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I Tried To Steal a Book at Work

Three days. The book had been sitting on the counter by the sink in the break room at work for three days, and nobody had claimed it. I don’t think it had even moved.

The book was a paperback copy of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Even though I’d already read the novel decades ago, I’d been thinking about reading it again recently. I remember enjoying Lonesome Dove a lot.

This copy of Lonesome Dove was in nice condition, but it was in danger of getting wet from so many coworkers washing their hands. I thought about just taking the book home with me. It wasn’t mine, but I wanted to read it.

On this particular day, there was a chocolate cake next to the book, and coworkers were hovering over the mystery cake.

“Who made it?” one guy asked.

“It’s chocolate cake,” another guy said. “With chocolate icing. I don’t care who made it.”

“Is it safe to eat?”

“Whose book is that?” I asked.

“I want to know who made the cake,” the guy kept saying. “If it was Jackie, she’s always licking her fingers.”

“It could have been Dolores,” the other guy said. “She wears two masks and always washes her hands, even when she has gloves on.”

The guy turned to me. “Are you going to eat this?”

“I’m fasting,” I said. I don’t eat food unless I prepare it myself, but I just claim I’m fasting to avoid awkward situations. The problem is that then I can’t be seen eating for a while. That’s why lying is bad. I probably should just tell people that I don’t eat food unless I prepare it myself.

After much deliberation, everybody except me ate the cake, but nobody claimed the book. I decided to wait until the end of the day to make my move. Friday was clean-up day, and the custodians would throw out everything unclaimed at 5:30. If the book was still there, I’d take it. It’s not stealing if it’s about to get thrown out. In that situation, I’d be saving the book, not stealing it.

At 5:30 I was ready to make my move. I’d stayed a little late to get ready for Monday, and I hung around the corner waiting for the custodian. He was a young guy with air pods (I think). First he wiped the tables. Then he threw out everything in the refrigerator (and there was some truly disgusting stuff in there). What was taking him so long to get to the sink? He was doing everything except cleaning the sink!

Finally he grabbed the cake remnants and tossed them into the trash can. Then he reached slowly for the book… and… and…

“I’ll take that,” I proclaimed as I stepped forward.

“Is this yours?” he asked. I had expected him to just hand me the book.

“No…. um… no… it’s just been sitting there for three days.”

“This doesn’t belong to you?”

“No,” I said sheepishly. “I just want to read it.”

“So do I,” the custodian said. “Do you mind if I read this over the weekend, and I’ll bring it back?”

I almost said, “You’re going to read Lonesome Dove over a weekend?”

Instead, I said, “Sure, it’s not my book.”

So the custodian took the book.

And I haven’t seen him since.

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A couple days ago I just went ahead and bought a copy of Lonesome Dove for a few bucks at a used book store.

Yesterday I had some time to read it, but I didn’t feel like it. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to it today.

Is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald A Literary Scam?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was panned by reviewers when it first came out, and it sold relatively few copies. Now The Great Gatsby is required reading for students, many of whom already don’t like to read. So what changed along the way?

Did the original reviewers and buying public have it right? Or have recent generations of readers just been smarter by recognizing the genius of The Great Gatsby??

I ask these questions because of a book I’m browsing through, Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins.

It’s one of those books that takes anecdotes and tries to force them to fit the points the author is trying to make. I’m not even going to explain the author’s point about F. Scott Fitzgerald because it has nothing to do with my own rhetorical questions.

Still, I’ll give the book some credit. Here’s an excerpt:

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The Great Gatsby was published on April 10, 1925, with one New York paper headlining its review: “F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s Latest a Dud.” The rest of the literary world was equally critical, with H. L. Mencken calling it “no more than a glorified anecdote” and referring to the author as “this clown.” A bit more bluntly, Ruth Snyder wrote, “We are quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great American writers of today.” Gatsby did not achieve the success its author had hoped for, selling fewer than half as many copies as any of his previous novels (53).

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Again, what has changed since 1925? When I first read The Great Gatsby in the 1980s, I thought it was overwritten for such a short novel and not as insightful as teachers claimed it was; I agreed with Mencken’s opinion without even knowing who H. L. Mencken was.

A part of me believes that pop culture is a test to see what the public will accept. For example, Bob Dylan was an adequate song writer, but there’s no way he should have been allowed to sing. Maybe, just maybe, Bob Dylan was a test to see what the public would accept.

And maybe, just maybe, similar powers in the literary world wanted too see if they could take a substandard literary piece and make the public think it was brilliant. Maybe they believed that if they could trick the public into buying The Great Gatsby, they could trick the public into buying anything.

I can’t get too angry with the literary powers in this case; at least The Great Gatsby is short.

Julius Caesar Was a Swell Guy (according to War Commentaries of Caesar by Julius Caesar)

I’m reading War Commentaries of Julius Caesar by Julius Caesar (translated by Rex Warner), and I’m impressed by how fairly Caesar treated everyone he dealt with. He especially treated his potential enemies fairly. At least, according to Julius Caesar he did.

In the paragraph below, Caesar writes about how he dealt with Ariovistus, the leader of a major German tribe that was threatening a Roman ally in Gaul:

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When we met together I began my speech by reminding him of the kindnesses he had received from me and from the senate. He had been given by the senate the titles “King” and “Friend”; and he had also received a number of magnificent presents-a very rare privilege indeed, as I pointed out to him, and one usually reserved only for those who had done great personal service to Rome. Yet he, without any proper right even to be received by the senate and with no real reason for making any petition, had been rewarded as I had mentioned. He owed these rewards entirely to my generosity and that of the senate.

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I don’t necessarily trust Caesar’s account of what happened. I’d like to read Ariovistus’s version of events, but I think he got killed. If he wrote anything, I haven’t been able to find it. That’s okay; Ariovistus probably would have been lying too.

I usually don’t read memoirs because people usually lie about themselves to make themselves look good. One of the best selling books of 2020 was a memoir of a famous political figure, and I’m not going to read it because I don’t trust his version of events.

To be fair, I won’t buy any memoirs of that politician’s opponents either.

I’m a little disheartened by this; if you can’t trust Julius Caesar, who can you trust?

Is Reading Fiction a Waste of Time?

(image via wikimedia)

When I was a teenager with a book collection, I had several friends who didn’t read. They claimed that I was wasting my time reading stories when I could be doing things like playing sports, getting drunk, and chasing women with no morals. I told them they were wasting their time playing sports, getting drunk, and chasing loose women when they could be reading.

Now I think those friends of mine kind of had a point. I’m 55, and I’m starting to believe that I’ve wasted a lot of my time reading junk. There are a lot of important skills that I could have learned but didn’t because I was reading fiction.

I’m reading a lot of nonfiction now (and watching instructional videos). I’m beginning to learn skills that I can use around the house, stuff that I should have learned as a kid but didn’t (both parents worked, and I was usually alone in the house when I returned home from school).

I’ve always known just enough to be dangerous, as some people say. I could probably electrocute myself without trying. I can hit my head on a garbage disposal while underneath the sink. I can spark up my drained car battery even when I set up the booster cables correctly. My goal now is to be competent without getting myself killed.

Except with electricity. I’m not going to mess with electricity.

I don’t think all my fiction reading has been a waste of time. Reading is a great way to wind down after a day of working hard. It’s better than watching most television shows. There’s a chance, however, that I could have used some of that reading time more wisely.

Reading fiction supposedly builds up your empathy. Empathy is okay, but it doesn’t fix your car or keep the electricity running. And it does nothing for indoor plumbing. Man, I really like indoor plumbing.

I don’t regret reading so much fiction during my life. I just don’t think I’m going to read much more fiction anymore. There’s too much real stuff that I don’t know about.

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Enough about me! What do you think? Is it possible to read too much fiction in one’s lifetime?

This Should Be in Every Nonfiction Book

I just started reading Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond. I’m not sure if it’s a good book yet (it has potential), but I really like this paragraph on page 17.

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This is not a magazine article about current affairs, intended to be read for a few weeks after its publication, and then to fall out-of-date. Instead, this is a book expected to remain in print for many decades. I state that obvious fact just to explain why you might otherwise be astonished to find nothing whatsoever in this book about the specific policies of the current Trump administration in the U.S., nor about President Trump’s leadership, nor about the current Brexit negotiations in Britain. Anything that I could write today about those fast moving issues would become embarrassingly superseded by the time that this book is published, and would be useless a few decades from now. Readers interested in President Trump, his policies, and Brexit will find abundant published discussions elsewhere. But my Chapters 9 and 10 do have a lot to say about major U.S. issues that have been operating for the past two decades, that are now claiming even more attention under the current administration, and that are likely to continue to operate for at least the next decade.

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I think every nonfiction book that deals with major issues should have a paragraph like this to warn the readers. If a reader wants a hit piece on a current politician, no matter whom it might be, then the reader can move on to another book.

And the warning doesn’t even have to be about Trump. Every president has hit pieces written about him (and maybe her soon). It’s usually obvious when a book is a hit piece, but some authors like to sucker punch readers.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the occasional political hit piece. But there are too many of them out there, they are blatant money grabs, and they’re usually irrelevant after a few years.

I’m not saying that this type of warning paragraph should be mandated for every social/political non-fiction book, but this was nice to read.

OFF TOPIC!

Is it just me, or was Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond overrated? The book was okay, but I didn’t see anything special in it. I guess that’s for another blog post.

Reader’s Block vs. Writer’s Block: Which one is worse?

The author lost his train of thought after he put his manuscript on the writer’s block. (image via wikimedia)

Most people don’t understand how frustrating reader’s block and writer’s block can be.  When I have reader’s block, I can waste an entire day wandering down aisles of book stores or libraries looking for something interesting to read. When I have writer’s block, I just stare like I’ve witnessed something traumatic.

A co-worker of mine doesn’t even believe that reader’s block exists.  He thinks it’s something that I made up.  In this day and age, I can’t believe I work with a reader’s block denier, but that’s the world we live in.  After he loudly proclaimed that reader’s block was all in my head, he admitted that he doesn’t read books.

I thought it was funny, a guy with permanent reader’s block denying that reader’s block exists.

To me, reader’s block is more frustrating than writer’s block.  Reader’s block isn’t supposed to happen.  If I want to read, I can just read. Logically, writer’s block should be more difficult to beat because it’s tougher to force yourself to be creative than it is to force yourself to read. 

Some people can drink themselves into writing.  Ernest Hemingway said “Write drunk; edit sober.”  I can’t write when I’m drunk.  I can’t type when I’m intoxicated, and I can’t handwrite while I’m inebriated.  In fact, I can’t do anything very well when I’m drunk.

Unlike most drunks, I’m aware that I’m not good at anything when I’m drunk.  I’ll even give my car keys to other drunks when I’m drunk, but that’s not smart because they don’t know how drunk they are.  I don’t hand over my car keys anymore because now I’m too much of a control freak to get drunk.

Ernest Hemingway also said: “There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  I think “bleed” is just a euphemism for “drink.”  Since Hemingway claimed to drink while writing, I don’t think he bled too.  Bleeding and drinking at the same time seems like a bad idea.  At least, I’m not going to try both at the same time.

I get reader’s block more often now because I’m getting older, and nothing seems new anymore.  If every new novel that I read feels like some other novel that I’ve already read, why shouldn’t I just reread the older, better book?  I don’t feel like reading trilogies or any multiple-book series.  I don’t feel like reading novels that are 500+ pages anymore.  Maybe there’s a logic to my reader’s block.

Just like some writers have to write to break out of writer’s block, some readers have to read their way out of reader’s block.  If I really want to read some good fiction and don’t want to take chances with a new book, I’ll read The Godfather by Mario Puzo or The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett or Different Seasons by Stephen King (the first two stories, at least).  They’re not the best books in the world, and I’m not necessarily recommending them, but they’re easy to read.  And when I’m stuck with reader’s block, I need something easy to read.

Maybe I should try drinking and reading at the same time whenever I get reader’s block.  Maybe reading is the one thing that I can do really well when I’m drunk.  I’ve never tried it before, and if I can’t read while drunk, then I’m not really hurting anyone else.  I can give the book to somebody else to read for me, unless he or she is drunk too.

If I thought writing drunk would make me a great writer, I’d consider doing it.  But I’m not willing to drink just to be a great reader.  I’m not willing to bleed either.  When I look at it from that perspective, I guess writer’s block is worse than reader’s block after all.

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What do you think?  Which block is worse for you, writer’s block or reader’s block?  What’s your best method to get out of writer’s block?  What books do you read to break out of reader’s block? Do you even believe in reader’s block?

The Best Self-Help Book Ever! The Sermon on the Mount from The Bible

This isn’t a religious post, I promise!

I haven’t read many self-help books all the way through. I have a copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie just because it’s old and it’s considered one of the best self-help books of all time. Since I’m a book blogger, I’ve read plenty of excerpts of self-help books because many of them are bestsellers, and I try to keep up with what’s selling and why.

I never finish reading self-help books because I get the feeling that each one is a scam. If these books aren’t scams, they’re at least scam-adjacent. The worst scams are the self-help books with profanity in the titles. I don’t take advice from people who scream profanity in public or put it in their book titles.

The best self-help comes from The Sermon on the Mount. If you read that and follow the teachings seriously, you don’t need other self-help. Well, at least I haven’t.

First of all, the advice is good, especially if you DON’T take the teachings in isolation. Some of the advice might be strange if you don’t read further and see how it all connects. Most criticism of The Sermon of the Mount comes from picking on an isolated sentence and ignoring everything else around it.

Second of all, there is no scam involved. Jesus is dead (yeah, he was resurrected. but you know what I mean). He’s not some guy telling people to spend $30.00 on a brand new book or pay $500.00 for a seminar. The last copy of The Bible I bought was $8.00 new (and worth every penny). The Sermon is public domain, so nobody cares if you publish it yourself.

If you try to make money on publishing The Sermon on the Mount, however, you’re probably not following Jesus’s teachings very closely. Maybe. I try not to judge too much.

Third, it doesn’t matter what you think about the existence of Jesus. I have no opinion about him. I don’t know if he’s the literal son of God, or a prophet, or a fiction. I don’t even care (that much). The teachings of The Sermon on the Mount are great!

Fourth, The Sermon on the Mount is short. Most self-help books are hundreds of pages full of blather and filler. The Sermon on the Mount is only a few pages long. The teachings are pretty clear. It’s easy to go back and reread the parts you like (or the parts you need the most).

You might disagree with me, but that’s okay. The Bible can be confusing and seemingly contradictory (and there are a bunch of reasons for that, but I’m not that kind of blogger), but The Sermon on the Mount is pretty clear. If you read only one part of The Bible, that’s what I would read.

Maybe I should rephrase that. If you read only one self-help book, then read The Sermon on the Mount.

Dr. Seuss vs. Stephen King! The Battle of the Self-Banned Books

Dr. Seuss fans flipped out a few weeks ago when Dr. Seuss Enterprises self-banned several of his allegedly offensive books, and I understand. One of the books, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, is beloved by a bunch of readers who probably aren’t racist (but that depends on which of the countless definitions of the word racist you think is right).

Nobody likes the idea of somebody else controlling what books we’re allowed to read. People don’t mind banning books other readers like, but they don’t like their own favorite books getting banned. And self-banning books just seems weird to some of us.

This situation, though, isn’t new. A few years ago, Stephen King self-banned one of his own books Rage because he believed it might have inspired a bunch of school shootings. At the time, I disagreed, but I understood.

To be fair, Rage was nobody’s favorite Stephen King book. Maybe it was for a few school shooters, but they statistically don’t count.

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I have an old copy of And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Despite the controversial picture, I like the book a lot. I don’t have a copy of Rage. I think I read it in one of those Richard Bachman compilations decades ago, and it was just okay. I don’t remember anything about it. I remember so little about it that I might not have even read it.

I remember some scenes from a few other Stephen King books like The Stand, Christine, and It, where characters were perverts, but the scenes were written in a way that (to me) made the author Stephen King seem like a pervert. Several of these scenes involved minors, which makes Stephen King look even worse.

If I were Stephen King (and I’m not, by the way), I’d think about self-banning these scenes out of my novels or maybe rewriting them to tone them down a little. School shootings are probably worse than having sexual thoughts about minors, but these scenes still are not not cool. And I’d think that having sexualized scenes involving teens is worse than a racist picture in a children’s book.

At least the two are close. Maybe. I’m still processing that one.

I don’t think anybody misses Rage by Stephen King. If I didn’t already have a copy of And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, I’d miss it.

On a side note, one week after several Dr. Seuss books were self-banned, Dr. Seuss book sales skyrocketed.

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Four of the top five bestselling titles last week were Seuss books, and their sales dwarfed sales in the same period a year ago: Cat in the Hat sold about 105,000 copies last week, compared to 22,000 copies in the first week of March last year; Green Eggs and Ham numbers were 90,000/34,000; One Fish Two Fish Blue Fish Red Fish, 88,000/26,000; Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, 74,000/43,000; and Fox in Socks, 64,000/23,000. Overall, unit sales in the juvenile category rose almost 58% over the comparable week in 2020.

It wasn’t just Seuss books that drove the gains last week. Sales in adult fiction jumped 40%, helped by a strong showing by the sale of nearly 80,000 copies of Sister Souljah’s Life After Death and sales of almost 57,000 copies of Stephen King’s Later.

Read more at Dr. Seuss Books Ruled Last Week’s Bestseller List.

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What do you think? Will you miss any of the books that have been self-banned? Is self-banning going too far? Should more authors self-ban their creations?

I Own All Six Racist Dr. Seuss Books!!!

I just realized that six books in my Dr. Seuss collection are considered racist. I’m sure everybody knows what I’m talking about. Even people who don’t read books know about the Dr. Seuss situation, but just in case you don’t know…

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Dr. Seuss Enterprises is addressing the racist and insensitive illustrations that pop up across the works of late children’s author Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.

The company announced on Tuesday, which would’ve been Seuss’ 117th birthday, that six titles will be discontinued: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the ZooMcElligot’s PoolOn Beyond Zebra!Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” a statement, published to the official Dr. Seuss website, reads. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Read more at Six Dr. Seuss books won’t be published anymore due to racist and insensitive imagery.

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I didn’t mean to buy six racist Dr. Seuss books. I didn’t even know these books were racist when I bought them almost two decades ago. All I thought was, cool, a bunch of Dr. Seuss books for sale really cheap; what a great deal!

When I read the books with my daughter back then, I noticed a couple of the controversial images and didn’t think much of them except that they probably would have been edited out if the books had been published twenty years ago.

Now that I realize I have all six books that will no longer be published, I wonder, what should I do with them? I could sell them and get a great price. Since they’ve been banned, their prices have skyracketed. Yes, I spelled it “skyracketed” on purpose. It’s a combination of skyrocket and racket, which I think is appropriate to this situation. I don’t want to be involved in a skyracket.

I could burn the books, but I still like them. If somebody else wants to burn his/her books, more power to that person. But I like a couple of these books a lot, and I burn only books that I don’t like. I don’t burn books that other people don’t like.

If race were the only prism or perspective in which I viewed the world, then maybe I’d get rid of or burn the books. But race is merely one out of millions of perspectives. The people who see things primarily in terms of race miss out on a lot of other stuff, and I’m not going to limit myself because of their narrow-mindedness.

The people who see things mostly by race might be able to limit me in some minor ways (like banning books they find offensive), but I’m not going to cooperate with them on this issue.

Besides, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street is a damn good book. In fact, it’s f***ing awesome. I’d even call it f@cking awesome, but that might be an inappropriate way to talk about a children’s book, even if it’s deemed as racist.

I’m going to keep my six racist Dr. Seuss books. I think I’ll stop calling them racist too. I’ll just call them controversial. Or maybe I won’t call them anything at all. And no, you can’t have them.

Now that I think about it, I believe I’ve got The Song of the South somewhere in my VHS collection.

Famous Authors and Really Bad Publicity Photos

This pose seems unnatural, but at least the author doesn’t look like a prick.

I first noticed authors’ bad publicity photos in the 1980s when I was reading the book jackets of literary fiction. The author poses were unnatural. Most authors looked pompous. Even back then, I didn’t want to read literature written by pompous authors.

I thought maybe literary authors were meant to look pompous to separate them from the common person who also takes bad pictures. Maybe it was done to keep famous authors in their places: if famous authors took good pictures, their egos would get too huge.

The above Malcolm Gladwell photo is a good example of a bad publicity photo. I don’t want to make fun of Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve read a few of his books. His books were great for the airport back in the days when I actually went to airports. I don’t read his books anymore because I don’t go to airports anymore, but I still respect the guy.

The thing is, Malcolm Gladwell has taken decent pictures. He even looks like a normal guy in most of them. He probably got talked into releasing those bad publicity photos. He was probably told that those bad publicity photos were actually good.

People lie about the quality of photos others take. Years ago, my co-workers tried to convince me that my ID photo was a good picture. We had been standing in line for annual IDs, and when I finally had my picture taken, I asked the photographer if I could see it before I moved on.

My mistake had been that I had smiled when the photographer told me to. My smile is asymmetrical, so I look drunk even though I’m sober. Even so, I still smiled when the photographer asked because I have been programmed to be polite.

The photographer hesitated but agreed to show me the picture. There was a line behind me; he had a deadline and probably wanted to get through as many of us as quickly as possible, but he let me get behind his equipment (I don’t remember enough of it to describe it), and I saw my face with my eyes half-closed and a lopsided smile. Yes, I looked drunk.

“I can’t walk around with this for a year,” I said to the photographer. “Can I do a retake?”

The photographer scanned the crowd behind me. “I really can’t do that,” he said.

“It won’t take long,” I countered. I usually don’t like to impose, but I didn’t want to walk around for a year with a picture of me looking drunk.

The photographer said, “The picture’s fine.”

“Then your standards are too low for you to be a professional photographer.”

Some guy in the line behind me shouted, “What’s the problem, Jimmy?”

“I’m trying to get a retake,” I said in a stage voice. “I took a bad picture.”

“Let me see,” a nosy female co-worker said. Without permission, she walked up behind the photographer’s equipment and checked the picture.

“This is a good picture,” she exclaimed.

“Your vision is bad,” I said.

Some other guy came up and said, “What’s wrong with it?

“I look sober when I’m drunk,” I said. “I mean, drunk when I’m sober.” I get my words mixed up when I’m annoyed.

All of a sudden, there was a crowd around the equipment, and nobody agreed with me about the quality of the picture. Either my co-workers had bad judgement or they disliked me or I always look drunk. The photographer was breathing heavily and turning slightly red.

“You might as well let me do a retake,” I said to him. The photographer shook his head but agreed.

This second time, I kept a frozen serious stare. I didn’t smile. I didn’t speak. I kept my face in a perfectly symmetrical position, and the picture turned out great. My co-workers seemed disappointed.

I don’t know if Malcolm Gladwell knows he takes some bad pictures. I don’t know if he’s surrounded by publicists and peers who lie to him. I don’t know if it bugs him when he takes a bad picture, but if it does, I completely understand. At least my bad ID photos only lasted a year.

If you’re a famous author, your bad picture lasts forever, or at least until people stop reading your books.

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What do you think? Why do so many famous authors have bad publicity photos? What do you have to do to take a decent picture?