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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Playing It Cool

Category: Issue 15

Friendless.  It’s been ages now. 

Casting about, trying not to look or feel desperate, because that only makes it worse. 

I remember the last time, that time on the bus.  Our eyes met… or at least, there was a meeting.  I don’t like to talk about a friend this way, but that’s what happened.  I knew immediately and I paid the money, a simple thing.  It was love at first sight, unexpected but certain, just by looking for a quick moment.  Size, shape.  Front and back covers.  First, so to speak, page.  These things are everything when you’re on the road. 

It was a happy accident, really. I can’t count the number of happy accidents that have, happily, happened en route to somewhere or other.  Some people apparently fantasize about such things, but I guess I’ve just been lucky. Reviews are useful. If the New York Times says OK, then, OK. Usually. 

Disasters happen.  If you can imagine how awful it would be to lose somebody right in the middle of the absolute joy of deranged obsession.  It would be like accidentally leaving “Gone With the Wind” at the soccer game—which didn’t happen, because, as a matter of fact, I was reading it, and so I ignored most of the soccer game.  Also I took it home and finished it—“Gone With the Wind”, I mean; not the soccer game.  (I think our team won.) But sometimes I wake up, eyes white and wide, sitting bolt upright, afraid that I’ve left “Gone With the Wind” on a bleacher in a stadium somewhere.  Frankly, DAMN! 

When you lose a friend right in the middle, it’s horrible.  I was reading “The Other Bolyne Girl” on the plane, all the way from Vancouver to Thailand, last year, and somehow I misplaced her in Thailand.  It took almost half a year to get a new copy, and I had only had another one hundred pages or so to go.  I looked everywhere for a replacement copy and finally had to order it from amazon.com when I was back in Canada.  Then I had to read a lot of previous pages to get back into where we’d been.  We never captured the same magic, and when the movie came out, I felt doubly cheated. The other Bolyne girl was nothing like she’d been on the original plane. 

Worse than losing your love in the middle or near to the end of a book is when you’re reading cheap photocopied pirated editions of excellent books about Cambodia, here in Cambodia (so far as I know, you can’t get anything else here), and you get to almost the end of the book, and suddenly, entire PAGES are missing, or upside down, or in the wrong order.  I have really bad and inconvenient memories of riffling through pages of “The Gate” at 3 AM to make sure I’d still have the next ten pages to read… it was nerve-wracking… I’d only budgeted an hour to finish this excellent book, and it took three hours of flipping around, PLUS: there were ten probably crucial pages missing!!!  Had to go to work in the morning, and, again, feeling somehow cheated and sad.

Such memories are the stuff of nightmares.  A relationship with a book is like a relationship.  Period.  If it’s a good relationship, you don’t expect it to suddenly have its pages mixed up or missing, right at the end.

They say that we humans are serially monogamous. I know I am.  If it’s a really good book, I can’t—well, I don’t want to—put it down.  It can become problematic, as when you are supposed to attend soccer games, or bathe, or eat, or do one’s job.  One works around that.  A healthy relationship between one and one’s book should involve an ability to disengage and then simply look forward to seeing one another again. 

I HAD that relationship with my last book.  My last REAL book.  The whole thing was perfect.  I had to get on a bus; people were waiting for me; I went into the guesthouse’s second-hand bookstore; it took less than 30 seconds for me to see her.  I read the back cover, the first paragraph, and we were in love.  I read her for five hours on the bus, and when I got home I read her some more until I had to go to bed to get up in the morning.  The next morning, I looked fondly at her and went to work.  When I got home, I read her.  I finished her.  Oh, GAWD. 

Naturally, I went back and read her again.  She was that good. 

Are all books female?  This one was.  I think “The Gate” was male, though, and HE was good.  It wasn’t his fault about the pages being messed up. 

As a child, I remember finishing a good book and starting right over at the beginning.  Why not?  They don’t call them “favorite books” for nothing.

There’s an incredible sadness about finishing a good book.  Towards the end of a really good book, I always start counting the pages, to make sure there are still lots left to read.  The end of a book is like a death, but you can still go back and reread it until your grief has abated. NOT being able to finish a good book is horrible, and causes purchases from amazon.com.  At least, finishing a good book has some possibility of closure. 

Maybe I take this stuff too seriously.  All I know is that I just read, excuse me, “read” this book… I mean “book”, and it was awful. It was a formulaic hunk o’ gunk which, oddly, had good reviews plastered all over it.  I tried and I tried.  Finally I started skimming madly, just to get through it.  Still, it took me an entire week to finish it.  It was an endless stupid paperback which I could have finished in a day or so if it had been any good. When I was away at work, I’d think, “Shit, when I get home I can at least work on finishing that stupid book.” 

On Friday, I got home early and decided to do away, once and for all, with “Orbit”.  Don’t ask.  This is not a book review.  It was just bad, take it from me.  (I’m pretty sure, in fact I’m absolutely sure, that this was a male book—no offense to anyone… just true.)

Guess what happened? With five pages to go, and a bunch of work that I should have been doing, someone PHONED me.  I had to go OUT.  AGHHH.  Out I went, back I came later, and what, whom, do I find when I get home but “Orbit” lying, face down on the bed, with five pages left to read.  AGHHH.  I read the five pages.  THE KILL!  Moan. 

“Orbit” is dead.  Unmourned, but not forgotten. I feel like I’ve just come out of a really, like really, bad and banal relationship that lasted much, much too long.  I feel like I need THERAPY.  I feel like maybe I’m too old to have a really good relationship again and that I’m doomed to always be in relationships with books like “Orbit”. 

I’ve been casting about for something new to read, but you know how it is.  When you’re needy, good books can smell it, and they tend to keep away. I’ll have to work my way back up again… for now I’m just reading the newspaper and playing it cool.

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Old Comments

  • Very nice!  I am reminded of those times when I have continued slogging through a book I wasn’t really enjoying because somewhere along the line I lost sight of the difference between those endeavors that ought to be finished and those that don’t really matter.  Effing TV shows do that to me a lot - though less now than before.  I guess I’m getting better at leaving.

    I remember a few things that I started and never finished.  I’ve decided they aren’t worth finishing, apparently, but I wonder if there are some that are worth finishing, and I just haven’t remembered them.  Some books, I bet.  I started Human Action and never finished it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/12  at  02:59 PM
  • I have five (5) books piled up beside the bed right now and I can’t get into any of them.  I’m heartbroken.  Gack. 

    Should probably trudge to a second hand bookstore and flirt with the books but I can’t get around to it.  They probably have Human Action at the bookstore, and I can just imagine where THAT wouldn’t go.

    Posted by julianyway  on  07/30  at  12:51 PM
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