Friday, March 11, 2005

A man of letters.

I just finished reading a book I didn't like. It's by my favorite author, Larry Niven (collaborating with Jerry Pournelle, whose work I also enjoy). It's 505 pages long, and the title is The Burning City. I began reading it yesterday, and finished it today, approximately 21 hours after I began it (and I slept for 9 hours in that time period). And no, it wasn't a comic book. I didn't like it. There was almost nothing in the story that appealled to me, yet I read it with the quiet desperation of someone reading Swimming for Dummies on the Titanic.

Hi, my name is Octavo Dia, and I am a word junkie.

I normally read academic non-fiction. I remember an episode of classic Trek, "The Trouble with Tribbles," in which Captain Kirk confined Scottie to quarters. Scottie responded, "Thank you captain! It'll give me a chance to catch up on my technical journals!" If someone confined me to quarters with back issues of Foreign Affairs, I'd be happy for weeks.

My fascination with words began before I could even tell them apart, but even then I was hooked. My father said that he did not have the patience to read The Three Little Kittens as often as I wanted to hear it. My poor, poor, under-stimulated mother. What she would have given for a chance to read an entire newspaper.

Every now and then, my Cutie, in an attempt to make me more interesting, inserts something different into my reading. Something strange and intersting. Once it was Catch 22, another time Farewell, My Lovely, then The Fountainhead, even The Indian in the Cupboard.

Even back then I was always pushing the limits and experimenting. The Three Little Kittens was okay, but I began asking for more and different kinds of books. I was trying to recapture the thrill.

Before you call me an ungrateful wretch, it was only a 25 cent book from the library book sale.

Then they sent me to school. I hated it. It was a tease. It was like going to a strip club where the only thing stripped was the steak and your car in the parking lot. Where was the ecstacy? Where was the thrill of the words that they held in such abundance? They had the tools, they could teach me to read, yet they only cracked the door and gave us whatever dribbled out. See spot run. It was a bad trip. School messed me up for a long time.

I remember a song from a group called The Divers about a book that ended up at a library book sale, the refrain went like this, "Oh why did somebody have to write me? I was happy as a tree. I do not wanna ever gotta be no book. I do not wanna ever gotta be no book. I do not wanna ever gotta be no book, anymore."

I was homeschooled through high school. That helped. They couldn't keep all the words away from me now, especially not when I was doing research papers. But the non-fiction kept calling me. Some was like heroin; it hooked me right away. Some was like cocaine; it kept me flying high. Some was even LSD--I'd get some warped thoughts out of those--there was something for every mood, every taste, every whim. And that was in my father's personal collection alone.

I wonder what the book in The Divers song was about? Surely it had to be something academic. Even the trashiest and most poorly written of novels gets read. Academic books can sit in the stacks for decades until someone doing research puts in the right combination of search terms, or some lost freshman stumbles into them.

It wasn't until college that I left the non-fiction behind and stuck to the weaker stuff. "Then the man said, 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me...'" And I did sin.

I am a sommelier doing shots. I am a pianist listening to rap. I am a tight-rope walker on a merry-go-round. I am a reader feeding his addiction with the weakest possible fix to keep it under control. It sucks.


Blogger Hamlette said...

So whenever I pick up a book and think of recommending it to you, from now on I shall think of myself as The Captain's Woman, Marlena Moreau, in the Classic Star Trek ep "Mirror, Mirror"...I'll smile seductively and murmur, "Oiling my traps, darling" :-D

9:35 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

Interesting experiment with style... I think as you get more readers who don't know you well they will be more attracted to this kind of post. Just like no one who went to grade school with a future celebrity can believe they're all that special.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this post. Although it gives those of us who aspire to like reading a severe kick in the pants. I am desirous of having all the time in the world to read, but am surrounded by the mundane. I am not struck by amazing thoughts until provoked, and even then I am out-thought by others. I went to grade-school with no future celebrity and probably no one who would end up with a six figure pay-check either, myself probably least so. Honestly, I am never given the encouragement I want, especially by those who are supposed to be in awe of me. Its hard for me to read a book and have no one to discuss it with, for the books I read are never being read by anyone else. Although I saw someone reading Watership Down, but lacked the courage to ask him about it.

3:34 PM  

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