One Is All that Matters

A few weeks ago I left Massachusetts for a roadtrip to see my mom in the midwest. Just as I was stepping out the door, I heard a voice coming from the art room — “Are you Jude Tingley” ? Well, yes, I was that person and admitted it. As it turned out, this wonderful young woman had heard of me through my blog. My blog! Someone had read my blog! I was so excited I about fell over.

After calming down, exchanging names, and last-minute instructions from Ken and the cats, I was on my way to Indiana thinking dreamily, “Someone reads my blog.” I guess from now on I’ll think to myself as I’m writing this, that I’m writing for that special person, that person who understands me and (mostly) approves of me.

And, not wanting to disappoint that person (who might be a different person every
time, or the same one), I’ll try my best to be informative and entertaining as I drone
on & on about my little eccentricities & notions & observations.
Thank you, person reading my Blog!

 

Unknown Books Worth Reading Redux

Once again I’m going through boxes filled with books; the ones I’ve found today are mostly novels from the 1940s through the 1960s. They’re in very nice condition, their lovely dust-jackets perhaps a bit faded but quite intact. So many of them seem spirited and lively as I open them and take a look through their pages. They do not seem out-dated; silly thought — how could a good book ever be outdated? And so many of their authors led adventurous or unconventional lives — living, as they did, before the Triumph of MFA Programs.

In any case, these books and their authors are virtually unknown today. And yeah, that “virtually” could be taken as a bad pun, and I kind of intended it to be.

Here, for example, is a copy of Blessed Is the Land, from 1965, by Louis Zara. It’s a swashbuckling tale of the 17th Century, based on real historical events. Its protagonist, Ashur Levy, was one of the first Jewish immigrants to America, part of a group of 23 who landed on its shores in 1654. His adventures and those of the small Jewish colony he was part of are filled with excitement, heart, exhilaration, tragedy, and love. The narrative takes the form of a journal written by Levy himself, as imagined by Zara.

Blessed Is the Land remains a splendid tale, vibrant and vivid. This is how the world of the 17th century may well have appeared to this adventurer.

It’s the sort of book that deserves reading, but who even knows that it exists? Yes, it is listed (together with an excellent note on author and subject) in Josh Lambert’s American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide. But I’m afraid that casual browsers of the internet will not discover its  merits in their travels to Amazon, Abe, and the other bookselling sites. It’s there, all right, sometimes with excruciating attention paid to the condition of the book, and no attention at all paid to its content, what the thing is ABOUT. Unless one had by some chance had his curiosity piqued by a mention of the author or title of the book, it’s hard to imagine a reader coming across it by chance on the internet. And even if he does, there would be no information available to him about what makes the book worth reading, worth adding to his book collection.

Now I am about to shelve it in the historical fiction section of my bookshop. I wonder if anyone will find it there …

As Time Goes By …

Hello again

I’ve been more-or-less in hibernation mode for most of this terrible awful not-very-good snowy freezy looooong winter. You can find me at the side of my trusty space-heater, going through boxes of books. When people start getting out again, they will find a lot of new (or perhaps I should say “intriguingly different”) books  on our shelves. I’m pretty excited about a lot of the stuff I’ve been pulling out of the boxes – I don’t remember where many of these boxes came from originally, nor do I remember acquiring individual titles. So every day is kind of like Christmas. Open a box, find a surprise inside. I’m happy to say that most of the surprises are good ones. So many great books, so few of them available on kindle …

At any rate, just wanted to say hi, I’m back. Meetinghouse Books still exists. Our doors are open and we’re browser-friendly.

Read on!

The Trouble with Cats

Image

(this one is for Forrest, another bookseller with cats)I

It has been said that every bookstore needs a cat. Originally, I suppose, cats were useful for getting rid of mice. Well, these days we have better, more humane ways of getting rid of mice by trapping them and then sending them back to the fields where they can take their chances.

But cats remain ensconced in bookshops as though they’d been grandfathered in along with the built-in shelves and the ugly blue carpet. They ain’t going nowhere.

Joey in a Box, Going Nowhere:

jinabox

We have two cats. Their official names are Smoky Joe and Wee Willie Winkie, but they are known by many others, including Monster, Big Guy, Sneaky, Fireball, Greedy-Guts, Floppo, and Nosy. Kind of like the Seven Dwarves (or the Seven Deadly Sins) wrapped up in two relatively small packages.

Of course we play with them, we cuddle them, we feed them nutritious, delicious kibbles. I groom Joey’s long black hair and allow Willie to crawl up to my neck where she pretends to be a vampire. Or perhaps she really is a vampire, I don’t know.

Willie — Vampire or Cat?

willivamp

The point being, they do not work. Do they alphabetize the books by author’s last name? Do they do clean? Do they tidy? Are they even interested in books except as surfaces to lounge on?

The one service they have provided is finding things under furniture, things that we thought long gone, like my nice red comb. But the finding quickly turned to losing and now there is a whole new set of small objects that we will never see again (unless one of the cats decides to bring it back – chewed, unusable, soaked with cat saliva). They have also become experts at knocking any number of objects off tables, especially breakable ones. Do they clean up the mess they leave behind? Do they replace all the items left irreparably damaged? Do they even apologize? No! Of course they don’t. They just sit there on that stack of books you’re trying to work on and even hook their little claws into your shirtsleeve so your hand will be led into petting position.

There remains only one purpose for them, one reason for them to be bookstore cats. The customers love them. They ask for them by name. The cats show off for the customers and perform acts of acrobatics that send one’s heart a-flutter. They often try to follow a customer out the door. After all we’ve done for them!!!!! Lousy cats.

Except, except … we love them, we adore them, we cater to their demands, we are under a spell. A spell undoubtedly cast by the first witchy bookstore cat.

The Long and Winding Road

This week I’ll be getting ready for my annual visit home to see my Mom in Michigan. This year I’ll be able to stay a little longer than usual and I’m very grateful for that extra bit of time. Mom is going to have her 97th birthday soon, and I want to be with her as much as I possibly can. I call her up every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday but I can’t give her a hug over the phone and that’s what I long to do. I also want to help her out with anything that needs fixing, but most of all, of course, I just want to be with her.

It’s funny. Mom and I have really got to know each other well only in the past few decades. I left the midwest at an early age and never came back, except for summer visits. Even after their fairly amicable divorce, Mom stayed in the shadow of my Dad’s larger-than-life presence. Almost thirty years after his death, Dad still looms large in our thoughts and memories.

But somehow Dad’s death brought Mom and me together in a strange way. We both loved him, and now we can talk about him, and our family, and our lives together and apart. We share stories and Mom tells me tales of her childhood. I am so, so glad we’ve been given this time together, now that we can talk and talk and talk and make each other laugh. I wish we’d been pals my whole life, but the way it is — well, I’m just grateful for every minute we have together.

I might not have had the chance. Mom and I could have maintained our distance, both geographically and emotionally. I shudder to think that Mom might have passed away not knowing how much I love her. And that I would have lost her company, and her laughter, and her memories.

This year I have a plan. I want to write down Mom’s stories on paper. She is the shyest and most self-effacing of women, so I’ll have to do this very casually, sort of sneak it in, as it were. A tape recorder, that standard device of oral autobiography, is out of the question, since the presence of such a thing would make her clam up for sure. But there’s so much she has to share, if I can only get it written down well enough to do her justice — wish me luck.

The Once and Future Bookstore and Today’s Dream House

There’s an old truism that really is true: Booksellers never die; they just disappear under piles of books. To be sure, never have so many texts been available to so many readers via so many well-advertised gadgets, but I think in the long run the actual, physical book will maintain its place of honor in the archives of human thought.

But that’s not what I came here to write about at all, really. It’s just that I’m thinking about permanence and change, the eagerness of young people to be considered adults, and the desire, perhaps, of many adults to take a step backwards and be rid of responsibilities.

What this all relates to, sort of, is my habit of watching computer TV as I process books to shelve in the shop (“processing” means, for those of you who wonder, simply going through the stacks of books on hand, checking for faults, tidying them if need-be, and putting a price on them). Generally, this is a laid-back activity, requiring only the stacks of waiting books on my left, a few pencils, some cleaning materials, and a place for the finished stacks of books to my right. In between are me and the computer. To keep myself entertained, and to ward off the temptation of *reading* the books I’m supposed to be processing, I watch movies & tv shows on the internet. Lately I’ve become fascinated with the number of shows devoted to home buying. My favorite show follows young people in search of their “first home,” aided by the steadying hand of realtors who help them find their dream houses.

And that’s really my source of fascination. These people are so young, and their “dream houses” are so incredibly overwhelming, with what seem to me impossibly burdensome  long-term mortgages and property taxes and fees that I never would have saddled myself with in my twenties. These young people want to rush into adulthood triumphantly, with a 4000 square foot house, complete with all the latest buzzword necessities. Let’s see now, we’ll need an “open floor plan” with “flow” into the “large kitchen” with “stainless steel appliances” and “granite counter-tops.” The floors must be hardwood, and even the walls must already be painted the right colors (for these eager folks cannot spend the time painting or repairing or buying anything for themselves). The house must be complete, like a gigantic dollhouse for them to play in. Which reminds me, the “man cave” is a must-have for married couples, as are separate sinks in the “en suite” bathroom off the sizable master bedroom. Deal-breakers would include: walk-in closets that aren’t large enough to be considered rooms on their own, carpeting of any color, walls that show a little character (that is, that are not painted in the dullest neutral shades imaginable), an unfinished basement where the man-cave is supposed to be, or kitchen cabinets that are unsuitable because of their old-fashioned appearance (imagine! white cabinets!). Nobody wants to spend any time renovating anything. “Move-in ready” and “all new construction” make their ears perk up.

Of course, not all of these young people are married. Many are single, but just feel the need (apparently, it seems, as soon as they find their first job after college) for an  up-to-the-minute, state-of-the-art house. For guys, the whole place can be considered a man-cave. For girls, well, of course *everyone* needs an entire floor devoted to entertaining. Don’t they?

Oh dear, oh my. I may sound like an old lady waving her cane at the younguns, but some of the happiest times of my life were spent living in apartments shared with my roommate friends. I didn’t *want* a house of my own. I didn’t *want* to tie myself down to a mortgage or even a neighborhood. I wanted to explore the world (or at least part of it) in my twenties.

Ken and I didn’t acquire this building until we were, well let’s just say quite a bit past our twenties. By that time we really knew what we wanted and needed, and it wasn’t state-of-the-art appliances or granite counter-tops. It was meetinghouse booksa sturdy building that had been around for a while that we could make our own, by choosing our own paint colors (and painting the interior walls ourselves) and our own furnishings (some inherited from our families and some bought at the thrift store) and our own plan for what sort of rooms we needed and for what purpose (bookstore and apartment, room for us and our books and cats and computers and vinyl record collections – have I missed anything?).

Anyway, this is just another source of perplexity for me, and a conundrum. How, after all, can anyone need to be “leading edge” (be it technology or bathroom design) if “leading edge” means, as in this case, being saddled with onerous long-term commitments? Will that granite counter-top be so fashionable in a few years, or will something else be totally necessary to the next wave of young house-buyers?

Or perhaps I’m all wet. Perhaps these kids are doing in their own way what I did. Perhaps they’re planning to hop from house to house just as freely as I did from apartment to apartment. I just bet, though, that after a while they wouldn’t mind a few roommates to take along on their journey.

A mortgage contract might be just a wee bit harder to dismiss than a yearly rental agreement. And after all, it’s not always possible to flip your house for a profit (that’s another show, which is also fascinating, though sometimes rather depressing).

My Pal the Adverb

There’s been a lot of loose talk going on about adverbs these days. First I received an email from the writerly ozone which reprinted much of Stephen King’s essay on the subject, “The Adverb Is Not Your Friend.” The emailer underlines this point by helpfully prefacing his introduction to Mr. King with the remark that the adverb is “a malignant part of speech.” This post was quickly followed by another email from another would-be instructor who counsels that the use of adverbs is considered “lazy writing”  because it means we don’t have to show what’s happening as a good writer should. Then she goes on to equate adverbs with cliches, pairing them in sentence after sentence for the rest of the article. (Hmm – can “Show, don’t tell” be considered a cliche all by itself?) She does go so far as to reckon that the adverb can be useful in dialogue, but that’s about it. More about this last point later.

So I plunged ahead to re-read Mr. King’s essay. I like Stephen King just fine. He seems like a swell guy, a regular fella, and a few of his books rank right up there with the best of dark fantasy. However, in this essay I’m afraid Mr. King does not play fair. He takes the worst possible use of the adverb and displays it as his example of how adverbs make for bad writing, to whit:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

Well, of course these are bad sentences. They verge on being Tom Swifties. But Mr. King seems to think this is a typical use of adverbs. He accuses adverbs of being words of fear, words that timid, passive writers use. Especially in dialogue.

Wait a minute … These two writing counselors both hate adverbs — but apparently for very different reasons. Maybe they despise adverbs simply because they know they’re supposed to. Ever since Hemingway we have been advised to keep it crisp, keep it short, keep it unadorned with fancy-schmancy stuff. Like adverbs.

Confused now about adverbs and how they’ve come to be held in such low regard, I turned off the computer and decided to pick a book to read after I finish the one I have going now. I leafed through Sinclair Lewis’s Ann Vickers and made a random stop at a random page. The first sentence I read was, “They danced morally.” What a great sentence! How much it tells you with just three words, one of them an adverb. These dancers were dancing the requisite number of inches from each other, they were not passionate, I imagine them to be rather stiff in fact. All that resonance with three carefully chosen words.

And isn’t that the real message we should be getting? No part of speech is bad or wicked or malignant. It’s all in how we use our language, it’s all in how we choose our words.