Thursday, June 28, 2007

Off the shelves, part one

I fancy myself to be quite the bookworm. Since I was five, and was able to actually read books instead of pretending to read them but really just reciting them from memory, I carried a book with me everywhere. I never went out to dinner with my family without lugging a tome along with me to pass the time. Granted, my family's entire dining repertoire consisted of trips to various Chili's restaurants throughout the greater Denver area, so a book was more crucial than you might think.

Of course, my parents were thrilled by how smart and nerdy I appeared, and I was thrilled too. How cool to be allowed to escape into other worlds at the dinner table! But once I was old enough to realize that it was not, in fact, cool to read Gone With the Wind while eating one's Rojo Burger, I tried to tone down the outward displays of dorkdom. Narnia might be cool, but having a social life was probably pretty cool too. Privately, though, I still devoured books, and remained the kind of child, and then teen, who would rather spend a Saturday reading than out with a crowd. By the time I reached college, I was thankful for how many books I had read, as they gave me a leg up in the hyper-intellectual atmosphere of my school.

You can imagine my disappointment, then, in the following scene: I have just started my MFA program. I invite my fellow writers over to my apartment for a party. One of the guys, also from Colorado and seemingly a kindred spirit despite his penchant for wearing Man Clogs and talking incessantly about the Denver Broncos, walks into my bedroom and starts perusing the bookshelves. The large, built-in, overstuffed bookshelves. He looks at the books for a while, long enough for me to prepare myself for the scintillating conversation ahead, the comparing of favorite authors, the bonding over short story collections. After a while, he glances at me and says, "So... where's the literature?" I stare first at him, and then at my shelves. Names leap off at me: Faulkner, Hurston, Baxter, James, McEwan, Stegner, Dillard, Coover, Cheever, a veritable canon of my literary life. I have no idea what to say. Finally, moments past the comfortable response time, I decide to be breezy. "Ha ha ha," I say, "So funny."

NOT so funny. Two things transpired from this moment. First, Man Clog man and I never, ever became friends. Second, I developed a new and incredibly tedious insecurity about what I've read and what I'm reading, stemming partly from the realization that much of my self-confidence comes from thinking of myself as a reader. To make fun of my bookshelves is, sadly, to make fun of me. And whether or not you'd look at my shelves and think they were filled with trash, they do tell you a lot about me. I like well-written books. I like sentences that sing. I also like a really good plot. The Other Boleyn by Phillipa Gregory? Loved it. Loved it so much I've now read her entire ouevre, including what turned out to be her abysmal Wideacre series (incest? No thanks).

The reason the title of this post is "part one" is that I haven't actually made it to the topic I was originally planning to write about. Stay tuned next Thursday for what I was intending to say--I'm off to read The Whole World Over by Julia Glass, which even Clog Man might think is a really good book.

In dread and books,
Whitney Scharer


The Writers' Group said...

Until I read this, I didn't realize just how naked I feel when someone scans my bookcases. But to be judged aloud! I wonder if foolish Man Clog earned enough insight into the human condition to publish the kind of work he held in such high esteem.

Anonymous said...

At least you're not irreparably addicted to the internet. I remember when I used to read books.

Dan said...

Yup, if anyone said that about my bookshelf they'd be in some trouble. At least you were nice about it. Same comment to me results in an hour-long discussion (read: argument / lecture) about the great works of literature. Speaking of bookshelves, I recently ran out of space on mine... the horror! The horror.

Chrissy said...

Oh, my - this made me laugh pretty hard. And I know what clog man was reading, and I can't say his bookshelf looked any better than yours did. Actually, it didn't - I'm thinking he was just ribbing you. Some guys, especially the ones wearing clogs, are a little competitive.

And I can attest - you always provide good, juicy, reading suggestions. I always trust your opinion. Read on, I say. You should be proud of your bookshelves.

Lisa R. said...

Ah, been there. When I started an MFA program, they wanted us to wear little name tags with our three favorite authors and books listed....Yikes. Not only did I have strangers staring at my chest, but more or less looking into my brain too. And making judgments. Not me. I whited it all out. I say, stay out of my bookshelf and I'll stay out of yours.