is wrong, very very wrong. But sometimes, I run across a book and think, “This simply should not exist.”
The American Library Association has just published its 10 most banned books list, and book readers are again outraged that anybody would try to ban books. The list isn’t that impressive. 35 years ago, real books got banned. Go Ask Alice, and Sybil, and Massage Parlor II, now those were books that were worth banning. The current list of banned books is lame.
Captain Underpants? Fifty Shades of Grey? Perks of Being a Wallflower? My God, is this what the current generation of book banners has come to? I yearn for the day when trying to ban a book actually meant something. If was going to ban books (and I’m not, but if I were), I’d pick books that people could agree with me about. I’d pick books where I could gather the support of millions, and storm libraries all across the country (in a figurative way, of course).
1. 1984 by George Orwell and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
This is what happens when you write a futuristic book and use the futuristic year as your title. Both 1984 and 2001 have passed us by, and both books with these years as their titles were way off. They weren’t even close. Once the year of a futuristic book with the year in the title has passed us by, the book should get banned because it might confuse people who read. What if befuddled readers thought 1984 and 2001: A Space Odyssey were historical novels? We must prevent such confusion and ban the books just to be on the safe side.
By the way, I also believe the Prince song “1999” should be banned. I was there in 1999 and saw how people partied that year, and believe me, it was ugly.
2. Z is for… by Sue Grafton
The alphabet mystery series (starting with A Is For Alibi and B Is For Burglar) is a preposterously bad idea with several corny titles (W Is For Wasted), and yet it seems like the author Sue Grafton might get to book 26. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Sue Grafton before she finishes this bad idea of a series. I want her to finish, but this alphabet series idea was so bad that the last book should get banned, just so that nobody can read all 26 books. That would teach a valuable to all famous authors; persistence might pay, but bad ideas still get punished in some way.
Anybody can ban a book once it’s published. I want to ban a book that hasn’t even been written yet. I don’t think even the title has been released yet. I like being unprecedented.
3. Any James Patterson book with a co-author
James Patterson has enough books published already (I’m not going to count them). He doesn’t need any more, especially if somebody else is wring the books for him. Therefore, any new James Patterson book not completely written by James Patterson should be banned. I will not allow the reading public to have the freedom to make bad decisions on this issue.
I’m not completely unreasonable. If James Patterson completely wrote a new book, I’d allow it to not be banned.
4. Palo Alto and Actors Anonymous by James Franco
I tried to read Palo Alto. I had my biases, I admit. I thought it would be poorly written, and it was worse than I thought it would be. I’m not even going to think about reading Actor’s Anonymous. If people want to watch James Franco movies, look at James Franco artwork, study with James Franco in college, or watch James Franco hosting awards shows, that’s their business. But books are my business. And these novels by James Franco should be banned… just because!
Maybe if he hired one of James Patterson’s co-authors, his books would be better.
5. Any Book on a MUST READ List
Almost every literary website/blog has “Must Read” book lists. I’ve seen “10 Books from 2013 You Must Read!” I’ve seen “10 Books You Must Read Before You’re 50!” I’ve seen “10 Books You Must Read Before the Movies Come out!” I’ve even seen “10 Books You Must Read before You Die!” That was pretty morbid. I know when I’m going to turn 50, but I don’t know when I’m going to die. I wouldn’t want to jinx myself by reading all 10 books on that list.
I don’t like it when websites tell me what I must read. I didn’t like it when high school teachers and college professors did it. I really don’t like it when somebody who has no authority over tries to tell me I “MUST READ” a book. I’ll decide what books I must read. And if I could, I’d ban every book from those “Must Read” lists just to discourage others from making such lists. I believe in doing what it takes to discourage bad behavior.
Believe me, I take the act of banning books very seriously. I don’t like making decisions for other people, but sometimes I feel like I have to take a stand. If somebody else wants to ban 50 Shades of Grey because it has poorly written sex scenes, somebody else has to point out that there are so many other books that are far more worthy of getting banned.
But enough about me! What books do you think should get banned? Do the books that I mentioned deserve to get banned? What criteria do you use when deciding what books to ban?
Most of the time, I could understand why Daniella was dishonest. She lied about her job, telling everybody that she was a paralegal when she really danced topless at Nero’s, but I understood that because she didn’t want my friends to think of her a certain way. She also lied about all the classic novels she read, but I did that too, so I didn’t have a problem with it. All those lies, however, were directed at other people. Now my boss was telling me that he had met my girlfriend at our church’s Thursday night Bible study. Daniella had been telling me she was picking up some other dancers before her shift at Nero’s.
This wasn’t the time to think about it. I was at my cubicle talking to my boss with a bunch of co-workers standing around. I didn’t want them to think I was clueless about my own girlfriend’s religious activities, so I tried to play it off.
“Bible study? I’d forgotten about that.” I hoped that I sounded convincing.
“Your personalities are very different,” my boss said. I knew he meant that Daniella was hot and personable while I was average-looking and boring. “How did you two ever meet?”
“Library,” I said. That was better than explaining the whole laundry room story. “Both of us read books.”
My boss and co-workers nodded. My boss patted me on the back.
“Maybe we’ll see you at Bible study tomorrow night,” he said.
“I… uh… maybe,” I said. Everybody laughed, including my boss.
I wasn’t sure how to handle this revelation. If I had found out that Daniella had been cheating on me, or had maxxed out my credit cards, or had stolen furniture again, I would have had a reason to be angry, but this was going to Bible study. How could I get angry that my “soul mate” girlfriend was going to Bible study?
Maybe I could ask her about it, maybe I could tell her how I’d found out about it, but then Daniella would have to explain why she was going, and that would cause a new problem. If she wasn’t telling me about Bible study, then she wouldn’t want me to know why. I was pretty sure she wasn’t interested in the Bible.
Now that I thought about it, something else gnawed at me too. Darren B. Smelley, the defense attorney with the obnoxious television ads, was leaving messages for Daniella on our answering machine about twice a week. He never said what he was calling about. He just kept telling her to call him back.
“What did he want?” I had asked once, trying to be casual.
“I think he expects me to get in trouble again,” she had said with a grin. “Can you believe that? Me? Getting into more legal trouble?”
Part of me wanted to be suspicious. Smelley had money and notoriety, a combination that was an aphrodisiac to women like Daniella. At the same time, I didn’t want to be that kind of boyfriend. How could I be a soul mate and then make accusations of unfaithfulness? It would be very uncool. But if she was lying about going to Bible study, maybe she was lying about Smelley too.
Between the Bible study and the Smelley phone calls, I could feel the paranoia stirring inside me. But instead of acting suspicious, that evening I stopped by a local bookstore (this was in the early 1990s when there were more local bookstores) and bought the new release of a trashy romance by Daniella’s favorite author and stuck in a few bookmarks, since I didn’t approve of the way Daniella folded the corners of pages. I figured if I surprised her with a new book, she wouldn’t wonder why I was being so quiet, and I knew I was going to be unusually quiet, even by my standards. This whole Bible study thing left me with a lot to think about, and if I tried not to think about it, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
“What are you trying to tell me?” Daniella asked when I gave her the book. She waved the book marks in my face.
I just laughed. I had just bought her an overpriced hardcover, and she was ticked off at the bookmarks.
Daniella tossed them aside. “The store charges for these.”
“But they have such positive messages about reading on them,” I said. The bookmarks had only cost a nickel, but that wasn’t the point. It was the principle of the bookmark that bothered Daniella.
“If it makes you feel any better,” I said, “I swiped them when the cashier wasn’t looking.”
“Really?” Daniella asked, eye-balling me.
“A nickel for a bookmark is highway robbery,” I said. I was lying about stealing the bookmarks, but she was lying to me by omission about the Bible study, and probably lying about Darren B. Smelley, so I figured we were even.
“You’re full of shit,” she said sweetly.
“It was the least the bookstore could do.”
Daniella hugged me around the waist. ”You stole something for me.”
“You’re a bad influence.”
“You’re fun to corrupt,” she said. “Let’s go roll a homeless guy.”
“They don’t have any money,” I said flippantly. Then I thought about her comment. “Wait a minute! Have you ever…”
Daniella didn’t say anything, and I’m pretty sure her expression didn’t change at all except for a little lip tightening, but I knew as soon as I asked.
“You have,” I said. “You’ve rolled a homeless guy!”
“It’s not like that,” Daniella said, tightening her hug. “I was in high school, I swear. I was with some guys, they were drunk, and we didn’t hurt him, I swear.”
“I can’t believe you did that,” I said. I knew Daniella’s history of violence, and I knew her other victims had deserved what they’d gotten. But a homeless guy? “Did he threaten you or something?”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t hang around those people anymore. I’m with you.”
Things were going so well between us that the homeless guy thing didn’t bother me. After all, it was in her past. And I had decided early on that I wasn’t going to worry about Daniella’s past.
In fact, arguing about bookmarks was about as serious as our conflicts got. Live-in girlfriends were supposed to be hell on guys once the girlfriends took over the apartment, but Daniella wasn’t like that. We never had the screaming, raging fights that couples were supposed to have. We watched the same movies, read quietly (or pretended to) at the same time. I didn’t make fun of her trashy romances, and she didn’t make snide comments about my sword&sorcery books with paintings of half-naked women on the cover (there were also barbarians and monsters, but that wasn’t where the eyes went first). We agreed where to eat out, and she didn’t complain when I cooked. Daniella never even asked me what I was thinking. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Daniella was turning into the calming influence that my mom had mentioned at Christmas. But in the back of my mind, there was always the lying.
I wondered, what kind of woman has a shyster lawyer leaving messages a couple times a week? And what kind of woman lied about going to Bible study? A part of me didn’t want to find out.
To be continued! If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s gotten kind of long), start here. Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.
Even when I was a kid, I knew that A Tale of Two Cities began with “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” But I didn’t read any further than that. After all, I had Classics Illustrated comic books for that. In seventh grade, however, for whatever reason I cannot remember, I decided to try reading an unabridged version of A Tale of Two Cities and was greeted by the mother of all opening sentences.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
If I had written a sentence like that in school, my English teacher would have called it a run-on and said that I should have used periods and semicolons instead of a bunch of commas. If I had then showed him A Tale of Two Cities, he would have said that when I have a bunch of books published, then I could misuse commas and write repetitive run-on sentences whenever I wanted.
I don’t think my English teachers would count ebooks as “books published.” Instead, I have a blog.
Despite the opening sentence, I kept reading A Tale of Two Cities and made it through page 1, only to get emotionally destroyed on page 2 with this Dickensian gem:
“Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards.”
I’ll give myself a little credit. I worked through that sentence, understood what it was about, and I think I even picked up on the sarcasm (maybe that’s wishful thinking), but it was work. And it warned me that the novel was going to be nothing like the Classics Illustrated comic book. I took a deep breath and then ran into this buzz saw of a sentence.
“It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain moveable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history.”
Charles Dickens was making torture really difficult to read. But I kept trying.
“It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution.”
It is also likely that I stopped reading right after that sentence.
One problem with these sentences was the references to things I knew nothing about. Back then (when I was in seventh grade), there was no internet and therefore no Wikipedia. There was no place to easily look things up (except a dictionary and encyclopedia, and those didn’t count). Cliffnotes was not an option (It existed, but I didn’t know about it yet). If I didn’t understand a reference, I was stuck. Today, I don’t have an excuse, except that I’m older and crankier, and if I don’t understand a reference in a book that I’m reading, I have the option to stop reading the book that I don’t understand without feeling any guilt. At my age, I don’t feel guilt for stuff like that.
The bigger problem with reading A Tale of Two Cities, however, is sentence structure. I believe in variety when it comes to sentence structure, with long sentences and short sentences, with simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and even compound-complex sentences with lots of prepositional phrases. I believe in beginning and ending sentences with prepositions. But I also believe that a sentence should be diagrammable. Subject and simple predicates should be easy to find. Even a long compound-complex sentence with strings of prepositional phrases can be diagrammed easily. I’m not sure I can diagram some of these Dickensian clusterf***s.
If I can’t diagram a sentence, then it’s a bad sentence.
Maybe these were great sentences in 19th century England. Maybe they’re still great sentences now, and I’m too stupid to recognize them. Maybe I need to brush up on my sentence diagramming. All I know is that if I’d used sentence structure like Charles Dickens used sentence structure, I would have failed all of my writing assignments. And if my teacher had used these sentences on the diagramming tests, I would have failed those too.
I have never finished reading A Tale Two Cities, and I know I never will. For a long time, I pretended to have read it (and got away with it), but I don’t do that anymore. If anybody gives me grief about not reading A Tale of Two Cities (I don’t know why anybody would care), then I’ll say that I have a low tolerance for really poorly constructed sentences written by Charles Dickens. It’s a concrete reason. It’s way better than saying the book was too hard. That’s just lame.
What do you think? Are these sentences from A Tale of Two Cities examples of bad sentences? Should sentences written by famous authors be diagrammable? If a sentence isn’t diagrammable, is it a bad sentence? Can you diagram these sentences? I’d like to see what these sentences look like when they’re diagrammed.
In some ways, Twitter has been a big disappointment for me. First of all, nobody has sent me pictures of their body parts. I was under the impression that if you joined Twitter, people would automatically tweet pictures of their body parts to you, and it hasn’t happened. Maybe I’m supposed to tweet my body parts first, but I’m not the kind of person who does that. I could get fired from my job for tweeting body parts, but I can’t get fired for looking at tweets of body parts, as long as I do it at home and not at work.
Also, I can’t read all the tweets. At first, I tried to follow a bunch of people, but most of them tweeted so much that I couldn’t keep up with everybody’s tweets, and so I unfollowed a bunch of people who tweeted too much so that I could actually read the tweets of people who tweeted at a reasonable rate. I guess I’m the Bizarro Twitter user. I appreciate people who use Twitter infrequently. The less you use Twitter, the more likely I am to follow you.
Everybody knows that Twitter has three intended uses: to send out pictures of body parts, to self-promote projects, and to be the first to tell lame jokes about current events. Even though I don’t use Twitter the way most people do (I’ve tried but failed miserably), I still have several unintended uses for it.
1. Twitter helps me figure out what is cool.
Twitter tells me right away what’s cool. As a middle aged guy, I lost track of what’s cool a long time ago, but Twitter lets me know right away. In the last few months, I’ve learned that a bunch of people I’ve never heard of are famous and cool. I won’t use their names because they’re already famous and cool, and they don’t need me repeating their names. In fact, if a guy like me starts saying these people are famous and cool, they’ll suddenly become unpopular and then they’ll end up in rehab. They’ll probably end up in rehab anyway, but I don’t want to be the cause of it.
2. Twitter shows me that famous people are boring.
I followed a few famous people at first and quickly realized that their tweets were more boring than mine. The good thing about famous people’s tweets, however, is that a lot of people respond to them. It’s good that famous people use Twitter because without famous people, there’d be no conversation starters. Twitter would be a jumble of aimless comments with no responses. If you want to join an actual conversation, follow a famous person and jump in. But then I realized I didn’t like any of the famous people’s tweets/threads, so I unfollowed all the famous people.
Some people get mad when you unfollow them, but the famous people didn’t care. None of the famous people unfollowed me after I unfollowed them. Of course, none of the famous people were following me anyway, but it was still nice of them not to unfollow me.
3. Twitter helps me do research.
I didn’t think I’d be able to do research on Twitter, but I was wrong. When I search a topic or hash tag, I always find something unexpected and useful. I’ve found lots of great book sites, literature sites, and writing sites because of Twitter. They’re great sites, but none of them have interesting tweets. Because they don’t have interesting tweets, I don’t follow the blog/sites on Twitter. I found them because of Twitter, but I don’t follow them on Twitter.
I would tell you what these blogs/sites are, but I’ve just said their tweets aren’t interesting (then again, neither are mine), and I don’t want to insult them by calling them out. I don’t want to make enemies because of Twitter, especially when I don’t use Twitter very much.
4. Twitter allows me to peek into other people’s lives.
I’ve been able to learn a lot about a bunch of random people on Twitter just by jumping from tweet to tweet. People put waaaaayyyyy too much information and waaaaayyyyy too many pictures of themselves on Twitter (not many body parts, though). If I were a creepy guy, I could immerse myself in Twitter in a lot of weird ways. But I know I’m not that kind of a creepy guy because I’ve chosen not to immerse myself like that.
I’m just saying that creepy guys COULD use info and pictures in a lot of weird ways.
But I don’t.
But some creepy guys could if they wanted to.
But I don’t.
And I won’t because I’m just a normal person.
I’m just saying that Twitter COULD be used like that, and it probably wasn’t its intended use, but I don’t use it like that.
Just because I don’t use Twitter much (even for creepy purposes) doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it. I just don’t use it. I’m more of a blogger that a tweeter. I can barely complete my thoughts in 800-1,000 words. But even though I don’t write on Twitter a lot, I can use it for other productive purposes. And I promise, they’re the NON-creepy purposes. I promise.
But enough about me! What unintended uses have you discovered for Twitter? Do any famous people actually send interesting tweets? And most importantly, has anybody ever tweeted body parts to you?
Speaking of body parts, if you want to see the picture that would have gotten me fired from my own blog, click here.
When I woke up one Sunday morning with flu-like symptoms, I didn’t want Daniella anywhere near me. I’d already had one bad experience with women and illness. A girlfriend in college had broken up with me because of my behavior when I’d been sick. I had warned her to stay away from me, but she’d insisted, and I’d said something unintentionally rude with snot dripping out of my nose, and the combination of rudeness and snot had driven her away. I didn’t want to drive Daniella away.
As soon as I felt the symptoms, headache/sore throat/coughing/congestion, I told Daniella that I was in no condition for a service and communion, so she went to church without me. After she returned, I still didn’t want her to take care of me, but she didn’t listen. She brought me soup and lots of tissue with a grocery bag to throw them into. She didn’t seem to care about the constant streams out of my nose or my loud coughing in the middle of the night or the constant turning in bed. I offered to sleep on the couch, and she refused to let me.
“That’s what we do,” she said. I knew the word “we” meant “soul mates,” but she knew I hated that term, so she didn’t use it anymore.
Dressed only in my Johnny Quest t-shirt, Daniella propped herself next to me and read as I griped and moaned. Sometimes it was poetry: Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, or Dorothy Parker. I even remember an Anne Sexton poem about Little Red Riding Hood that got kind of intense. She didn’t read any male poets, not even Walt Whitman (the whole “Leaves of Grass” stuff with President Clinton hadn’t happened yet).
When she got tired of poetry, Daniella went back to her trashy romance novel. As much of a germophobe as I was (and still am), she didn’t seem to worry about it. Through my antihistamine-induced daze, I admired my angel of mercy as she devoured her library book. Then when she finished, she folded the corner of the page and closed the book.
“Hey!” I said, suddenly alert. “You’re not supposed to do that.”
“It’s just… a… book,” Daniella sing-songed.
“It’s not ours,” I said. I was too grouchy to sing-song with her.
“It’s just… a corner… of a page… of a book.”
I had no sense of humor. “What if everybody who read the book folded the page corner when they stopped reading? How could you tell which folded corner was yours?”
“It’s the one… still… folded down.” Then she added, “Duh!”
“But… but what if a bunch of other pages were still folded, or… or… if your folded page unfolded, then how could you tell?”
Daniella grinned at me, opened the book to the last page in the entire novel, a blank page, and ripped it out. Then she placed the torn page inside the trashy romance novel where she had stopped, and unfolded the corner.
“Happy?” She gave me a fake, wide, open-mouthed smile.
At that point, I knew I wasn’t going to win the argument, so I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
I stayed home from work for a couple days, and Daniella took care of me. This was a big deal, Daniella missing a couple nights of work, and she didn’t even say anything about it. The thing was, she never got sick. I expected her to start showing signs maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday, but no, Daniella didn’t get sick at all. It almost made me feel inadequate.
When I returned to work on Wednesday, a lot of my co-workers were behind (because they were used to me doing their jobs for them) and asking for help. I was in the middle of getting everybody straightened out in a monotone but thorough way when one of my bosses came lingering around my cubicle. He was almost elderly, balding, stooped a little bit, talked slowly, but he could fire people so nobody made snide comments about him. The three leeching co-workers around me turned silent and backed away from the boss as he pointed at me. At least, I thought he was pointing at me. When he stepped closer, I realized he was gesturing toward the picture of Daniella and me in my cubicle.
“It’s been bugging me for several days now,” he said slowly with authority. “That woman, she’s lovely.”
“Thank you,” I said. “That’s my girlfriend.”
“Lovely woman,” he continued. “I know… I know I know her from somewhere. It’s been bugging me.”
Uh oh, I thought. Without Daniella’s glasses, I realized too late, somebody who’d ever gone to Nero’s might recognize her. I should have thought of that! I never should have put that picture up.
My boss continued. “Then yesterday, I wanted to tell you, but you weren’t here, so I want to tell you now.”
Oh no, I thought.
Then my boss announced, “I remember where I know your girlfriend.”
It wasn’t that big of a deal, I tried to tell myself. If my boss knew that Daniella was a topless dancer, that meant he had gone to Nero’s and he was married, so he really wasn’t in position to judge, except he was my boss, and bosses were unpredictable. I probably wasn’t going to get fired for having a topless dancer girlfriend, but it would make for some interesting talk behind my back, which wasn’t necessarily bad. Having a topless dancer girlfriend would make me more interesting. Co-workers would still wonder about our physical mismatch, but I wouldn’t be so boring to them.
“She goes to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, doesn’t she? I’ve seen her there, I’m sure,” my boss said.
“You go to St. Luke’s?” I said, confused. I’d been to church with Daniella four Sundays in a row before I’d gotten sick, and I’d never seen my boss there. I didn’t even know my boss was Episcopalian.
My boss nodded slowly and thought. “The 8:00 service. When you get to my age, you have no reason to stay up late.”
That made sense. Daniella and I went to the 11:15. But then how did he recognize Daniella?
I pointed to the photograph. “Then how… where did you… when have you seen..?” The question wasn’t that complicated, but I still couldn’t get myself to ask it properly.
“Bible study on Thursday nights,” my boss said. “She’s almost a regular now. Very lovely young lady.”
Bible study? Daniella worked on Thursday nights, but she’d left early the last few weeks to pick up a friend/co-worker, that’s what she’d said. So Daniella went to Bible study before dancing topless. I probably looked befuddled, staring at my own picture and trying to think all this out. When I shook my head clear, I realized my boss hadn’t left.
“Does she talk much?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine her contributing much to a Bible class.
“Can’t get her to stop once the study’s over,” my boss said. “She says she’s waiting for her boyfriend to propose. I didn’t know that it was you.”
Co-workers raised their eyebrows at each other in varying degrees. From their point of view, my girlfriend wasn’t fake, which was good, and she wanted to get married, which made me look even better, but she was sneaking to Bible study behind my back, and I had no idea what that meant. Daniella was still talking about marriage, even though she said she had thought of a new plan and wouldn’t tell me what it was. Bible study and marriage talk, all behind my back. Did Daniella even know this guy was my boss?
This was a lot to think about, and the work day had just started.
To be continued! If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s gotten kind of long), start here. Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.
Sometimes names can be distracting. Harry Baals is a distracting name. Dick Butkus is a distracting name. I think a distracting name in real life can be funny because I can’t believe that parents would really name their kid that. But distracting names in fiction are a different matter to me.
The first distracting fictional name that I can recall was Pussy Galore from Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger (which also could be seen as a distracting book title). I probably saw Goldfinger the movie before I read Goldfinger the novel, but either way, I was a teenager and thought Pussy Galore was a great name. Now I’m a bit older, and I look at that name and think… why? If I walked into my office and started talking about Pussy Galore, I’d probably get fired. When it comes to these issues, the company that I work for doesn’t care about context.
I recently stopped reading a novel (The Accident by Chris Pavonne) partly because a character has a really distracting name, Chris Wolfe. At first glance, nothing seemed wrong with the name Chris Wolfe until I realized that the fictional Chris Wolfe started a fictional right-wing cable news network in the 1990s. Gee, I wonder what news network this Chris WOLFE is supposed to represent. Maybe naming a character who ran a cable news network Chris WOLFE would have been clever ten years ago, but now it’s kind of old and distracting.
If an author wants to bash Wolfe… err… Fox News, then bash Fox News. It’s fun to bash Fox News, but don’t bash the readers over the head that it’s Fox News getting bashed when it’s already obvious. Chris WOLFE was a distracting name for this character. It was almost enough to make me stop reading the book, not that I care anything for any cable news networks, but it was a stupidly distracting name to give a character. At least the author didn’t name the character Murdock Rupert. I eventually stopped reading The Accident because it was written in present-tense, and I kept noticing it was written in present-tense. That was even more distracting, but the name Chris Wolfe didn’t help.
I’ve never seen an author write a book with a fictional character named Ennis M. Beasley who ran a politically biased cable news channel. I might read a book with a fictional character named Ennis M. Beasley if the character starts a fictional cable news network (as long as it’s not written in the present-tense).
Ironic fictional names bother me sometimes too. A little over ten years ago there was a movie called Insomnia where Al Pacino played a guy named Will Dormir. Get it? Dormir means sleep in Spanish or French (or both). An insomniac named Will Dormir, some movie critics thought it was deep and/or ironic. I thought it was distracting and unnecessary. Yeah, I still remember Will Dormir’s name over 10 years later, but I remember it for the wrong reasons, and I only saw the movie once, and I told a bunch of people NOT to see it because of the distracting name (I don’t think they paid attention to me), so just because I’m writing about it doesn’t mean it worked. I’m writing about it because it didn’t work with me. The ironic name is rarely clever, and it’s not really ironic if it’s done on purpose. It’s just distracting. On the other hand, Al Pacino is a cool name because it’s just a name (I think).
I know that a lot of people disagree with me about this. Literature is filled with ironic names. And I don’t like them. Part of it is me getting older. When I was younger, I was ambivalent. I wasn’t impressed if an author named a depressed character Sonny, but I didn’t care enough to think about it. To me, a name is a name.
Ironic names are great in real life. There’s an obnoxious football player who everybody hates named Ritchie Incognito. Everybody has hated him since his freshman year in college. Even his teammates (especially the ones who practiced against him) hated him. When he made it in the NFL, everybody hated him even worse. I think it’s funny that an infamous universally-hated athlete is named Incognito. It’s funny when that kind of irony happens in real life. If an author does it to a character, then it becomes forced. And it’s distracting.
The most famous distracting name in literature is Moby Dick. Say “Moby Dick” in front of a group of people, and somebody is going to laugh. Why would Hermann Melville give a distracting name to a fictional whale in a serious book? How can anybody concentrate on theme and symbolism when there are so many Moby Dick jokes to be made? Well, back in the mid-1800s, Dick didn’t mean dick. Dick was just a common male name that didn’t mean anything. Melville was giving the whale a common men’s name. It wasn’t until the 20th century (I don’t know the precise year) when Dick started to mean what it means now. In other words, Moby Dick became a classic well before people started snickering at the title. Maybe one day, the word “dick” will stop meaning what it does, and serious literary types will be able to say Moby Dick without somebody like me snickering. But that probably won’t happen in my lifetime.
I could be wrong about everything. Should writers give their characters ironic names? Was Chris Wolfe a clever name? Was I overreacting to Chris Wolfe? What ironic fictional names do you think are clever? Should I write a serial about a left-wing journalist named Ennis M. Beasley? And should publishers change Moby Dick to Moby Bob?
If you look up Harry Baals , check out his wife’s name. I hope it’s true. Nobody should ever try to make that up.
It’s tough for a guy like me with a monotone voice to have a good rant. Even if I yell and scream with passion, other people think I’m just talking loudly in a monotone voice. It doesn’t have much effect. Plus, rants can come across as whining if you do it wrong, or if people disagree with you. That’s a great way to ruin a rant, just call it whining. Being called a whiner is almost as bad as being called a racist (not that I’ve ever been called either); once you’re accused, you have to defend yourself against the accusation, and nothing else you say matters.
The problem with rants is that most of them are too long. Most rants have made their point after the first paragraph, but the rants keep going and going. I decided that my rants are going to be short, but I don’t want to post a 200 word rant. I’m too longwinded to write something that’s a mere 200 words. I’m more of a 800-1,000 word guy, so to meet my standards without overdoing a rant (I know, one of the points of a rant is to overdo it), I’ve combined several literary mini-rants.
THE JAMES PATTERSON RANT!!!!!
James Patterson has written a lot of novels, 13 last year (if I counted correctly), and he’s supposed to publish nine this year (I guess he’s going through some serious writer’s block in 2014). James Patterson is a one-man Book-of-the-Month Club. But most of James Patterson’s books are co-written by authors I’ve never heard of. What a scam!
I don’t blame James Patterson for doing this because all of those books become bestsellers. Man that’s got to be easy money for him. Just have other people write books and then put your name on the cover… I could do that all day.
I don’t blame James Patterson. I blame all those people buying James Patterson books!!! They’re encouraging bad behavior. I hate it when people encourage bad behavior!
THE TOYS IN BOOKSTORES RANT!!!!!!
I don’t like book stores that put their toys at the front. Last weekend, my family went to Brick& Mortar Booksellers, and my youngest daughter bee-lined straight to the toys. I had to explain to her that book stores are for books and that toy stores are for toys and that we were at B&M Booksellers to buy books. There was crying involved (I tried to hold it back), and I bought a book, and she bought a toy. This type of argument doesn’t happen when we buy books on Amazon. I really want to support my B&M Booksellers, but when they put toys at the front of their store, they make it tough.
THE WIKIPEDIA RANT!!!!!
Some guy is printing out every page of Wikipedia into hundreds of volumes that will be over a million pages long. I’m not ranting about the wasted paper; it can be recycled. I’m ranting because this guy is calling it art. I’ve always thought art was something I (or the average person) couldn’t do. I could print out Wikipedia if I wanted to, except I couldn’t afford a million sheets of paper and the ink. Will anybody try to read the print version of Wikipedia? If people want to make corrections to the printed version of Wikipedia, do they handwrite it on the one printed copy and wait until the next million-page version comes out?
I’d hate to make a correction on the print version of Wikipedia and then wait until the new version came out. I’d be ticked off if the correction wasn’t added after I’d handwritten it and waited. Then I’d really rant. I’d be so angry, you might even hear emotion in my voice.
THE BEST SENTENCE EVER RANT!!!!!
Some guys from a literary magazine have devised a list of the ten best sentences ever. I don’t like this list because I’m pretty sure the judges haven’t read every sentence ever written. Their selections are limited to famous literary authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen. These might be some of the best authors ever, but that doesn’t mean that one of them wrote the best sentence ever. There’s a chance that some unknown schmuck has written a really great sentence and we’d never know it because it’s in some book that the judges never read.
Maybe the best sentence ever was written on a blog or on Wikipedia or on Twitter (very unlikely). Maybe James Patterson has written the best sentence ever, and the judges never read anything by James Patterson. Maybe one of James Patterson’s co-authors has written the best sentence ever, but nobody wants James Patterson to take credit for it, so nobody has called the real best sentence ever “the best sentence ever!”
I think the best sentence ever is: “You suck!”
“You suck!” is short, but it packs a punch. Ernest Hemingway might not ever have written “You suck,” but he’d know what it means, and he might have wished that he had written it first.
And “You suck!” is the perfect way to end any rant.
When James Patterson decides to write two books a month instead of one, you can say to him: “You suck!”
When some guy wants to print out every page of Wikipedia and call it art, you can say to that guy: “You suck!”
When some literary judge chooses a convoluted sentence by F. Scott Fitzgerald as the best ever, you can say to that judge: “You suck!” or “That sentence sucks!”
Now, I’m not the kind of person who says “You suck!” to other people, so maybe I’m a hypocrite, but “You suck!” is still the best sentence ever, even if I never say it.
But enough about me! What do you think? Should a rant be much over 200 words? Does James Patterson write too many books? Should book stores put toys at the front? Is Wikipedia in print really art? Is “You suck!” the best sentence ever, or would it need to be something more literary? What literary issues would you rant about?
Even though the woman’s nose ended up being broken, everybody said she was okay. By “okay,” they meant she didn’t die or anything like that. Yeah, she had been in a lot of pain, and her nose might always have a bump on it for the rest of her life, but she was “okay.” I still felt guilty. I wasn’t used to physically hurting people. It was a new experience for me. The woman’s boyfriend knew it was an accident; the woman shouldn’t have been walking across a living room when a bunch of guys were dancing by swinging their elbows, so he didn’t want to punch me out anymore. But I still wondered if I should have been more careful.
In other news/gossip, Linda spent the night with the brute she had brought uninvited to Jerome’s party. Linda had barely known the guy, and had probably spent the night with him out of spite because she knew word would get back to Kirk. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him. Daniella probably wanted me to. Daniella had probably suggested to Linda that she spend the night with the brute, but I wasn’t going to participate in the gossip relay.
I did, however, argue with Daniella about it.
“That guy was a walking genital wart,” I complained. “How could she throw everything away for one night with a human virus?”
“He was cute,” Daniella said. “Not a stud like you, but cute.”
Daniella was calling me a stud (which I knew wasn’t true) and talking me up. It was nice but distracting.
“Kirk spent a lot of money and time with Linda,” I said, “and Linda does that… with… that guy?”
“Linda doesn’t owe Kirk anything,” Daniella said.
“But still, it… should mean something,” I said.
“Things don’t always mean things,” Daniella said. “It’s these books you read that make you think like you do,” Daniella continued, pointing to my shelves of classic literature, even though she knew I hadn’t read most of them. “Stuff always means something in them, but that’s not how it really is.”
That was true, I had to admit. I didn’t like it, but it was true.
“I like that you want everything to mean something,” Daniella said, her tone softer.
“What about you?” I asked. “You keep saying that you’re ‘feeling’ me. Does that mean something?”
“It means a lot,” Daniella said, with no hesitation. “It means as much as anything can mean.”
As tempting as it was to try to get Daniella to explain exactly what she meant, I let it go. After all, we were “soul mates” (I reminded myself to come up with another term that wasn’t as annoying), and we had plenty of time to figure things out, now that I knew we were getting serious.
A couple days later Daniella presented me with a framed picture of the two of us. Jerome had taken a bunch of photos of his 30th party (none that I saw were of the woman with the broken nose) and had them developed. This one was Daniella and me on a couch before she’d told everybody I was a stud. She had an arm draped around my shoulder and a leg over my lap. I looked kind of sheepish, but her smile dominated the picture. Guys kill to have a picture like that with a woman like Daniella, especially if the woman’s smile is sincere. But that was also the problem. Daniella had taken off her glasses for the picture, and without the glasses, we were an obvious physical mismatch. Even with the glasses, it was clear I wasn’t in her league, but without them?
“Take that to work,” Daniella said. “Put it on your desk.”
There goes my productivity, I thought. As strange as this may sound, I kept pretty busy at work and rarely thought of Daniella there. I wondered if she’d start calling me at work next. I’d heard that it was an early milestone in relationships.
The next day, I placed the picture at the highest point in my cubicle where I could see it almost at all times. Despite my productivity at work, I still had a cubicle. A few employees younger than me (but not by much) had gotten small offices, and I was a little resentful, but they went to the office socials and parties, and they schmoozed with the bosses and each other. I’ve never felt comfortable in that environment, so I just went to work to work. I got passed up for several promotions, which was bad, but when recessions hit later on, the people who’d gotten promoted were let go, and I wasn’t. A couple bitter ex-employees said I was lucky. I think I had a smart boss.
A few co-workers noticed the picture (not at the same time) and asked who that was in it. I was tempted to say “Me,” but I wasn’t known for having a sense of humor, so that response might not have gone over well. I told them (again, not at the same time) that the woman was Daniella, my girlfriend. I stated that proudly. As an average-looking boring guy with a hot girlfriend, I deserved to be proud. A couple co-workers nodded without comment. One said, “Hmmmm.” I knew what that meant. They believed Daniella was a fake girlfriend. It wasn’t something you accused another adult of doing, but they were thinking that.
Despite being the kind of person who might have invented fake girlfriends, or fake long-distant relationships, I’d never done that. When I didn’t have a girlfriend, which was most of the time, I always admitted it. Faking a girlfriend was worse than admitting I didn’t have one. I might lie about having read a classic novel, but I’d never lied about having a fake girlfriend. It’d not that I was especially honest. I knew that if more experienced guys started asking too many questions about the details of my fake girlfriend, I’d mess up the answers. Most of those same experienced guys could question me all day on classic literature and they’d never know if I was telling the truth or not.
The week after I put the picture up, I overheard a conversation about me. I’ve always been pretty good at eavesdropping because people were usually unaware that I was around, but I had never been the topic until then. One co-worker (whose name I don’t remember) said that the woman in the picture was NOT my girlfriend, that she had probably been drunk (that part was actually true), that she probably took pictures like that with a bunch of other guys. Basically, he accused me behind my back of having a fake girlfriend. My suspicions, my paranoia, had been right all along.
Some guys would have gotten angry, but I wasn’t the confrontational type. I thought it was funny. I had no social life at work; why would I put up a picture of a fake girlfriend? It didn’t make sense. But I inwardly grinned and returned to my cubicle without being noticed. The picture was a conversation starter. I was being talked about. I was being falsely accused. It felt good. But that picture, that photo that Daniella had thought was so important, was about to cause a huge problem.
To be continued! If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s gotten kind of long), start here. Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.
Opening an old library book is like being the first cop at the crime scene; you’re never sure what you’re going to find. You might find pages ripped, folded, or even torn out. Pages can be water damaged (at least we hope it’s water). Red stains can be blood or catsup or both. Brown stains can be… I don’t want to talk about it. And those tiny yellow-green pieces of debris that stick to the pages? Ugh. I wash my hands a lot after reading old library books.
But new library books are different. New library books are exciting. The books themselves are flawless and unblemished. There won’t be any water damage, or folded pages, or red stains, or green-yellow specks that stick to the pages. I might not have to wash my hands immediately after reading a brand new book from the library.
And today I checked out a brand new book from the library! At first, I felt great about my selection. It’s a recently published book, a bestseller. I’m kind of interested in it. I don’t have to pay anything to read it. There probably won’t be any unpleasant, unsanitary surprises waiting for me. But then I realized something.
Being the first to check out a brand new library book can be a high-pressure situation. If anything happens to the book, I’ll get blamed. I can’t drink coffee or eat spaghetti around the book. I can’t fold the corners of the pages as bookmarks. I can’t walk outside in the rain with it. I can’t let anybody in my family do those things either. It’s my responsibility to return the book in the pristine condition in which I checked it out. If I were the third (or even the second) person to check out the book, I could blame somebody else for any new blemishes. I would have plausible deniability. But when you’re the first person to check out a library book, there is no deniability.
I gave a speech to my family about how to treat the new library book. It was a guest in our house. The librarians and future book readers would judge us by the condition of the book when we return it to the library. Nobody else was to touch the book, I declared. Nobody was to move the book, breathe on the book, not even look at the book. Nobody else was supposed to be in the same room as the book (except me). If our house caught on fire, my family was instructed to rescue the library book first, and then the dog and the family pictures.
I had a couple close calls with this brand new book. As I was reading, I felt a sneeze coming. In a nick of time, I tossed (but did not throw) the book to the couch on my right, and then I sneezed to my left. I washed my hands afterward and returned to the book. The next reader to check out this book might not appreciate my efforts, but I did what was necessary.
Later, somebody in my family left a cup of fruit drink next to the brand new library book. When I asked who had done such a careless thing, nobody would confess. I was outraged! Somebody had snuck into the room where the brand new library book rested, in clear violation of the orders that I had given, and placed the cup within spillage range of the book. If the cup had been knocked over, the brand new book would have been drenched in purple. I couldn’t have returned a brand new book drenched in purple to the library. I would rather have paid for the book than suffer the humiliation of returning a brand new book drenched in purple. It would have come out of somebody’s allowance, I can promise you that.
I don’t like these high-pressure situations. I try to avoid them as much as I can. My heart rate goes up, and I don’t think clearly. Book reading should be relaxing. I don’t want to be tense when I read a book (unless the book itself is so good that I get tense). I don’t get like this when I’m reading brand new books that I myself purchase. After all, I treat my own books casually. I use them as coasters, paper weights, and back scratchers. They’re my books. I can do with them as I please. I might read them again, but I probably won’t. I have my limits, though. I don’t bleed on my books, and I don’t fold the corners as book marks, and I have never rubbed anything green-yellow onto my own (or anyone else’s) books. I pride myself on good hygiene.
After getting stressed out, I realized there was only one thing I could do. I locked the brand new library book in a safe until I’m at a point where I can read it some more or return it to the library. Now the book is safe from sneezing noses, coughing mouths, bleeding hands, and fingers that like to rip and fold. It’s even safe from fire. I just hope I can remember the safe’s combination.