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Saturday, April 16, 2011


Fuck You, Mark Twain

I'm not an idiot.

People who have read this blog before may take issue with that statement, but let's just agree to table any argument on my idiocy and just go with it for now.

I'm not claiming to be an intellectual, god knows. Get me too far into abstract thought and I tune out and my mind starts playing the Jetsons theme. I'm not a scientist or a professor of philosophy or an engineer because I'm not that goddamn smart.

But neither am I sitting down on the couch, swimming in delight at a Mama's Family marathon on The Yokel Channel.

However, I've been feeling a bit cerebrally insecure lately. Rather, the New York Public Library has been making me feel a bit cerebrally insecure lately.

I love the library. I think it's one of the best things that's done with public money. Using the library makes me feel like I've learned a lesson in life. That lesson is, "If you buy books at the same rate you buy, say, coffee, you will be poorer than you'd like and you will have no room to move around the dwelling that was your home but is now a hardcover habitrail.

One problem I run into with the library is that popular books are reserved by a lot of people. So, if it takes me longer than the allotted time to read it, I'm racking up fines. This makes me resentful of the book. "Stupid book," I think. "You're costing me money. I have no desire to spend time with you." And so the book sits and the fines skyrocket and I'm unhappy and the person waiting for me to return the book is unhappy and the author is probably unhappy that his/her work is sitting, unappreciated.

This has happened to me three times lately, all with biographies that I'd been really excited to read.

I've read the first two books in Edmond Morris's Teddy Roosevelt trilogy and loved them. These are thick books, though. Not something I can zip through like an Encyclopedia Brown collection. I didn't necessarily want to splurge for Colonel Roosevelt when I could order it from the NYPL, so I put my name on the list and waited. I got a few chapters into it (about as far as his European tour after he'd been on safari) and it came due. I held onto it for a few days, but it became increasingly clear that I wasn't going to get through the damned thing without eventually owing as much in late fees as I'd have spent if I'd just purchased it at Barnes and Noble. So I returned it.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow was the exact same thing. Good book, but I couldn't get it read in the tiny little amount of reading time I have every week.

But the Mark Twain autobiography takes the fucking cake. Last year, it was huge. Everyone was reading that thing. When I put that thing on hold, I was 257th out of 257 holds. I waited for goddamn months.

Finally, it came in at our local branch and I lugged the fucking thing home and plopped it on a shelf and it just sat there, mocking me; daring me to try to finish it. "C'mon, shitbrain," it whispered, "try. Just try to read more than a third of me before you have to return me."

"Go to hell!" I yelled at it. "I finish books all the time! I'm smart!" The book chuckled, coldly.

I never even opened it. The due date came and went and I resented the book more and more. Twain looked at me with his malevolent, folksy eyes from the cover. "Fuck you, Mark Twain," I said. "The Innocents Abroad was a snooze-fest!"

In the end, Twain beat me. I returned it, in defeat. And so I've learned another lesson: don't check out gigantically fucking thick books from the library if you're not going to able to renew them. Also, don't talk to books. It's a little crazy.

Dad has a copy I gave him for Christmas when the book build -up was at its zenith. You can read it for free but from what the New York Times reviewer said after I had already ordered the book Mark twain pulled a fast one from the great beyond because he didn't say that much new and he didn't say nothing in a very entertaining manner. Count yourself as lucky and smart or read dad's and see for yourself.
1) Costco sells the book cheap.
2) The Snohomish County library does not charge for overdues. (Just saying)
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