Thoughts on Books

   This morning I went to a job interview for a tutoring position.  I think that it went well.  Then I went to my secret job.  Business was crummy and I did not turn a dime.  Nobody did.  It was crickets and tumbleweeds around there!  BOOO!  Lame!

   I passed the time reading.  Since I worked a lot last week and finally had a little disposable income, I spent it the way I usually do: BOOKS and treats for my birds!  I went to one of my favorite bookstores in the East Village after an AA meeting (there was almost a fistfight on the street outside!  Wow!  More about that later) and spent a pleasant hour browsing through the stacks.  I love books.  It makes me feel good inside just to be around them.  My library is really my only material ambition right now.  Some of the fondest memories from my childhood are of the time I spent in the library of my rough, hard-luck town.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  Anything, everything.  The librarians loved me.  I would’ve lived in the library if I could have.  

    Books have never let me down.  Without a doubt, they have always been there for me.  I can always count on books. 

     They gave me an escape.  They don’t call it “The Life of the Mind” for nothing.

     I must credit my parents for giving me this gift.  Both of them read to me from my infancy, taught and encouraged my literacy, and  always provided access to reading materials.  I didn’t speak until I was three, but I could read and write very early.  

     My father was an incompetent and negligent parent in many ways, but he was a relentless taskmaster where my intellectual development was concerned.  In retrospect, I see that he did not want to make the same mistakes his father made.  My grandfather was, by all accounts, a heinous and violent anti-intellectual thug who would throw my dad’s books in the trash and ridicule his natural  (and not inconsiderable) bookish proclivities.  My father was merely heinous and a thug, so I suppose that is some improvement.  

     I cannot remember a time before he was giving me books to read, or reading from books to me.    My first memory is the night my brother was born, when I was three years old.  Then not much till about five.  And then, books.  

    I have to hand it to him: the man had pretty good taste, and he didn’t leave much out.  By the time I started high school, I’d read practically all of the literature and poetry of the English Lit canon.  I was too immature to understand or appreciate most of it the first time around (Moby Dick at age 12?  Great Expectations?  Really, Dad?  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee gave me nightmares and made me cry.  Still does.  A Tale of Two Cities was pretty awesome, though.  The Scarlet Pimpernel was a blast, too.  And all those Pearl S. Buck books.).  But damned if I didn’t know the plots and content matter forward and back.  

Books train the brain.  They teach you how to begin to think.  It happens by some mysterious, mystical, osmosis-like process. Writing teaches you how to focus; how to apply your intellect.  Most people in college can’t write worth shit.  I know–I teach them, I grade the essays.  They can’t write because they don’t read.  By the time they get to college, it’s too late.  That proverbial train has left the station, baby.  I would never, ever actually say that in my professional capacity–such sentiments are verboten, for various reasons.  But that’s what I really do think, and I have seen nothing to dissuade me from that belief.  If you cannot write a clear, organized essay in simple declarative sentences by the time you are 18, you will probably never be able to do so.  And if you don’t like to read by the time you’re 18, you probably never will, either.  It’s a taste acquired early, or not at all.  

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