Tag Archives: reading

Libraries vs. Criminals

Look. I'm one of those bloggers who decorates his posts with generic book stack images!

Look. I’m one of those bloggers who decorates his posts with generic book stack images!

How to tell if you live in a good neighborhood: Type the name of your county into the Google search box and see what autofills.

The very first autofill for my county is “… library system.” I’m gratified by that result, which is a preferable one to “… crime statistics” or “… murder rate” or “… piranha attacks on land.” Our county has 10 libraries, which sounds like a lot, but with a population of 325,000, that’s over 30,000 people per library. Still, it’s the number one thing on people’s minds when they do a Google search. Either our serial killers are remarkably discrete and our land piranhas travel out of the area to feed, or the people around here a generally good lot who would rather read books than steal cars.

See, libraries fight crime.

No one but the dumbest of criminals would try to rob a library, because there’s no cash on hand (unless you consider not paying late fees to be a form of backhanded robbery). Not a single library in the United States or Canada has ever lowered nearby property values. And I’ve never heard of a kid who didn’t enjoy going to a public library. In the kids’ section of my local branch, you’ll always find at least one starry-eyed child wandering up and down the rows, dazzled by all the choices.

You know where there are not a lot of libraries? Crime-ridden towns. People and governments give up on crime-ridden towns because giving up is easier than fixing. Libraries in poor towns are amongst the first things to be chopped in budget-cutting sessions. Those kids don’t get to wander up and down the free (!) library, gazing in wonder anymore. Maybe they can hang out on the street corner instead.

You know, if everyone in my county tossed in 20 bucks, we’d have 6.5 million dollars. Surely that’s enough to keep one library in one rough town somewhere opened for at least a year or two. Is that so appalling, giving up 20 dollars to invest in someone else’s future?

One of my local libraries. It looks dangerous, but it's kinda nice on the inside.

One of my local libraries. It looks dangerous, but it’s kinda nice on the inside.

Note: The median household income in my town (a postage stamp on the large envelope that is my county) is $120,000. If you took my 510-unit apartment complex out of the mix, you’d probably see that figure rise to 200K or more. I know the property tax burden is high. It’s expensive to live here. I also see as many late-model Audis, BMWs, and Benzes crowding the streets as I do Hyundais and Chevys. How about it, folks? Why the outrage over helping feed poor kids?

The Great Bookshelf Purge of 2013

Have you ever seen Hoarders on TV? It’s a semi-exploitative reality show about people who refuse to throw anything away, to the degree that they alienate family and friends and are threatened with having their homes condemned.

My biggest book at 15" x 11"

My biggest book at 15″ x 11″

Watching it will compel you to vacuum the carpet and wash the dishes during the commercial break in a panic response to all the filth, bugs, and accidentally mummified pets you just witnessed on your television screen. It’s no mistake that they advertise cleaning products between the segments.

I’m definitively not a hoarder. I can’t stand clutter and have little tolerance for things that don’t fit neatly onto a shelf next to other things exactly the same size and shape. It’s my good fortune that I like to collect movies and music, which suit my orderly world of rectangles. If a thing ain’t a rectangle, I put it in a rectangular case.

I also love books. Yeah, they sort of follow the rectangle theme, but that damn size variance! There’s just no way my coffee-table book on Gothic cathedrals would work if the pictures were shrunk down to the size of a passport photo, yet I have no use for a paperback mystery in a 72-point font. Both would be unwieldy, in their own ways, at anything other than the proper size.

Which means my bookshelves look like an earthquake at a library. More books than shelf, and then there’s the rather unforgiving shelf dimensions. X high, Y deep, and Z wide, take it or leave it. My biggest book is 15-inches tall (complete works of Michelangelo), and my smallest is a quick spelling reference at 5-inches tall, with titles at every size in between. It’s my little mad hoard in the middle of all that geometric clarity.

Maybe it wasn’t so little. Did I forget to mention that I had a closet stuffed with boxes of books at my mom’s house too?

Well, on Sunday, my wife got into one of those moods. If you are a married man you know the mood I’m talking about: If you don’t get rid of this shit, I’m calling a lawyer.

I have to admit, it was cathartic and cleansing at the same time. At first I was making excuses, like, “I might read this again. It was pretty good,” and, “Aunt Gertrude gave this to me. Sure she passed away five years ago and I’m never going to read it, but…”

My tiniest book at 5" x 4"

My tiniest at 5″ x 4″

However, once I got into the groove, I went full-on rampage. I cleared out almost every novel I own, except for my five favorite Agatha Christies and a couple of classics everyone should have. I made stacks for my mom’s church flea market, stacks for eBay, stacks to chuck because the pages have yellowed or the binding glue has rotted, and stacks to keep.

I kept most of my art, film, and music books and a couple of science ones I use for writing reference. The rest is gone. The storage boxes are gone. The sneezing is over. The dust mites are saying, What the f*** just happened?

Most importantly, my shelves are now neat and tidy, and every remaining title is easily accessed. And that eBay stack? The ones I was sure would fetch me enough to buy a new car? I looked them up, and their average value appears to be somewhere between $1.75 and $4. I guess I’m stuck with my Malibu for a few more years.

How about you? Are you a book hoarder? Would purging your bookshelves be liberating or be like giving away your children?


Note: Today’s theme was inspired by my blogging pal Tuesday and her post on a similar subject. She’s just began a countdown of 20 favorite books she’ll never give away. Now’s your chance to get in at the beginning!


Honestly, I’m not crazy about Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I can’t think of a more appropriate song for today’s piece.

Don’t Judge a Reader by His Cover

harry potterDispensers of writing advice will frequently say, “Know your audience.” I think that means we should pick a genre and follow the conventions of that genre (yawn). They can’t be suggesting we know who is going to like our material, can they? Can you really judge a reader by his cover?

Here are some random examples that say “no,” culled from real people in my life:

1. A thirty-something fashion plate who’s poised and modest. She’s definitely not into greasy kids’ stuff and disapproves of undignified behavior. Wouldn’t be caught dead watching a movie about superheroes or fighting robots.

Yet she’s totally obsessed with the Harry Potter universe. She knows every book inside and out.

2. A man in his mid-twenties, sports fan, and devoted scholar of world history and foreign cinema.

You know those Twilight books? He’s read ‘em all, cover to cover, more than once.

3. A man in his early fifties, gun collector, with the appearance of a former biker dude.

In his spare time, he pores over books about horticulture and grows exotic trees.

One of the most fascinating things about life with humans is being continually surprised by what they are into, not the least of which is their reading choices. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I write speculative fiction, AKA science fiction, horror, and supernatural. You probably know I’m really into music, both as a musician and a listener. I’m married, got a kid, work in an office building. But when it comes to books, can you guess what’s on my shelf?

  • Piles of cozy mysteries by Agatha Christie and others. Give me British aristocracy, an old mansion, and a murder, and I’m yours for 250 pages.
  • Rows of film studies and analyses. Who made what movie and when? Why? What does it say about: society, philosophy, the human condition, the inherent destructive nature of man, pretentious film writers? Less-serious titles about low-budget trash cinema abound as well.
  • Heaps of books on art history and criticism, especially French, Dutch, and Italian. Some ancient Greek and Roman thrown in, plus some really dry stuff about medieval architecture and metalwork. Never mind that I can’t paint a fence.
  • Titles on popular science, evolution, and critical thinking (the latter of which don’t seem to be working).
  • Assorted stragglers, like whatever Elmore Leonard novels I haven’t gotten to yet, plus a few literary works and classics.
  • And writing books, though that is a given for someone who blogs about writing all the time.

So there’s my book collection in a nutshell. Very few horror or science fiction novels. No fantasy or supernatural. Not much about music. Maybe not what people would expect based on my “cover.”

How about you? What’s on your bookshelf, and which titles would surprise us?