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Reading Habits

A frequent question at panel discussions and bookstore events is What one book would you take to a deserted island?

I heard Margaret Atwood answer the question during an interview a few years ago: “Only one book? I’d take the biggest book I could find,” she said.

Same here!

But apart from that unrealistic “what if,” I’m what you might call a heavy reader—3 book clubs, hardbacks and paperbacks everywhere, and always a full e-reader. But for some reason, none of my four main protagonists are readers.

I’m not sure why no one in my gallery of characters is even a light reader. They confine themselves to literature that’s pertinent to their jobs or interests, almost never including fiction or reading for relaxation. Nor do they ever discuss books, a favorite pastime of mine.

Here’s the lineup and their reading habits:

• Dr. Gloria Lamerino, retired physicist, reads Physics Today, Scientific American, assorted technical papers, and The New Yorker cartoons. That’s it.

• Geraldine Porter, retired English teacher and miniaturist, often quotes Shakespeare, but not once in nine books has she picked up a volume and had a quiet read. She does occasionally leaf through a miniatures or crafts magazine.

• Professor Sophie Knowles, college math teacher, reads and contributes to mathematics journals and puzzle magazines. No fiction.

Finally, with my 4th series, I might have a reader.

• Cassie Miller (ADDRESSED TO KILL, July 2017), postmaster in a small Massachusetts town, reads crime fiction. Though I don’t give specific titles, I do have Cassie commenting on certain plot devices, and actually trying to read crime novels before bedtime. Granted she’s quickly distracted and turns to focusing on “the case” at hand.

One reason my amateur sleuths don’t read: they’re very busy people! In general, they solve a murder case in a week or so, sometimes sooner. That’s pretty quick, considering real cops sometimes take months, often years. I think this is typical of amateur sleuths—they crowd more into one day than the clichéd one-armed paper hanger, maintaining jobs, snooping around crime scenes and suspects’ desks, and sometimes juggling children on their hips.

Also, reading is very passive, as opposed to, say, a car chase, a shoot-out, or even a quiet stalking scene. It’s hard to make a reading scene exciting.

She stretched out on the couch, put on her reading glasses, picked up a book, found the bookmark, opened the book,  . . .

See what I mean?

Star of a TV movie!

Here’s a twist on this topic. A few years ago, a book by Bay Area screenwriter and true crime writer, James Dalessandro, was made into a movie for TV. In one scene, Jane’s Aunt Gertrude is pictured sitting comfortably, reading. Her book of choice: my first release, a hardback copy of The Hydrogen Murder. She holds it up, the turquoise cover visible, plain as day.

Suddenly an intruder breaks in and murders her!

The book falls out of her hands and onto the floor, cover side up, immortalized as part of the crime scene. Later in the show, crime scene photos show the book as it lay on the floor near Aunt Gertrude’s feet.

So, although my characters aren’t reading, someone is reading my characters!

Busy, busy

Do you know any busy people? Are you one of them?

Here’s my pet peeve (and by now you know it has nothing to do with physical pets): people who are busier than you, no matter what. They’re the people who can force you into exaggerating your own busyness just not to lose the busy battle. Or maybe I’m the only one who responds that way when someone tries to convince me that he’s the busiest person in the world (BPIW).

My father used to say: he’s the kind of guy, if you’ve got a bottle, he’s got a case.

I think that translates nicely into what I mean.

You can have 5 classes to teach, 4 deadlines to meet, and a marathon to run, but BIPW will best you every time. “I’m doing all that, AND I’m expected in New Zealand any minute,” he’ll say. To which I’m tempted to respond, “I just got back from there and I’m packing for Greenland.”

I never like myself when I get into that mode of claiming to be a BPIW. It makes me tense about my life and my projects. I’d rather take it easy and think how lucky I am to have many things to do, instead of trying to impress people with my to-do list. That’s what happened last week when a friend came for lunch and announced, “I can’t stay very long. I’m very busy.” No, I didn’t say, “Sorry to keep you from your busyness,” or whip out my own to-do list. But I wanted to.

I had a colleague once who was a BPIW and also a BMIW (busiest mother in the world.) If I came into the office with a new jacket, she’d moan about how she’d love a new jacket, but she had to feed her children. If I went to a movie, she’d complain that she hasn’t had time for a movie since her twins were born. The only way I got her to stop was to confront her with, “Gee, BMIW, you make me very happy I never had children. I’m so sorry you weren’t so lucky.”

Here’s a paraphrase of one of my favorite cartoons: God is on a cell phone, saying “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to be everywhere.”

Now, that’s busy.

Can You Go Home Again?

Never waste a good rant, I say, so I’m reposting this blog from LadyKillers.

Question: Can you go home again?

Answer: Certainly! The GPS in my car has a menu item: GO HOME.

But that’s probably not in the spirit of the question the LadyKillers asked.

So, I’ll go back to Western Civ, that all-purpose liberal arts course, for a pithy answer. Here’s Heraclitus, one of my favorite pre-Socratics:

No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

That could be the end of it, except for the strange coincidence that an old friend recently posted a video of my hometown, “So Good (The Boston Song)” a “pop anthem” kickstarter project c. 2011.

A nice beat, but to listen to it, you’d think Boston was famous for pro sports and nothing else.

No mention of its Revolutionary War history, the Freedom Trail, neighborhoods like the North End and Southie (remember “Mystic River”?). And no mention of Boston as a center of learning, with 35 colleges and universities, not even including Harvard, MIT, and others across the Charles River in Cambridge. Boston has more than 150,000 students, more than the population of Berkeley, California.

What about the Boston Pops, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the world-class aquarium.

All of this, and Boston is first known for the Bruins and Fenway Park?

Leave it to me, huh, to go from a Greek philosopher to an anti-sports rant in less than 300 words.