Friday, March 28, 2008

literate appetite (first draft)

I have this weird relationship with books these days. I make money off them, but not in a cool way. Not in a writing or publishing sense, in a retail sense. I'm a bookseller at a local independent bookstore. So this means that I'm around books all the time.I'm up on all the new stuff that's coming out, I know all about what people are saying about all the important authors, or those who are about to be important, or even those who were important a couple years ago.
But, that said, I don't really read books that much. I should rephrase that. I don't finish books as often or as quickly as I used to. It's been a long time since I was caught up by a book so that I was nailed to my seat till it was done and wanted to flip back to the beginning the minute I finished in order to stay in that world as long as I could. (Wait, I just lied: Kelley Eskridge's Dangerous Space did that to me. Before that it had been years.)
Working at Bailey/Coy Books is like being around a smorgasbord all the time and taking little tastes from all the different dishes to figure out what I'm hungry for and then realizing that I have filled up on mouthfuls and have no desire to sit down to a meal. Ever been at a party with a big spread that offers so many choices you can't eat? When I get to that point, all I ever want is something familiar. I stick to home cooking. By that I mean books that I first consumed, most likely devoured, years ago and come back to often because I have now acquired a taste for them and they satisfy my specific appetite.
My versions of literary soul food are things written by J. D. Salinger, particularly Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey, and Jeanette Winterson, mostly The Passion and Gut Symmetries. Sometimes I need to throw back even farther to the nostalgia of young adult fantasy worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea trilogy (oh, wait, there are four), Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, and my absolute favorite: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. If you haven't read this, you are missing an intensely satisfying taste treat delight—a full, many course meal of adventure, science fiction, fantasy, alternate world theory, religious philosophy, thought experiments, science experiments, and of course, love experiments.
When I'm not re-reading old faves, I stick to short stories. Bite-sized morsels like grapes that you can pop into your mouth and press all the juice out of in a moment, enjoying that burst of intense flavor that leaves you refreshed without feeling stuffed. Cuz its hard to fill up on grapes. And maybe that's my plan—to travel light. I joke with my co-worker, James, who has a penchant for thick, epic tomes of books, that my fear of commitment is so strong I can't even commit to reading a long book. Maybe I have too much to do in my life that is putting forth my own ideas and I don't want to clog my brain with other people's unless they are gonna help inform mine. [That said, I have been very grateful to a few books I read this past year that now constitute the marinade in which my ideas have been steeping: the title story in the aforementioned Dangerous Space, a novella by Elizabeth Hand, called Illyria, about young lovers carving out a secret space for themselves in their family home, and The Madness of Love by Katharine Davies, a re-imagining of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in modern-day England. In fact, that's my favorite of the bard's works, I just saw it at Seattle Rep and it figures into Illyria too so it should go on the list...along with Everett True's Nirvana: The Biography. (I know, I know. Get over it already...) ]
Maybe its just that I'm picky. Sometimes, when work is slow, I find myself fishing the pools of the new title tables, trying to find something that matches the taste I want in my mouth, the specific hunger I feel rumbling. I grab a title that looks intriguing--a cover that catches my eye, something I remember reading a review of, something my coworker liked--and just as I'm about to crack the cover I balk at actually diving inside. Most likely I already know the premise. It's my job, after all, to know about these things--to be able to talk intelligently about them and make recommendations when needed. So, once you know what its about, and what everyone says about it, what's the point in going all the way through it? If I can see the bottom and have a good guess of what the water will feel like, what's the point of getting wet? Unless it's the sensation I know I want cuz I've already dipped into this pool, I'm not interested in good approximations. I want something drastically new, or exactly the same, I guess. There are books on the shelves of my store that I will never think to read simply because one of my coworkers already put a recommendation tag on it. They have marked it as their territory, I should find some undiscovered country, something that hasn't been claimed by someone else.
But that's the hard part. Cuz there is a lot of bad stuff out there. I mean, my boss has the most discerning of tastes and never carries anything that is not impeccably fresh, succulent or luscious, (actually, that is very close to an intensely true statement. Come by sometime and you will understand) but my cravings are kinda particular. So much so, and so viscerally, that I don't know if I can put into words what I'm looking for. That haunting taste memory at the back of my throat, that specific spice I keep trying to smell out, that savory flavor that never fails to make me salivate, these indicators of the perfect book to sink my teeth into come from some weird amalgam of the books, movies and music I love, the stories my friends tell me, the dreams I've had and the characters that occupy my brain. And maybe this means I should just sit down and write the book floating around and through my senses like the scent of bacon on Sunday morning seeping into your dreams until your stomach wakes you up. But I dunno if I'm as good a cook as my tastes require.

1 comment:

LilyAnn said...

's some pretty good cooking you've done here!