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Nothing Strange Happens To Me

January 25, 2015
I've found stains and blotches much stranger than this stuck inside of library books. (image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Sometimes I think looking for books is more fun than actually reading them, but nobody in my family shares my passion for finding books that I might never even finish.  So when I announced my intentions to go to the public library this morning, my wife was silent and my daughters groaned.

“You take too long,” my youngest said.

“Not true,” I proclaimed.  Ever since my daughters put me on a timer a couple years ago, I’ve been able to get in and out of the library in under ten minutes.

“They don’t have any good books,” my oldest daughter said.

“Not true,” I countered.  Our local library has almost as many good books as the book store, but the library atmosphere can’t compete with stores like Brick & Mortar Booksellers.

It was my fault my daughters didn’t want library books.   I’d shown off too many blemishes in old books that I’d checked out in the past, green sticky substances that stuck pages together, red blotches that triggered the gag reflex, and brown stains that saturated several pages at a time.  Grossing my daughters out with book blemishes was fun, but today I was to pay an expensive price.

Even though my wife didn’t want to go with me to the library, she asked me to check out a book for her, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.  I cringed.  Checking out Lena Dunham‘s book was like purchasing feminine hygiene products.  Plus, I’d heard that some strange things happened in her book, but maybe the strange things didn’t happen or if they did happen, they didn’t happen the way Dunham described them in the book.

If you want to make money writing about yourself, you probably have to do strange things or have strange things happen to you, and if they haven’t happened, then you have to pretend they happened.   At any rate, I don’t know much about Lena Dunham, but I’d get her book if the library had it.

When I stepped into the library, I gave myself ten minutes and within my time limit found a spy novel, a biography, and an anthology of fantasy short stories.  With my own personal goal accomplished, I checked the new releases in the nonfiction section for the Lena Dunham book, and it wasn’t there.  When I turned to the check-out counter to ask about the book, I saw the cranky librarian on duty.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the cranky librarian.  She can get through the entire check out process without saying a word.  She snatches the library card from the patron’s outstretched hand, scans the card, and then slams it down on the counter (sometimes with a grunt).  Some people find her rude, but I respect her.

When I asked the cranky librarian if they carried the Lena Dunham book, she snapped, “We don’t carry THAT book.”

“Oh, it was for my wife,” I said quickly.

I shouldn’t have sold out my wife like that.  I don’t even know why I’d care whether the cranky librarian thought I’d want to read a Lena Dunham book. For all I know, Lena Dunham is proud that she wrote a THAT book, the kind that disgusts a cranky librarian.  Then again, I  don’t know the cranky librarian.  Maybe to her, every book was THAT book.  Maybe next time, I’d ask her about Pride and Prejudice or Emma and see her reaction.  Nobody ever says anything negative about a Jane Austen book.  If the cranky librarian called a Jane Austen book THAT book, then it was just the cranky librarian being cranky.  Then her disgust for Lena Dunham’s book would be nothing special.

When I returned home with my three books, my wife and two daughters were putting on jackets and grabbing purses.

“We’re going to the bookstore,” my wife said.  ‘You coming?”

I hugged my stack of books.  “But I just got back from the… yeah, okay, sure.”

When we got to Brick & Mortar Booksellers, I told my daughters to stay out of the coffee shop.  They weren’t allowed to buy overpriced drinks and brownies, even if it was their money, kind of.  There was no need to remind them of my James Patterson policy.  As soon as we entered the store, my wife pointed out the Lena Dunham book.

“Oh, good,” she said, pulling it from a shelf.  “Hold this for me.”

I cringed.  “Why don’t I carry your purse for you instead?”

“It’s just for a minute,” she said.  But in matters like this, my wife has no sense of time.

She followed my daughters to the YA section, and I hunted the bargain bins for $6.99 hardcover overstocks with the Lena Dunham book stuck in my armpit.   After a few minutes of staring at a bunch of mysteries and spy novels (most of them books I’d passed over at the library), my oldest daughter approached me with An Abundance of Katherines.  John Green books are probably a little mature for her, but she’s already read The Fault in our Stars, so I figured she’d finish this one too.

“What?” I exclaimed at the price.  “This is a paperback!  How can a paperback cost this much?  You could get it on your phone for half that.”

“It’s my money,” my daughter said.

“You’re right, you’re right,” I said.  But I still thought charging as much as they did for a YA paperback was a scam.

A few minutes later, I saw my wife with two more books.  I recognized the larger of the two, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.  I inwardly groaned, but my groan wasn’t inward enough.

“What?” she asked.  “It’s not any good?”

“We had that book for ten years,” I said.  “I sold it last summer.”  When we moved, I got rid of stacks of books I knew I’d never read again.  “It’s interesting, kind of, but it gets bogged down in boring details.”

“You can say that about any nonfiction book,” my wife said.

Then I saw that she also was buying Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

“We already have that,” I said with a sigh.  Cat’s Cradle was in a hardbound book I owned that collected five Vonnegut novels.  Yeah, it was a little heavy, but that’s what you get for five-books-in-one.

My wife rolled her eyes.  “I don’t want to hurt my shoulders holding that thing,” she said.  “Do you want me to hurt my shoulders?”

As we discussed the book situation, we found our youngest daughter sitting in a corner reading a book, Sisters, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.  “You going to buy that?”  I asked.

She nodded and kept her eyes on the book.

“Let’s go pay,” I said.

When my wife saw the graphic novel, she said, “That’s just a comic book.  She’ll finish that in 20 minutes.”

“I’ll read it,” I said.  My oldest daughter would read it too when nobody was looking.

“She needs something more challenging.”

“I read comic books when I was a kid, and I turned out just fine,” I said.  My logic was a bit flawed.  I have turned into a literary pretender, but I’ll be proud if my daughter can get away with just pretending to read most of the classics too.  It’s a useful skill.

As we walked to the check-out line, my wife stopped.  “I’m not going to read all three of these,” she declared.  “Which one should I get rid of?”

I was torn.  Cat’s Cradle was the biggest waste because we already had it.  I didn’t believe my wife would finish Guns, Germs, and Steel, and the Lena Dunham book was the most expensive book of the bunch.  I wasn’t sure what to suggest.

“Put that one back,” she said, reaching for the Lena Dunham book in my armpit.

“You sure?” I said, trying to hide my relief.

“It’ll be cheaper in a few months.”

That’s one of the (many) reasons I love my wife; she is very practical.  I felt a bit cheated, though, since all my cringing had been for nothing.  And when we returned home, I was the only one who spent any time reading, when I was the only one who didn’t spent any money on books today.  Strange.

*****

Geez, this was a lot longer that I originally intended!

Have you written something that went on much longer than you thought it would?  If you’re writing about your life, how strange does it have to be?  Is Lena Dunham’s book really THAT book, or was the cranky librarian just being cranky?  What is the most non-strange thing you have ever written about?

23 Comments
  1. I tend to write long posts. I don’t know who Lena is. I only write strange things and they are all personal experience except when answering prompts and challenges.

    • Oh, I don’t know. Your longer posts aren’t that long (and they don’t feel long when I read them). Plus, you have a good variety.

      I didn’t know who Lena was either until last summer when I temporarily got HBO (before football season started). She writes and stars in a show that I don’t “get,” but I’m not really the target audience. I think I’m in the Game of Thrones target audience instead.

      • Game of Thrones is the best series they ever came up with if you asked me. It has a movie feel to it. I hope they make it a trilogy or more of it on the big screen. I will be at the head of the queue if it happened. Thanks for reading my ramblings and will check out Lena one of these days.

  2. Dialogues go longer than expected. Narration of a story can be easier, but quoting the characters’ words might gulp the pages.

    Every word is carefully read and plays the tone of voice in the imaginary mind. Nevertheless long conversational writings are interesting as always.

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  4. My main reason for not going to the library is the fact that I have a ton of fees and I’ve finally accepted that I just cannot remember to bring them back, so I should just buy books.

  5. Reblogged this on You are exactly where you need to be. and commented:
    I need to stop buying books and go to the library. I even live near a nice, big library. But having books, collecting them almost is just…a different feeling.

    Also I love making notes and dog-eared pages and you shouldn’t do that with library books.

  6. Lena The Good permalink

    “Have you written something much longer…”
    YES! Emphatically, YES! Every post, poem, story, and email I write is longer than I think it will be. My reasoning is that I have so much going on in my mind that I just don’t know how to get it all out without making it too long. Also, dialogue takes up too much space. Necessary evil!

    “How strange does [life] have to be?”
    I think “strange” might be too harsh a word. I try to avoid negative language when describing art. Afterall, any piece of art is a piece of the artist’s soul. Some of the best jokes are only funny because they are so true. We relate to the story. Relatability is often key to the popularity or relevance of a story. Lena Dunham, in my humble opinion, is a spoiled rich girl who didn’t win the genetic lottery but did happen to come into this world with every opportunity handed to her. She calls herself a writer, an artist, but how can she possibly understand art when she doesn’t understand reality or trauma? Strange or not, she has a plastic soul if you ask me! I think this explanation also answers your cranky librarian question as well.

    The most non-strange thing I have ever written about… Well, strange is a vague category. If by “non-strange” you mean writing something real that real people living real lives have experienced, I wrote about death. I write quite often about death. It’s a part of everyday life, and yet I assume because death is a dark topic, it is considered strange.

    Let me just say I am not totally against soul-less, mindless content. I LOVE the Jenny McCarthy “laughs” books (Belly Laughs, Baby Laughs, and Life Laughs). They are hilarious and the reason they are so funny is because they are raw and honest. They really are not as strange as one might think. They discuss things that normal, everyday people do every day- how women handle pregnancy, learning to change diapers, men missing the toilet when they pee, accidentally undercooking pork and giving her husband food poisoning. Obviously, Jenny’s spirit of sarcasm and quirk make it funnier, but we can relate to her stories. Reality (not the kind writers for MTV and Bravo conjure up) is relatable and truth is often a good read, no matter how strange it may seem.

    • I remember when Jenny McCarthy was on that MTV dating show (which was kind of funny) back in the late 1990s, but I haven’t followed her since (not even in her men’s magazine pictures). I saw that her co-host on that MTV show hosts an obscure (but kind of funny) show on an obscure cable network that I can’t think of.

      Next week, I’ll ask the librarian about Jenny McCarthy’s book and see what her reaction is.

  7. Reblogged this on Arvind The Adventurer and commented:
    ok

  8. This is great! I love going to the library since I don’t have to spend money; my wife hates going since they never have anything for her – as if it’s somehow my fault that my TBR has approximately 110 items and hers has 4 (or so).

    I, too have a routine: I check out exactly four books at a time. Still, the hunt can sometimes take an hour or more, and don’t get me started on the reserve/request system . . .

  9. I’ve never read any Lena books – who is she? – but the Jared book is good. Funny post.

  10. Lena The Good permalink

    Lena is one of the “writers” and actors on “Girls”. It is a “high brow” and “smart” sitcom. She is obnoxiously fake if you ask me. I may be a little jaded because someone who I do not consider an artist shares my name, but there are other Lenas in the world who are fantastic so I suppose there is balance in the world.

  11. also worth remembering that Guns Germs and Steel was widely criticized by actual scholars.

    much better books out there

    • AAArrrrgh! I wish I’d thought to say that to her. I don’t think quickly in those high-pressure situations. What book(s) should I have recommended instead?

      • i’m not really sure what would be a better similar title, histories that try to plot out a grand multi-millenial continent-spanning narrative are usually not great. history is too full of nuance to support such broad theses most of the time. i really can’t recommend any grand narrative histories without a handful of salt to go with it

        if she’s into history then it’s best to choose a specific time, place or event and dive into it. the past year or so i’ve been into the history of the modern american right, and the best introduction to that subject is Nixonland (it’s a fascinating and addicting topic.)

        i’ve also gone through a lot of phases over the years so i might be able to recommend books on a specific subject, fiction or nonfiction. if she likes Vonnegut, she should try some Atwood. either The Handmaid’s Tale or Oryx and Crake (the latter is the first of a trilogy that is being made into an HBO series) would be a good place to start. she’ll probably win a Nobel someday

  12. This was awesome!

  13. Is there really such a person as your cranky librarian? How very archaic. In our branch library in a small market town in Lancashire (UK) we have an automated system where you can check your own books in and out. You can renew your loans online and even download e-books to your e-reader from home. Of course you can get the librarian to check out your books and stamp a return date in them – but I think the people that opt for that procedure just want a chance to chat up our nice friendly librarians!

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  15. good post!! I enjoyed reading about the cranky librarian (one in every city) and reading about your family. cheers!

  16. suz50 permalink

    I really enjoyed this post.

    • My small Pennsylvania town had a wonderful public library and very helpful staff. That was in the 50’s and 60’s. Today, thankfully, it’s even better.

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