I’ll never forget the day I read a book

Listen to Jim:

http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/illneverforgetthedayireadabook.mp3

 or read on…

So…what is the first book you ever read?

What is the first book I ever read?

Allow me to crank up the Time Machine and get back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when books slowly insinuated themselves into my life.

First thing I do is SEE a book. It’s over there, just within reach of my chubby little uncoordinated fingers. I can roll just a quarter-roll in my crib—that’s all it takes to see this unfocused blur of colors and shapes on the cover. All I know how to do is experience the book, not knowing that it can be read and manipulated. So, I do what I know how to do: lick the cover and gnaw at the corners. It tastes different than those mashed-up things they are feeding me. It would be even tastier if I could bite off a piece and swallow it, but that comes later.

So, first I SEE a book. Then I TASTE it. Then I masticate a bit. Then, I lose concentration and fixate on a wiggly toy that is hanging above me. I’ll get back to the book later.

Next thing I know, I’m snuggled up to my mother’s chest, experiencing the words she is reading to me as they vibrate the side of my face. I can HEAR her voice with one ear. I can FEEL her voice with the other. And then I note that she is gently turning the pages, causing the colorful shapes and strange markings to shift each time. I can hear her inflections of warmth, suspense, happiness, as the pages drift by.

Before I know it, I’m sitting up in my own wobbly fashion and turning the pages—not necessarily one at a time, not necessarily in any order. But I am doing the book the way I know how to do it. And, now and then, I even taste it again. I’ve been known to rub a crayon onto the paper to add color and design.

Time flies and now I’m reciting a book to my mother and sister, pretending that I’m reading it as the pages pass, but actually I still don’t know how to read, I’m just feeding back what I’ve heard them read aloud so many times. They play along with the ruse.

Now, at last, I am picking out a word or two in preparation for enrolling in the first grade. I’m excited about the prospect of actually making my way through the words with some degree of understanding. And, amazingly, after a while I start to read big-lettered words on my own.

What is the first book I can read without assistance? Hard to tell, since the books at school are not the same books we have at home. I’m reading some in both places. But in class, I get to read a Dick and Jane and Sally story all the way through! When I become an author many years later, I am jealous of those who wrote this reader. Wouldn’t you like to be the writer whose works can be recited by heart by millions of school kids? “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!”

In middle age, I discover the song that comedian Jimmy Durante co-wrote and performed with gusto:

 There’s one day that I recall, though it was years ago.

All my life I will remember it, I know.

I’ll never forget the day a read a book.

It was contagious, seventy pages.

There were pictures here and there,

So it wasn’t hard to bear,

The day I read a book.

It’s a shame I don’t recall the name of the book.

It wasn’t a history. I know because it had no plot.

It wasn’t a mystery, because nobody there got shot.

The day I read a book? I can’t remember when,

But one o’ these days, I’m gonna do it again.

(Listen to Jimmy sing it, at the end of this column.)

Just yesterday, a pleasant family enters the shop, looking around and remarking upon the variety of things to read. One young girl is just tagging along, so naturally she’s the one I try to engage in conversation: “What do you like to read?” I ask, hoping to introduce some titles to her. She performs a sly smile and doesn’t answer because, like so many other children I meet these days, she knows her avid parents will answer for her. “Oh, she doesn’t read,” her father says. I know what he’s saying, but I play dumb just to see what kind of response I’ll get: “You mean she doesn’t know how to read?” I ask sympathetically. She grins even more deeply, waiting for her parent’s punchline. “No she just doesn’t like to read.”

I get it now. This lass has found a way to rebel against her parents, assert her own identity, appear cool to other kids. Normally, I get to talk up a book enough to inspire someone like her to try it, but I know there’s no way this can happen when hovering but well-meaning parents are there to puppet-master her conversation.

So, I say what I always say whenever the situation calls for it: “Oh, too bad. Mark Twain once said that a person who does not read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

This is aimed at no-one in particular. The girl gets the joke but continues to play dumb. The parents remain perplexed.

What will no doubt happen—I’ve see it often—is she will discover a spicy novel proffered by a friend and, in secret, read it voraciously, becoming hooked on reading despite herself. She will, in the tradition of all kids, hide this novel and this fact from her parents as long as she possibly can.

The cycle goes on.

And maybe one day she’ll hear an old Jimmy Durante song and get excited all over again

Here’s Jimmy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLOR8gKwyoo 

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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Pipe Dreams of the Bookladen Orphanage

Listen here: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/pipedream.mp3 

or read on, dear reader…

An energetic, robust customer bounds through the door of Reed Books. He is lugging a large box filled to the brim with pipes. “Here are some more things from the house,” he pronounces. Then, he hands the load over to me and rushes out the door while I search for a place to situate the box.

“Here’s the last of our stuff,” he announces, as he returns and unloads two large plastic containers of old books. He needs to retrieve the containers in order to haul future troves.

It’s like Christmas every day at the shop. Folks bring large trash bags of paperbacks, rickety wooden boxes filled with attic leftovers, linen-wrapped fragiles from another century, suitcases of old documents and memorabilia, purses packed with formerly-loved treasures, books upon books.

It’s a mistake to dismiss even the worst-looking arrival without first peering within, combing for the kinds of saleable, collectible items that keep the store running. There’s almost always something unique hidden among the gewgaws and doodads and thingamajigs and artifacts and disposables that are presented to me. Even the worst-looking or worthless-seeming items have stories to tell. I feel like a fortune teller or seer, as I explain the source or meaning of each societal leftover.

So, why do I accept today’s gift of a large box filled with smoking pipes? After all, this is a bookstore. Why pipes?

Well, at one time in this bookie world, pipes and tobacco and humidors and clippers and scrapers and cleaners and flexible stems and ashtrays and cigar boxes and humidifiers and smoking jackets were part of the setting in which books were read, collected, enjoyed, catalogued, referenced, displayed, meditated upon.

Today, lots of other accumulatables decorate rooms where books are cherished, replacing the now politically-incorrect smoking paraphernalia. Books are not read in a vacuum; they are enjoyed while the reader surrounds them with a favorite reading chair, a blankie, a snack, a cherished pet, photographs of family and friends, a cuppa java, a music reproduction device lurking nearby or stuck into ear.

The surroundings are part of the literary experience—unless you tend to read while suspended in darkest, starless space.

As I walk the aisles of century-laden books, my memory of each title encompasses everything that was going on while I was reading…when I touch a copy of ANTIC HAY by Aldous Huxley, I can almost smell the unmown grass surrounding me on the lawn of my childhood home as I once lay a-blanket, reading in the shade. I can feel my too-tight tennis shoes making editorial comments about the characters in the book whose shoes always fit correctly, I can sense the impending visit from a neighborhood playmate, I can conscript a bit of clover to use as bookmark, I can see the gaunt face of Huxley on the back cover, I can retrieve this visceral memory years later when I actually meet him at a lecture.

Each book in the big world has equal status in my tiny world. Each is conceived, edited, submitted, argued over, politicked, rewritten, slicked up, dumbed down, smartened up, designed, proofed, printed, even re-printed. Each book is purchased or shop-lifted, partially read or not read at all, re-gifted, torn apart for an art project, ignored in a corner for ages, chewed by the dog, passed on to another reader, thrift-stored or ebayed or donated, treasured in the family archives, burned at the stake.

Each book in the shop is my little orphan, awaiting adoption, nose pressed to the show window, hoping for a kindly reader to take it home where awaits an easy chair, a bookcase, a coffee table, a bit of reading light, nurturing, understanding, tolerance, respect.

Nearby, out of reverence for readers of the past, rest pipe rack, ashtray, wooden matches, and the old familiar fragrance of tobaccos past and pulp papers survived and, just out of camera range, the next reader, rubbing hands together gleefully in anticipation of the joys and sorrows and provocative ideas hiding between covers that shield the pages till just the right moment

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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The Seventy-Cent Four-Minute Shopping Spree

LISTEN: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/seventycentfourminute.mp3 or READ ON…

Historic Downtown Birmingham is my neighborhood, and my little bookstore and museum constitute the center of my personal universe. Most days, I live in the peaceful world by staying out of the way of gypsies, tramps, thieves, wolves and cranky people…but the one thing I can’t seem to avoid is the plethora of City Employee Attitude Provokers. These folks are scattered here and there, and they appear to pounce only when I least expect it…only when I am otherwise having a nice day.

We can take care of the elephants, but the gnats are annoying to the max.

FROM MY RED CLAY DIARY, JUST LAST WEEK:

It’s first thing in the bustling morning of the big city, and I do what I do at least three times a week—pull up to a parking space in front of the town’s only variety store, FAMILY DOLLAR, this time to pick up some trash bags and paper towers for the shop.

I check the winking metal meter and scrounge around for a nickel, which I know will provide six minutes of parking time, just enough for me to do my thing. There’s no nickel, but the dime I find will suffice—what the heck, I can spend twelve minutes looking at the gewgaws and jawing with the employees.

I stick the dime into the winking meter—and it just keeps on winking. Oops!  It’s another broken machine in the traditionally broken-meter ethos of Downtown. Maybe it was dozing instead of blinking…so I stick another dime in the slot. Blinking continues. At this point, I have to decide whether to risk receiving an overtime ticket, or just dash in, hoping to beat the system. Then, I notice a Meter Maid (don’t know what her real title is) who seems new to the beat. She’s checking cars and issuing tickets and she’ll soon be coming my way. I decide to let her know about the meter, so I won’t have to worry about the fine.

“Hi, I notice that this meter isn’t taking my money.”

She snaps, “What did you put in?”

“Two dimes.”

“Well, you have to put in a quarter,” she replies impatiently, which I know not to be the case—just guess she’s new to the beat and trying to seem efficient. I do not mention this fact.

“Hmm…wonder when they started requiring dimes only?” I say, searching my pocket for some quarters.

She doesn’t reply and huffs away to look at another meter.

I insert a quarter into Winky, and, sure enough, it continues to wink. No results.

“Uh, it isn’t taking quarters, either,” I say, since she’s only a few feet away.

She grimaces and snaps, “Well, how do I know you put anything  in the meter? I didn’t see you put it in.”

I’m stunned but still on task—I just want to make my FAMILY DOLLAR purchases and get to the shop before opening time. The only thing I can think to do is seize the moment.

“Well, please witness this for me, I’m about to put another quarter in, but can you watch me this time?”

She freezes, can’t seem to think of any snappy comeback, and stands about two feet away looking at the meter while I place the quarter where it’s supposed to go. It doesn’t work. She WHAPS the side of the meter, hoping that will solve the problem, but the winking continues.

The Meter Maid starts to walk away, turns back for a second, waves her hand dismissively, and says, “You’re OK.” I take that to mean she won’t issue a penalty.

I make my purchase (it only takes four minutes) and am relieved that there is no ticket when I return.

I hop in my time machine and head for work, where I will spend the rest of the day laughing at the incident, marvelling at the unnecessary energy required to have just one tiny justice done on the streets, and hoping to avoid any additional encounters with City Attitude employees, at least for the rest of the day

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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