The Importance of Not Reading Being So Cool

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The Importance of Not Reading Being So Cool

“So, what are you reading these days?” I ask a ten-year-old customer at the shop. He is accompanied by an avid-reader sister and parents who are enjoying digging through tons of books.

“Uh, I don’t read,” he proudly announces, working hard to look cool and macho at the same time.

“You mean you can’t read at all?” I ask, faking sympathy.

“Er, no, I know how to read,” he replies a bit disdainfully.

“He knows how to read, he just doesn’t like to read,” his nearby sister explains patiently, thumbing through a Nancy Drew book.

“So, you don’t read anything?” I persist, knowing that what he really means is that he reads everything he wants to read, but never in the form of a book, which would not be cool.

He doesn’t know how to answer, so I say, “You did not read street signs on the way over, to find out where you are…you don’t read anything on the internet…you don’t read video game instructions…you don’t text or facebook or tweet…you don’t read comic books…you don’t read the sports page to see what your favorite team is doing?”

He admits he does read these things.

“Then, I guess what you mean is that you just don’t read books, right?”

He nods.

“OK. Follow me for a second,” I engage his gaze and trap him for a moment or two. “What would happen if you hard-copied everything you read this week–you know what a hard copy is?” He nods, a little hypnotized now. “Then,” I continue, “What if you made a hard copy of each and every thing you read and placed it in a stack after seven days. Do you think the stack would be about this thick?” I measure out 1 1/2 inches with thumb and finger. He agrees that’s about right.

“Well, if you took that stack of paper to Kinko’s and asked them to bind it together with hard covers, that would be what we call a Book.”

He gets it, I can tell.

“So…you read at least one book a week…so you do read books!” I smile. His parents are paying attention but hiding this fact from the boy. It’s obvious they have tried to work through this with him in various ways but have never thought of the “book” approach.

I smile again and say, “Thanks for reading books. They are quite fun to read!” He kind of relaxes and continues to wander the shop. His sister is grinning. And I relax because I can see that he is not offended or embarrassed—thank goodness! A fine line to walk.

As I head to the front of the shop to assist other customers, I quote Mark Twain to his sister and parents because it’s my store and I can do things like this: “A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who can’t read.”

I know—I’m a tad overbearing. But dang it, I just have to sermonize now and again.

By the way, this happens at least twice a week in the shop. Sometimes it’s a forty-something man who brags about never reading books, once in a blue moon it’s a young girl, but the scenario is always the same—someone brags about never reading books as if it is the politically correct thing to do in the modern South. And I, the avid bookseller, try to demonstrate in various ways that books are everywhere in every form, ready to be read, even if they are in no way called books

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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The Obscure Man of a Certain Gait Moves Unnoticed Through the Drenched City

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The Obscure Man of a Certain Gait Moves Unnoticed Through the Drenched City

The friendly extroverted chatting customer grabs his change from me and heads waving toward the door. “Thanks…I’ll be back!” he grins over his shoulder.

Browsers like this jolt me into a reluctant good mood on a slow day, or they confirm what I sometimes suspect: every day is good if you approach it the right way.

I am playing the role of successful, kindly shopkeeper. The customer is playing…well, is he playing or is this his true nature, this chipper, goodfellow facade? Am I faking it or is he?

I file the thought away and go about my morning duties in the aisles of foundling books. When I leave the store for lunch, I wave to Marie, and she takes over.

New York Times under my arm, I stroll toward the diner and prepare for twenty minutes of solitude—just me, my paper, my lunch plate, some really loud static-filled music, and other diners who leave me alone to my dome of solitude.

I glance through the large street-view window, munching away as I turn the paper inside-out, and see, walking along 22nd Street, the jaunty customer who had been in the shop earlier. But he’s somehow different now.

He is usually bright, has good eye-contact, has a ready smile, is joyful and friendly…but when I see him walking outside his environment unnoticed, there is something slightly obscure and unsure about him…his head is slightly cocked to the side, he looks down, he is serious, he is in a hurry as if he’s afraid someone might spot him. He’s not carrying his recent purchase.

His dome of solitude transmogrifies him and makes him nearly unrecognizable. In the bookstore, he was one person, now he is another. He shapeshifts with his locale. What is he at home? Who is he at church on Sunday? What does he become in heavy suburban traffic? Is he a kindly father, a giving neighbor, an angry insurrectionist, a future Nobel laureate, a sentenced felon?

I’ll never know, nor will he ever know who I am and when and where.

To me, it’s enough to know a good customer. To him, perhaps it’s enough to be in the  sanctuary of the bookshop for a few minutes before he bolsters his courage enough to brave the disguise he must don to re-enter the city byways.

I return to my paper and my munching, leave my paltry tip on the table, wave to the cashier, and open the door to the street, where I become that other person, that pedestrian who would be unrecognizable to the customer who views me as just the kindly old bookie

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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Speak Softly and Carry a Small, Old Book

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The Word Scribe purposely trod the street of the big city in the mid-morning hour. Looking left, right, below and above, he attempted to imprint his surroundings in a secure place in his mind for later reference. He felt the need to remember everything in sight. He loved the notations he constantly refined inside the small book he always carried apocket.

This particular day, the Word Scribe entered the quiet confines of his shop, locked the door behind him, and began reviewing and recording his impressions.

He wrote these words:

Thoughts are precious.

Thoughts must not be allowed to fall listlessly from your mind and tumble to the floor, eventually rolling under something where you can’t get to them.

Thoughts are mysteries and revelations unto themselves. The mysterious thoughts must be retained for later surgical examination. The revelations must be carefully described and regarded as if they constituted an index to Life Itself. 

The Word Scribe completed his ritualistic notations, closed the small book and placed it in his pocket.

What did I learn today? the Word Scribe asked himself in particular.

He smiled and realized that he was not quite prepared to explain what he had learned, that more writing and editing would have to take place before that could happen.

He was comforted by the fact that his thousands of notes, his hundreds upon hundreds of stories, were already released to the cosmos and floated around encased within notebooks and stacks of paper and software programs…existing as tweets and books and facebook entries and blogs and blasts…carrying on into the air as broadcasts, as echoes from the many speeches and performances he had delivered.

But the Word Scribe also knew, as all word scribes know, that regardless of how many places his words and stories were sequestered, no matter how many banks of red clay held them close, no matter how many people now living would remember and repeat these words and stories…he knew that there was always a chance that, once he faded from the trodden streets, those words and stories might disappear with him.

The Word Scribe used to worry about his Legacy, whatever that was.

But now that he had written so much, performed so much, related and recorded so much, he was beginning to realize that the Legacy meant nothing. He was beginning to realize that the pleasurable and exciting and roller coaster  life he had led and was leading, was all that really mattered.

He knew at last that the trip, the exploration, was the thing.

And if, someday, an inquisitive graduate student working on an obscure literary subject should find his words and think them important enough to turn into a footnote in a soon-to-be-filed-away thesis…that would be acceptable.

The joy he felt simply living his words was the one thing he hoped others would discover on their own

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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Listening Through Touch to the Oh So Soft and Vibrant Radio Speaker

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Listening Through Touch to the Oh So Soft and Vibrant Radio Speaker

Somewhere amid the lonely wilds of the late-1950′s, the lone listener of all things jazz begins a solo quest to find the music of musics…

I am lying abed on my left side late at night carefully turning the tuning dial of the cast-off family radio, hoping to hear tonight’s episode of MOONGLOW WITH MARTIN.

Some evenings, the signal is clear and dramatic and rounded, so that I can lie on my back and listen through both ears to things I have never heard before. Sometimes, the signal drifts here and there, crackles into muffles, snaps solidly, then fades again. During those moments, it is acceptable to listen with only my right ear, since there’s really nothing of substance to be absorbed.

But on a clear night I can hear forever.

Tonight is one of those nights.

MOONGLOW WITH MARTIN is broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, and host Dick Martin smoothly introduces me to Miles Davis playing flugelhorn, pianist Oscar Peterson challenging bassist Ray Brown to a romp through some unfamiliarly familiar tune, Ella Fitzgerald scatting through Gershwin, pianist Errol Garner grunting and giggling through his own riffs, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan inviting you deep within his mood piece, singers Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra and Billly Eckstine and Bobby Troup pulling you into the stories behind the lyrics, leaders Stan Kenton and Gil Evans standing above it all to show you the classy part of jazz.

And so on.

There are so many composers, voices, instrumentalists, arrangers, personalities to experience that it takes another fifty years to truly appreciate their art, their craft, their focus, their playfulness.

I am enchanted by Zen keyboardist Ahmad Jamal, insurrectionist saxist John Coltrane, improvising pianist Thelonius Monk, and all those sidemen and sidewomen who remain nameless till later, when I get to read their liner notes.

Often, I drift off to sleep with my left hand touching the smoothed burlap-textured radio speaker, becoming one with the soft vibrations the music injects into the cloth, feeling the slight warmth of the glowing radio tubes, remembering years back, when I imagined the jazz combos actually playing in tiny versions of themselves inside the wooden console.

MOONGLOW WITH MARTIN introduced me to the world of one-on-one listening, a world where there is only the Listener and the Sound, a world cleansed of all human interaction and temporal conflict, a world where peace and harmony and harmonics meld into some quirky but pure idea of how good the world could be if only we could learn to behave toward each with only the best parts showing

© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.

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