The Art of Book and Media Reading

>> Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yesterday I explained why I had been stalling in rereading Erma Bombeck's collected works. At the end of the post, I concluded that, yes, I would absolutely read the books again, and no harm would come of it.

Actually obtaining those books ... now that is another story. First of all, she wrote thirteen of them. That's a lot of books (some I didn't even know about until I did a Google search. How exciting!)

Now the bad news. Amazon does not yet have versions of these books for the Kindle reader, so there shoots my grand plan of downloading all of them into one handy little device and toting them all with me wherever I go so I don't need to pick and choose. Kindle is the greatest device, I tell ya. It looks like a date book when the cover is on, or possibly a palm pilot for the blind when the cover is off. Either way, it is discrete, and I can take it anywhere without excuse. I can read it in a lobby, or in a meeting, on the subway, or in Subway. If I have to go to a boring cocktail party, I can take it out and look into it and look like perhaps I'm lining up my next business meeting.

Now Apple has to come along and spoil all that with this new iPad thingy. (No, I won't repeat all the jokes about the name. You can read them on Twitter if you want -- well, if you are on Twitter, you will see them whether you want to or not!) No, this is not device-envy. I am perfectly content with my Kindle. I'm annoyed at Apple for calling attention to tablet sized devices and for making them so multifunctional. Before too long, people will be coming up to me asking if I have the new iPad. (Again ... no jokes ... although it is tempting.) They will want to see my Kindle, they will pester me, and they will assume every time they see me with it that I am on the internet downloading something cool or hanging out on Facebook. So, instead of having a reading device that makes me look like I'm doing something more important than catching up on a novel, I will have a tablet device that makes me look like I'm blowing brain cells on online games when in fact I am actually READING!

But, I digress. To make a long story short, I decided that the most cost effective way to obtain the books I want (at least temporarily) is the local library. The bad news is the library still has a quiet policy, and I still have a Toddler. I've been avoiding the library for awhile because of this ....

But he loves books, and he had to start the day at the dentist (which is a pretty traumatic day when you are 2 and a half), and as soon as I asked him about the library he was all over it. "Go library, get books. Go library, get books." How can I deny that, after a trip to the dentist no less? (And the screaming, oh the screaming ...)

So we "went library" to find some books.

Ever since I graduated from law school, I have ceased examinining anything but the alphabetized-by-author fiction sections of libraries. That is not to say that I don't read nonfiction, but I prefer to acquire it on the discount rack at the local bookstore so I can take as long as I need to actually read it ... sometimes years. And as for my travel books, I actually want one I can take with me on the plane without worrying about library fines. So my use of libraries has become quite limited.

All of this brings us to the question, "Where in the library is the humor section?" I can argue it's fiction, because there are seldom any footnotes or citations, but of course there is nothing under "Bombeck" in the fiction section. So, Toddler and I ventured over to the "other side" of the library. As I coaxed Toddler through a few sets of shelves, he smiled and waved to men in business suits and said, "Hello!" After a few scant minutes, I decided that I really cannot figure out the mysterious numbers that make up the dewey decimal system without assistance ... at least not while keeping a sharp enough eye on Toddler to make sure he doesn't try to climb anything or roll his green superball (a present from the dentist) out of sight.

So, off to the help desk I went, with Toddler and his green bouncy superball in tow.

"How can I help you?" She asked.

At this point Toddler grabbed on to my arm and began pulling. "That way!" He said, pointing toward the children's book section.

Quickly I whispered to Toddler that we needed to talk to this nice lady to get some Mommy books before we could go get Toddler books. He promptly nodded and began dropping his green superball onto the floor and watching it bounce around.

While he was occupied, I told the desk lady I was looking for humor books, like Erma Bombeck, and where should I go to find them? She started typing away, clackity, clackity on her keyboard, offering to look up just that author for me. Then she said she found humor books and was happy to show me the way to the section. "Oh, good," I commented. "I'm really looking forward to picking up some of Bombeck's books."

"Oh!" she said and sat back down. Let me make sure, then. Can you spell that name?"

Can I spell that name? First of all, what was she looking for when she said she would look up my author? Second, how can she not know Erma Bombeck? She's a librarian, so she must like books, and she is older than me (I think), so she isn't too young to have heard of her. What gives? I didn't think there was anyone over 40 who hadn't heard of Erma Bombeck. I mean, just look at these titles! How can you not be curious?

1. At Wit's End

2. Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own

3. I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression

4. The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank

5. If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

6. Aunt Erma's Cope Book (How to Get From Monday To Friday in 12 days)

7. Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession

8. Family -- the Ties That Bind ... and Gag!

9. I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise: Children Surviving Cancer

10. When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home

11. A Marriage Made In Heaven ... or Too Tired For an Affair

12. All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room

13. Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America's Favorite Humorist


Ah, well, obviously this woman was tremendously deprived and possibly beyond help. Either way, I have my own little person to raise, and I can't be responsible for her deficient reading list. So I spell it for her, vaguely recalling that Erma had to spell her name repeatedly in one of her own books, "B ... O ...M ..." She says, "Yes, I've found it! Motherhood, the Oldest Profession."

I nod and agree, not bothering to correct her by telling her that its actually The *Second* Oldest Profession. After all, she has the screen in front of her, and presumably she can read, but I'm afraid to presume anything at this point. In the meantime, Toddler is bouncing his ball around, and around, and around (good thing the reference desk went the whole way to the floor without a gap ... that is all I have to say about that ....)

Ms. Librarian looks at the screen one more time and says, "Unfortunately, that particular book is checked out, but I'll show you the section anyway."

And off we go, Ms. Librarian, me, and Toddler bouncing his "green ball!" (As it turns out, I had been only one aisle off, so random chance got me at least close...) As soon as we reached the right section, Ms. Librarian stops and cheerfully announced, "Here we are! They are around here somewhere....

Oddly enough, they were right there. I mean ... there ... at my eye-level, not up the aisle somewhere where she was looking. Even more odd was the name of the first book on the shelf. "Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession," the book that was checked out. Just for kicks, I handed it to her. "Hey, look! Here is the book you said you didn't have."

Well I think I just about brought the poor woman's gears to a grinding halt. She just stared at the book, and stared. "Well, well ... I don't know..." and off she went back to her desk shaking her head in sad confusion. I collected a stack of books and took Toddler to the children's section.

Toddler was very quick to select his books (every one I showed him was a good one), and we went to the electronic scanner to check out.

Note to self: Let Toddler check out books. Do not try to do it yourself.

I was gingerly running the book under the scanning light, trying to make sure I hit the right barcode (as opposed to the "wrong" barcode ... of course there are two....) and making sure I don't knock anything over. It takes me two or three passes of each book to actually make a connection. Toddler takes one of his books, shoves me out of the way and yells, "I DO IT!" Quick as a wink, he flashes that sucker under the scanner and checks it out in nothing flat.

The problem was I had already scanned that book.


Now what?

We spent the next five minutes getting someone's attention, and the next ten minutes after that trying to figure out, "Now What?" All the while I'm thinking, "Next time I'll just give all the books to him...."

Well, the good news is that we got that situation straightened out. On the drive home, Toddler made up a story to tell me about one of his books, and while I tuned him out listened closely, I decided that we all need a reading list. Sweet but unenlightened Ms. Librarian has taught me a lesson. I cannot presume we all know even the greatest of contemporary belly-laugh writers, so we must share. So, for kicks, I've added a "Suggested Reading" box on my blog page. I promise, not all the books will be Erma, but that is where I am starting. I'm reading them (or rereading them, as the case may be) and posting them up if I love them. You can read (or reread) them too. If you have any suggestions of books let me know.


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