I live in a small town. Actually that’s being generous–I live in a rural patch of the South just outside of a village that’s little more than a fire department and a public dump. The nearest town that really deserves that apellative, which we shall hereby christen Kowtown (and yes, the punny misspelling is intentional) and so designate from this point on, is woefully inadequate in many ways, including the unforgivable lack of a decent used book store. Ah, but then there’s the next town over . . . Let’s call that one Blahsville. It’s not exactly my favorite place to kick around in either, but it does have one major draw for me: its used book store.
It’s exactly the kind of book store I love. The owner, an older lady named Pat, couldn’t be lovelier. On top of that, she has a liberal policy about trade-ins that means I never have to pay a penny for anything, a lifesaver for us perpetually cash-strapped creative types who live for books. Sure, the place is cramped and cluttered and its countless volumes organized only halfheartedly, but that just adds to its charm. And yes, maybe seventy percent of its contents are Harlequin romances, cookie-cutter suspense thrillers and propaganda lit for the Zondervandroids, but that makes those rare treasures one occasionally exhumes from the jumbled, precarious piles all the more dear, to say nothing of the delights of the hunt itself.
Well, I found myself prowling around its innards yesterday–catch of the day: mostly WWII novels and nonfiction books–Jeff Shaara’s The Rising Tide, Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow, Brian Garfield’s The Thousand-Mile War and Raymond Gantter’s Roll Me Over, all research for my dark fantasy novel Mythopolis. Not that I won’t enjoy reading them, or so I hope. I also hauled in Leavitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, a John Stuart Mill collection, Brian Burrell’s Postcards from the Brain Museum, and a biography of Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, A Throw of the Dice.
If it isn’t already clear from that list, I am an eclectic reader to be sure, partly out of necessity, but also because I’m beginning to find that I have a much greater appreciation for the subjects that most interest me when I can see all of connecting tissues and crisscrossing threads that create this monstrously immense and complex Web of Being of which I am but a tiny particle. With a liberal approach to self-education, all knowledge grows richer and more nuanced, and even the most seemingly uninteresting subject matter can become fascinating in the right authorial hands. I constantly find myself amazed when I delve into books on topics that don’t usually get my attention and find I want to go on reading the rest of it.
Economics, for example. If it wasn’t necessarily my least favorite subject when I was a young man, it damn sure was a contender. But then I realized that nearly everything in life, or at least the human portion of it, comes down to economics, and like Rorschach from Alan Moore’s comic book masterpiece The Watchmen, I came to see that things really start to get interesting when you follow the money trail. This can lead to some quite philosophical questions: What is it we value most? What is it we are (and are not) willing to put a price tag on? Note that what we value and what we commodify are two very different things that sometimes share space, like overlapping sets on a Venn diagram. This leads naturally to considerations of what values really are at bottom.
But let’s not get too absorbed into all of that here. Suffice it to say, I live and I learn. 😉