August 3rd, 2007

Heavyweight Reads

As you may recall from earlier posts, I read a lot. I have to: to write, to have something to talk about, to have something to do on the subway and at work and at the gym. Also it’s the only thing that makes me feel smarter. I am a fairly serious reader, too, I like to think–I think about form and craft, context and history, as well as just how entertained I am.

But a big big concern when I choose books is how much they weigh.

Sorry. I would like to be above such shallowness, especially in our weight-conscious culture. But I leave the house early on the morning and hike around the city all day and the book has to go too, often sharing bag space with lunch, gym clothes and a laptop. Ideally, I’d like to be able to hold it in one hand when I have to hold a subway pole in the other. If it causes finger pain to hold, or shoulder pain to carry, we’re already sort of talking about a drawn-out literary experience, because I’m going to wind up reading only at home, where I rarely am.

This makes for silliness. Like when someone recommends an author to me and I walk down the aisle of the library looking for the skinniest thing that person wrote. I know a number of folks in the publishing industry who devote themselves seriously to making beautifully bound, durable books, which I heartily applaud and almost never read. I can read a 500-page mass market easily, but even a 200-page hard-cover is a burden.

This is so sad! Maybe someday I’ll own a car (seems unlikely, doesn’t it?) or get a manservant to carry my bag (even more so) and then this won’t be an issue. And in the meantime, I still make exceptions. The exception of the moment is what has me currently thinking about this issue–The Collected Short Fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman. This author was recommended to me by a number of respected sorts, but I don’t know why I chose a giant hardcover collected stories. Generally I don’t read those, hardcover or otherwise, because I like to see how a group of stories work together in an organic collection.

And yet here we are, a small horizontal bruise on my left thigh from where the book-in-bag bangs. A hand cramp. But no regrets. Because the recommendations were warrranted and I’m glad I have such a wealth of good stories to read. I don’t know of BJF is to everyone’s taste, but his middle-aged Jewish male neuroses in every possible guise is absolutely brilliant, funny and incomparably warm and sad too.

Here, I’ll share, so maybe you can get sucked in and wind up carrying the bloody thing around yourself. This is from a police procedural called “Our Lady of the Lockers,” my favourite of the first three quarters of the collection:

“They found her body in locker three hundred fifty-seven at Jack La Lanne’s Gym and Health Spa on East Fifty-fifth Street. Also in lockers three hundred fifty-eight through three hundred sixty-one. I heard about it on a small island off the South Carolina coast where I was failing to enjoy my first vacation in five years. The highlight of my social activity (not including a little something with the girl at the desk) was a barroom conversation with a stockbroker who spent a great deal of time telling me why would not go to Elaine’s restaurant in New York.”

[he is forced to cut short the vacation, returns home to New York]

“I took down my “Beware, Scarlet Fever Victim” door sign (with Spanish translation) and went straight to the plants, which I was happy to see were hanging on gamely. I turned off WRVR and thought for a moment of all the wasted Paul Desmond and John Coltrane (designed to fake out pillagers and looters) that had poured out into an empty room. What happened to all that music, where did it go and what a nifty riddle to pose to my Civilization and Philosophy Seminar at Hunter on Thursday night (paid for by Mayor Beame and all you nice taxpayers out there).

“Everything was as I had left it; my framed Police Academy diploma, machete collection, indirectly lighted train set, freezerful of Frankie and Johnnie steaks, which the boys were kind enough to send over as a door prize for the Homicide Cruise (canceled due to budget-cutting). Gently cursing myself for forgetting to pick up fresh garlic at Gristede’s, I commenced to whip up a Caesar salad. And then I noticed that my clue box was missing.”

See? Worth the shoulderache, I think.

Rich men wanna be king

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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