In my latest book, How to Become Your Own Book (2011, Blue Rooster Press),

I publish–for all the world to see–a list of the most important books and stories

of my life.


That’s right, there’s a list of books and stories that changed my life in some way, books that are unforgettable on some level.


Now, this list of books (I’ll publish it in next Tuesday’s blast/blog/tweet/facebook/linkedin) is not exactly what you might think an old bookie like me might reveal. It includes some titles that are not necessarily great, some that are disturbing, some that are naughty or funny or violent or off-beat. But they are all books that carry deep metaphor, deep meaning, deep ideas.


They are books not to be ignored.


So, that’s next week. Stay tuned.


Meanwhile, what am I reading this week? What books hold my attention and rearrange my brain this week?


As a bookie, I dabble in several titles simultaneously, depending on where I can catch a moment.


There are the Downstairs Books-in-progress: 3 On a Toothbrush by Jack Paar, Mark Twain’s first-of-three-volumes of his century-later autobiography (this is taking me a year to absorb), and Richard Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.   


There are the Upstairs Bedroom/bathroom Books-in-progress: Robert Wagner’s autobiography, Robert Vaughn’s A Fortunate Life, H.G. Wells’ The Door in the Wall and Other Stories, an old Dilbert cartoon collection, and two 1935 issues of the Mexican magazine, Mujeres y Deportes.


There’s no pattern here that I can recognize. Some books are found by accident in estate boxes, some are specifically sought out, all are mind-bending in one way or another.


Each must keep my attention, or I’ll not finish—but I always do finish, out of respect for the authors, just the way I’d like the books I’ve written to be treated by gentle readers.


Tune in next week for The List. I’m looking forward to your reaction


© 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


Listen to Jim:

or read on…

Much of my life has been spent reading signs and posters and labels
and postings, notes and warnings and instructions and poorly-spelled
graffiti. These signs and posters and labels and postings etc. are
like caulking or glue–they fill in the interstices and silences of my
existence, and they always entertain.

This runs in my family–genetics and upbringing will tell!

My father read aloud every highway sign on each trip, short or long.
And now my elder sister Barbara, and my younger brothers Ronny and Tim
do the same thing.

Signs have this important function in my life: they teach me grammar,
usually by poor example, and they instruct me on the correct way to
communicate in brief, without being misunderstood.

Most sign-authors don’t know the value of testing before a sign is
made. If the author knows the meaning of the sign, said author of
course believes without question that every sign-reader will find the
same meaning in the message.

Not true.

One of my earliest memories of a clear example of
sign-miscommunication: a 1950′s Gahan Wilson single-panel cartoon
depicts a man sitting immobilized in his automobile with a STOP sign
before him. He has grown a beard, and cobwebs cover his car. He’s
obeying the sign! He’s still sitting there to this day, in my signage

Another flashback: in the 1940′s and ’50′s, each public bus in
Tuscaloosa clearly displayed a metal sign that read, COLORED TO REAR,
WHITE TO FRONT. As a child, I had no idea what that meant, but I
assumed it was some instruction about how important it was to fill a
coloring book last page first, but only if you’re on a bus. White
crayons existed but were mostly useless except on dark-colored front
covers. I figured every kid knew this, so why did the bus driver
emphasize it with his sign?

Even now, I catch myself staring at an orange juice carton a little
too long because it clearly states, CONCENTRATE.

The funniest signs in childhood were those posted by Burma Shave along
the blue-road highways. There’s even a book at my shop listing all
those signs from long ago. Sad story: I once talked with a young
public relations practitioner who worked for Burma Shave. I asked
whether the company kept any of those wonderful signs on display at
their headquarters. She hadn’t the vaguest idea what I was talking
about. The signs had apparently disappeared from the collective
company memory bank. That would be the equivalent of a MoonPie factory
worker’s not knowing anything about R.C. Cola.

In England, I saw signs here and there that stated, MIND YOUR HEAD. I
assumed they had replaced the old-time motivational posters that used
to read, THINK! Wrong again. They were posted only on low-overhanging
passageways and doors to warn pedestrians to duck instead of knocking
themselves silly.

There are thousands of examples handy in my ready memory, but you can
fill in your own.

Look around you and enjoy the good Times of the Signs

(C) 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


Listen to Jim:

or read on…




Give a kid a bow and arrow set and everything begins to look like a target.


Give a kid a love of reading and everybody who isn’t reading begins to look off-kilter, akimbo, substandard, not quite right.


Sorry, that’s just the way it is.


Birmingham’s streets are filled with imperfect examples of this judgementality of mine.


There’s a man sitting in a parked car, staring into space while his wife is shopping. He’s just sitting and staring. Why isn’t he reading a book, writing a letter, making a list of things…why isn’t he doing something with his mind? How can he just sit and stare into space?


Sorry, I can’t tamp down these feelings.


There’s a young woman sitting in a car’s passenger seat, licking her fingertips, rubbing them under her eyebrows as if to iron down her makeup rough spots. Then, she picks at a blemish, thus making it more blemishy. Then, she pats her hair and adjusts her clothing. Why isn’t she reading a book or a newspaper, studying philosophy, writing poetry? How can she just sit there adjusting her bellybutton lint, so to speak?


Sorry, something inside me is in awe of time wasted by people who are not reading and absorbing more knowledge and factoids and sharing imaginations with writers.


How can that big guy, tagging along with his wife in my shop, just stand there in the aisle, ignoring all the glorious thoughts and wishes and tales and truths and lies begging for attention on my shelves? How can he just stand there while the rest of us are running around shuffling reading materials and absorbing images and ideas that keep our brains from shrinking?


Sorry, that judgementalist in me just can’t understand.


I just want to share my love and lust for reading, my exuberance at holding century-old books in one hand and brand-new books in the other, as I scurry around shelving them.


I don’t know how to get through to these denizens of the streets, but I keep trying.


As Bo Diddley said, “We’re a short time here and a long time gone.”


Grab a book fast, before the colors fade


© 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed


Listen to Jim:

or read on…


When I was a kid, people often called me Jimbo. It’s what they did to guys named Jim back then.


This was OK with me, since I found it funny.


Speaking of funny:


I’m sitting and talking and listening and eating, which is just about the most fun you can have clothed or unclothed—at least, sometimes.


My friend Jo is sitting and talking and eating and listening, too.


This is an opportunity to learn something new, so, as is my wont, I pop out a spontaneous question, “When you are alone, do you ever laugh?”


Jo’s eyes grow wider than usual and, instead of answering, she exclaims, “Why, what an unusual question to ask! Why would you ask that?” 


This gives her time to ruminate and come up with a reply, I suppose.


I say, “Just something I wanted to know—you don’t have to answer it.”


But Jo does answer, “Well, yes, I do laugh when I’m alone.”


I can believe this, since Jo has a wicked sense of humor, thus I’m satisfied.


So many people I’ve met through the eons don’t seem to have the ability to laugh at much of anything, much less at themselves, much less with themselves. I try not to hang with these folks, since I do like to laugh—especially at myself. Just observing me is sometimes hilarious, particularly as I grow older. Added to that is life, which is increasingly hilarious as well.


I grew up as a question-asker, which scares some people and intrigues others. When very young, I determined that the best way to find out stuff was to ask questions. I also learned that not asking questions can lead to a very dull time, since lots of people don’t ever think to ask me a question. Either they don’t want to know anything about me, or they are content with being quiet and somber.


When I don’t receive an answer to a question, I learn twice as much as I’ll ever learn from a proper answer. Either way, I’m going to learn something new in the process. It may not be what you hoped I would learn, but it will be a learning experience.


Myself when young naturally gravitated to activities that required question-asking, and I therefore learned a bunch—a bunch of primarily useless information, but information that was interesting and exciting and funny and scary, regardless of its uselessness.


So, I became a child actor and performer and teacher and reporter and writer, all of which require the asking of questions and, further, the listening to answers.


I’m never bored. I’m often in the presence of others who are bored, but just asking them questions to get their reaction sometimes makes them forget how much pleasure they are deriving from being bored. It’s like shock therapy.


As I learned from H.G. Wells and the Pet Shop Boys, people who are bored are people who are being boring. Both states of mind frighten me, so I just go on my merry way, asking and listening and treading the maelstrom that threatens all of us—the maelstrom that wants to bore us to death.


Tell me something funny and uncruel and I’ll have a good laugh. If you can’t think of anything funny to say, just say whatever comes to mind.


Don’t worry—I’ll find something funny in it


© 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed












After many decades of living, loving and getting by, I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody feels cool at least once in a lifetime–maybe even a few times in a lifetime for the lucky ones.

Coolness is a state of mind, which means that you may feel cool to yourself, but you have no idea how you might look ridiculous–uncool–to others.

There’s the time in my life when I owned and wore an exact replica of the Pee Wee Herman suit–you know, his trademark outfit–which consisted of this form-fitting neatly pressed narrow-lapeled suit complete with white dress shirt and bow tie. In my case, I wore the obligatory  Mad Men thin necktie. Also, in my case, I wore black wing-tip dress shoes instead of Pee Wee’s white loafers. But in all other respects, I looked like Pee Wee Herman. I was skinny as a rail, still had my hair, wore hornrimmed glasses, and thought the coolest thing in the world was my then-fashionable suit.

You might have guessed by now a couple of things:

1. This was back in the 1960′s, long before Paul Reubens had ever conceived of Pee Wee and his suit, so in essence, Pee Wee wore an exact duplicate of my suit, rather than the other way around.

2. This was the era of Mad Men, when we all smoked and drank and caroused too much, and had miles to go before we became enlightened about the wrongness of smoking and drinking and carousing too much. 

Anyhow, I worked as an on-air personality at Tuscaloosa’s fledgling television station, then known as WCFT-TV, Channel 33. I would snazz up in that suit, grab my loaded, hand-wound 16-millimeter movie camera, and go off to cover some news event, hoping to get back to the station in time to have Curtis Lake develop and edit the film while I wrote the story to go with it. Then, I’d get ready to host the daily live Noon broadcast interview show, called “This is the Show that Starts at Noon,” which remained on the air for four years.

Back in those days, you could look cool while out in the public being recognized as a TV personality, but there was no way to be cool, once you got back to the station. At the station, you were just another employee, trying to keep your job, stay out of the way of the more hostile pointy-haired folks, and just having fun doing your job. It is thus with virtually all jobs: as long as you can concentrate on and perform the tasks you love, you’re happy. But office politics and office politicos will be working full-time trying to spoil it for you. Denial is your only weapon.

Anyhow, for a few minutes at a time during those years at Channel 33, I could overcome my insecurities and self-doubts, don the Pee Wee suit, leave the station to cover a story or host a panel or judge a beauty contest or make a personal appearance, and just plain forget the other facts of life I had to put up with.

The Pee Wee suit was my magic time machine, my way to beam up and away each time conflict threatened to douse me. It made me feel like somebody, even though I wasn’t. It made me feel stylish, even though I wasn’t. It gave me a few chuckles many years later, when I saw Pee Wee himself wearing that outfit and feeling like a million dollars.

Wonder if Pee Wee found my suit at a thrift store

(c) 2011 A.D. by Jim Reed