20 January 2011

Wherein I Anthropomorphise Books

I have always been a huge bookworm. One of my earliest memories is reading the cover of a Hallmark card out loud to my mother from the wriggly metal uncomfortableness of the grocery cart kiddie seat. It was as if a switch had been flipped and oooooooohhhhhhh look at all the words everywhere! From that point on I was a goner.

I read whatever I could get my grubby little paws on; I think at one point I might have precociously asked my kindergarten teacher if there were any more books as I'd already read all of *these* in the bookshelf. I ripped through the collection of excerpted stories stored underneath the home encyclopaedias, a set of 12 two inch thick hard-covers in various jewel tones, each a reading level higher than the last, and over the years I would frequently return to my favorites. There was the complete annotated set of Shakespeare to stumble over, and if I was really bored and out of fresh reading material, I might randomly flip through the encyclopaedias. Or the dictionary.1

Scholastic Books sales flyers would be pleadingly marked up for my parents and every library trip usually saw me take out the maximum number of books possible, which I still considered to be too few despite the fact that on average the stack of books in my arms were roughly half of my diminutive height. Twain, Newberry winners, Gone with the Wind, Little House on the Prairie, Bunnicula, Sweet Valley High, Babysitters' Club, the Oz series, Madelin L'Engle, Philip Pulman, Ramona Quimby, Encyclopedia Brown, Robert Asprin, the Chronicles of Narnia & Prydain, War & Peace (hey, I said I was a precocious little snot), Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Dracula, Robin McKinley, Tolkien, Little Women & Little Men, Judy Blume, historical biographies...in short, I never met a book I didn't like.

My parents attempted to ensure I wasn't reading anything inappropriate, but all bets were off after a library shelving mishap involving a supposed YA sci-fi book with some of the purplest prose to be found outside of Harry Potter/Edward Cullen slash fic. Once I twigged to the real meaning of "purple headed warrior" 2, it was another flipped-switch moment, only this time the switch was a bit lower. I mentally masturbated years before actually doing the physical deed. Needless to say, any parental injunctions on appropriate reading material were thereon ignored; I started surreptitiously nicking Grandma's Harlequins from her room, the Truely Tasteless Jokebooks from my parents' room, and whatever else I could find lying around the house. No book was safe!

I would read for hours; on my stomach on the green shag carpet near the sliding glass door to the backyard, lying on my back on the parquet in the home office, against the the hallway wall in front of the encyclopedia shelves, in the car during long cross country trips in spite of imprecations that I'd ruin my eyesight and, most strangely, in the closet & while sitting on the toilet. The former was due to the fact that reading with a flashlight under the covers is just awkward; why bother when you can drag your blanket over to the walk-in closet with overhead lighting & shut the door? The latter is still cause for merciless familial mockery; my nose would be firmly planted in a book no matter the ring-around-the-butt effect, and "Dishwater diarrhoea" is our family's name for avoiding dish drying duty, as I would excuse myself to the bathroom and someone would have to pound the door down to shake me out of my literary commode escapism. 75% of the time the dishes were dry by the time I sheepishly mosied back into the kitchen.

We moved to Dallas the summer before I started second grade, where I proceeded to make my first ever 'C' (from A's & B's), the parent-teacher conference revealing the fact that instead of paying attention to the teacher & doing the classwork, I would be reading a book under the desk. My homeroom & reading teacher Mrs. Hanson was pretty fucking amused by that one. 19 kids who she had to jump through hoops to get to read and one little transplanted Yankee girl who wouldn't stop.

Well. That went on a bit longer than I originally planned. Get the idea that I like books yet? Books were a mousy little girl's best friend. Blah blah blah. Moving on...

So when you mix my love of books with this whole Social Web 2.0 of Share! Like! Rate!, it tends to send me into paroxysms of anxiety. I was reminded of this last night when I stuck the Goodreads widgets over in the far right column.

Share! I'm down with, as long as you promise not to make fun of my penchant for listing shitty romance novels, airport reads & YA alongside more stately & classical literature. I love making lists of things I have read, am in the middle of reading, or have been wanting to read. Thanks to said lists, I have now reread a great number of childhood & old favorites. Said rereading is also one of the reasons why I can never (shudder) pass books on to the second hand store; I like rereading like my orgasms: multiple times. Having to weed through my book collection would be like asking me which puppy or kitten I want to drown. Heartless. Can't do it.3

Like! I can do no problem; I have rarely met a book that I didn't like and even more rarely one that I didn't finish. The Old Man & the Sea I'm not overly fond of, which I blame on being repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with (here please picture me holding my arms out to either side, head lolling) CHRIST! SYMBOLISM! by our high school humanities teachers. The Alchemist has the distinct honor of being a book I loathe & never finished. And everybody fucking loves it, most notably people who rarely read books normally. Any time someone gushes over that frigging book, I lie through tightly gritted teeth "Oh, yes, fabulous book" because I do believe in promoting literacy and book reading in general but oh fuck why that fucking book, why god, why?!?!?! It's like The Celestine Prophecy for Dummies, except dumber!! Fuck you Paulo Coehlo, for making me overuse profanity and exclamation punctuation!!   *slams head repeatedly against keyboard*

Ahem. I digress. Sorry.

Bur Rate! is where I truly flip my shit. That's like asking Mrs. Brady to rank her kids from least to most favorite.4 The 5 star metric drives me batty. I disagree with the notion that 1 star equals "Don't like"; we all learned as wee tots that stars are shiny pats on the head. Over my fucking dead body will I give a star or any fraction thereof to The Alchemist. If it were a binary rating system of "Burn/Don't Burn", that book is my base zero for "Use it as kindling."

Binary is too stark though, so then I start second guessing my star-giving. If the pulpily enjoyable Sookie Stackhouse series is a three, would Jurassic Park be a two and all other Crichton works a one? But I wasn't overly fond of Moby Dick, so that would be a solid 2.5, but oh fuck Melville only marginally better than Crichton? No, no, no, let's start over. Maybe I'm handing out too many 4 & 5 stars...Harry was a truly obnoxious whiny little bitch in []Order of the Phoenix, so maybe a 3.5 but then again that is the age of whiny teenager-dom and thus is an accurate portrait to some effect...Now I feel bad that I only gave Asimov's Foundation 4 stars....ARRGGGGHHHH!

And that sound of frustration usually heralds the beginning of what we've named my "Frustrated Velociraptor" impression, whereupon I growl and snarl at my monitor. Those in the know are privvy to the approved methods of taming the Frustrated Velociraptor, namely vodka.5

So in the interest of preserving the world's supply of delicious potato juice, I have officially given up on rating my book lists and have gone back to enjoying all my wee little books equally.


1 Don't laugh; I liked the two-tone pictures. The snooty lady wrinkling her nose illustrating 'aghast' was a good one, as was the 'arms akimbo' girl.
2 Believe it or not, it took a few re-readings; I was a sheltered little thing.
3And I think I just gave myself cognitive whiplash jumping from "orgasms" to "puppies & kittens", but there you are.
4And if you extrapolated this metaphor to the aggregated data of Goodreads, I'm pretty sure the MormonPorn that is the Twilight series would end up being the "Marsha Marsha Marsha!" punchline.
5 Wine is acceptable in a pinch, and depending on stress levels, nicotine might also be necessary. Smoking has become something I do on weekends when out with friends.

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