Let’s Book It

Petey had a doctor’s appointment the other day.  We were waiting in the exam room, and I was reading a library book.  When the doctor walked in, she noticed my book, and said, “I love seeing people reading an actual, physical book.”And, that’s the point of the piece this week: old school books.

It all starts with where you get them.  I am operating under the assumption that you have a library card and are a frequent visitor.  If not, please don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.  Just go, right now, I beg you, and get yourself a card.

Bookstores, both new and used.  If you don’t already patronize them, I strongly encourage finding a few independent booksellers of both types and making them your first resource.

The Kid and I discovered Scuppernong Books in Greensboro recently.  They.Have.A.Bar.

Booksellers love to talk to readers.  And, they’re experts at recommending books you’ll like, based on the kinds of things you’ve read.

My favorite job (except for writing) was bookseller.  I worked for my friend, Bosco.  Bosco was a former English teacher and had a slightly dented sense of humor, just like me.  We laughed for the better part of each day.  But what I appreciate most was he elevated my reading.

Durham’s iconic bookseller.

Since learning to read, I’ve been the kind of reader that got nervous if there was nothing on deck for when I finished my current book.  But Bosco introduced me to better writers, which maybe, in turn, made me a better writer.

So, to honor my book Yoda, Bosco, I’d like to recommend a few books that are a little more challenging than Danielle Steele or James Patterson, but still really entertaining.A Confederacy of Dunces, by James Kennedy Toole.  The story of the book’s publication is almost as compelling as the plot of the novel itself.  Eleven years before the book was published, the author committed suicide in part because of his inability to interest any publishers in his life’s work.  After his death his mother found a copy of the manuscript and made it her mission to introduce her son’s book to the world.  It was finally published by LSU Press in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize.The story is about Ignatius Jacques Reilly, a clueless babe in the woods, and his misadventures in his home of New Orleans.  It’s funny, and touching, and the easiest Pulitzer winner you’ll ever read.

The great Nick Offerman played Ignatius on stage.  Straight-up genius casting.

A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving.  It’s the story of an unusual young man who’s convinced he was born for a special purpose, and every step of his life is in furtherance of his mission.  I love this book because Irving is a genius of character construction.  No matter in what position characters find themselves, it’s believable, because they are believable.  A movie, Simon Burch was made that is loosely based on Owen Meany.  Don’t be tempted, it’s dreadful.

The same edition as mine, but this one’s way more shiny and pretty.  Keep walking past the open windows.

I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe.  Tom Wolfe has the unique ability to make me angry but keep me coming back for his next one.  Charlotte Simmons is the novel that resulted from deep, lengthy, talked about research into Duke’s basketball program.  It’s also fascinating, and hard to put down.  The ending as written would have been a happy ending written by any other author.  Filtered through Wolfe’s lens, it becomes a tragedy.  The book also gave the world the terms, Sarc 1, 2, and 3. If you’re on vacation, stuck in a car, or hiding from the heat, pick up a book that you might not normally try—maybe one of these.  And if it stinks, go talk to a bookseller.  Preferably one of the independent persuasion.  Or, go to the library; they’re cool, and librarians adore talking books, too.

I know she’s carrying a clutch and not a real book.  But the pic is just so damn gorgeous…

Thanks for your time.

Rocket Ma’am

I was never a very strict mom.

I really had only two ironclad, non-negotiable rules.

The first was to treat everybody with kindness and respect.  I mean, that’s something we all should do, right?

My second decree concerned pets.

We’re big dog people, but no cats; I cannot abide the unsavory aroma and image of a litter box.  No reptiles; snakes and their ilk creep me out.  And no rodents; they’re rodents for cripe’s sake.

You see, get just one snake, and before you know it Kenan Thompson is wearing ugly jewelry and getting molested by the damn things.

The Kid looked at the options left, and asked for hermit crabs.

So, we headed down to the pet store and procured two hermit crabs, which were baptized, Abbot and Costello.

They might be completely lacking in the sit, roll over, and cuddle departments, but they are exceedingly low maintenance.  They need less care than a gold fish and just a smidge more than a pet rock.Not long after Abbot and Costello celebrated their two-year anniversary at Chez Matthews, my parents went out to Seattle to visit my big brother Homer, and took The Kid along.

Like we’d done a few times before, Petey and I were on “Hermie” duty.

When our child returned we had a tragic surprise.  A&C were dead.  I thought Petey was feeding and watering, and he thought I was.  There were no tears, or recriminations, but The Kid was sad and angry.

I felt worse than awful.  I don’t know what kind of cognitive or reasoning ability hermit crabs possess, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those poor crustaceans’ slow deaths.  In my mind they wondered what happened and why their human stopped taking care of them.  I wasn’t sure whether they died of thirst and starvation or broken hearts.The Kid asked if we would assist in a funeral.  It was the least we could do, and maybe, somehow it would help to assuage our guilt.

Since burial, not cremation was requested, we found a small, pretty box, and lined it with a soft piece of fabric.  I grabbed our old, beat up 5-foot spade and volunteered for grave digger duty.

I set to work, but it wasn’t easy.  I only needed to dig down about eighteen inches, but it was late in a rather dry summer and the ground was like concrete.  I struggled and sweated, but didn’t accomplish much.After about ten minutes of getting nowhere, I decided to take a different route.  Instead of using one foot to push the spade into the ground, I’d jump onto it with both feet.  I judged that the force and the weight of the maneuver would drive it deep into the ground, and facilitate the creation of a hole.

I took a deep breath and leapt like Michael Jordan.

And the handle broke.

And I went flying through the air like a half-baked human cannonball. I landed on all fours about eight feet away from the gravesite.  When I had collected myself enough to be aware of my surroundings, I looked to see if anyone had seen my mortifying acrobatics.

Petey and The Kid were a couple feet away, laughing so hard they were leaning on each other to stay upright.

Nothing could bring back Abbot and Costello, but at the sight of my antics, The Kid’s pain was lessoned some.

As for me, my guilt didn’t really decrease.  But because the pain of my battered body, skinned knees, elbows and hands were so much worse, it kinda felt like it had.tractionThanks for your time.

Drop debbie a line with a suggestion for the next end-of-month column, or anything else at, momsequitur@gmail.com.