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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Sunday, September 04, 2005

book logjam

A logjam is developing in my book-processing system. It happens due to the erratic way I tend to accumulate books.

A couple of weeks ago, while Kimmie was shopping at Fabricland, I stopped in at Coles Books in Park Royal to pass the time. I found it mainly depressing looking at the fiction section, but the history section of that store is always quite good--the best thing there. I decided to buy a book I'd been looking at for awhile: Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese, a small trade paperback on the history of coal. I like books on environmental topics, and also books about commodities, so this was a natural. I wavered quite a while, because it was $21 for a 250-page book, but I hadn't bought a book in so long that I decided to go for it. Usually, if I want a book, I don't deny myself: I feel that the urge comes from something within me that knows there is important information in the book.

So I bought it. I'd only just started reading it when Kimmie and I, doing the weekly grocery shopping down at Save-On Foods, meandered into their book section. It's small, but quite good at certain things, especially finding unusual and interesting books to pile on their bargain tables. Kimmie pointed to one she'd spotted: Born to Buy by Juliet B. Schor, subtitled The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. It's about how contemporary American children are being taught to consume right from the cradle, creating the most materialistic, consumerist generation that the earth has ever known. Kimmie and I have talked about this topic, and related subjects such as parenting and family lifestyles, quite a lot. I flipped through the book: it looked good, and although a hardback it was priced at only $5.99. I tossed it in the cart.

Stalking around the same bargain table, I came across a stack of copies of The New New Thing by Michael Lewis, priced at $1.49.

"Whoa," I said,"this guy's very good. I really liked his book Liar's Poker."

Which I did. Liar's Poker, about Lewis's career as a bond-trader at a major New York investment house, was an astonishing and riveting read. Lewis impressed himself in my mind as a writer I respected and wanted to read more of. I'd made a mental note before to check out The New New Thing (about Silicon Valley business--another topic of interest to me), and now here it was at a buck and a half. Into the cart it went.

Generally, I make a ritual of starting to read a new book the same day I get it: a treat for myself, putting aside whatever else I have on the go to dip into my new acquisition. That day I had two. I decided to open up Born to Buy and get that under way. It looked pretty solid: lots of social-science facts and figures, and Schor comes across as a concerned parent and a keen investigator.

Before I could much further with that (weaving it into the other books I've got going, especially my research reading for The Mission), Irony by Claire Colebrook arrived in the mail. Woop, gotta start that now--which I did. It looked promising (although soon started weaving into queasy territory, asserting that the interpretation of literary works is inherently a "political" activity--a position I find questionable at best).

Within a day or two I'd received Blog On by Todd Stauffer, and wanted to give it its inaugural first opening. (Now I'm on chapter 2, and it's looking excellent: authoritative, concise, user-friendly, complete.)

And today: we were back at Save-On, and again Kimmie led us into the book section, this time in search of a copy of This Old House magazine. Now they'd laid out a discount table, one of those tables with walls in which books are racked spine-up. These were discount computer books--a category of book that normally they don't stock, or don't stock very many of. Many of these books were chopped down to $4.99 from their lofty preprinted prices of $35 or $48. I browsed. I don't really need any computer books now, but in the end I couldn't resist picking up Perl: Core Language by Steven Holzner, a book on the Little Black Book series, for $14.99 (cover price: $43.99). The self-confident opening sentence of the Introduction:

This book is designed to give you all that you need to become a Perl programmer, and that's saying a lot.

Excellent. I don't plan to become a Perl programmer, but I do want to become as knowledgeable as I can about Web programming and design. I have worked on a website for myself off and on for the past several years, never getting far enough to actually launch it. Some part of me stirs with excitement and possibility at computer programming, which I took in high school and in first-year university. If I didn't have other strong interests, I might have become a computer geek. As it is, I like to try to keep my head above water with developments in computing. Who knows--maybe I'll try my hand at some Perl programming.

So another book. I probably won't start it today (it's already 5 p.m., and I still need to wash some dishes). I have a logjam of recent arrivals (some of them were bought awhile ago), and this is one of the causes of unfinished-book syndrome for me. There's too much reading, and too little me.

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