The Bibliofella (see photo, right) never passes up even the least opportunity to invoke his earliest literary heroes, writers whose work helped transform the goofy adolescent I once was into, well, the adult goof I am today, a person for whom the truth-telling of novels, short stories, essays and poetry reliably point to the possibility of better worlds, even as they instruct readers on how to understand and live in this one. Indeed, a life without books is a life unexamined, unconsidered. Walk into somebody's home and note the giant flat-screen TV, all sorts of expensive ugly furniture, a terrific view, well-groomed animal companions and absolutely no fucking books (!) and understand immediately that you are in the nightmare domain of a human lacking an interior life. Turn around, and run, don't walk outta there.
Lionel Trilling insisted on the moral obligation to be intelligent.This suggests an obligation to read and, by way of my own highly idiosyncratic way of thinking, an obligation to show that you are reading and, ipso on the facto, to own books, lots of 'em, display them, consult them often and talk (and blog!) about them. Mr. Bib was lucky to visit the UCLA Extension class of The Rattling Wall editor Michelle Meyering last week. Her serious-student creative writers are, of course, serious readers so we talked literary journals, novels, short stories, favorite authors. Why wouldn't we? It's what bibliophiles do, ideally over a nice cold stout or glass of red wine. In between recommending titles, I told my tedious stories about editing a lit zine (Santa Monica Review), and they pretended that my so-called insights would somehow help them in writing and sending out work for publication. Kind, patient people. By the way, Meyering published a terrific story by Mr. Bib in the current issue of her fine newish journal, sponsored by PEN Center USA. You might secure a copy or five, consistent with this week's theme: righteous literary acquisitiveness!
Those favorite writers, circa 1976? Thanks for asking! Joseph Heller (Catch-22 and the under-appreciated Something Happened), Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar), John Knowles (A Separate Peace), E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime) and, of course, Kurt Vonnegut, whose novels published to that point I read in about two weeks, in eleventh grade.
In Slapstick, a late-career classic, and one of the first hardbacks I bought myself, K.V. offers a typically Twainesque deadpan cleverism on his famous scientist brother, Bernard Vonnegut:
"His laboratory was a sensational mess...where a clumsy stranger could die in a thousand different ways, depending on where he stumbled. The company had a safety officer who nearly swooned when he saw this jungle of deadfalls and snares and hair-trigger booby traps. He bawled out my brother. My bother said this to him, tapping his own forehead with his fingertips: 'If you think this laboratory is bad, you should see what it's like in here.'"
Ditto the Bibliofella's brain, vis a vis my home library, scattered, stacked, piled with books (I still own that copy of Slapstick), my favorite literary locale, second only to any number of great OC-area bookstores you might already know about and which I commence boostering forthwith. You might forgo your delivery from the lovely naked Amazonian and instead visit one. And if you want to start out big, but also on a budget, here arrives the Fullerton Public Library annual used books sale, sponsored by its Friends auxiliary. Bring a bag or a box, and a friend! Three days of healthy used-books fetishism begins Friday, March 9 through Sunday, at the Main Library, 353 Commonwealth Avenue. Maureen Gebelein, Library Director, reminds me to mention that there's a Friends of FPL Bookstore too, all year long.
And while we're on used books, a nod to the store and the sartorially, not to mention tonsorially splendid staff of manly book dudes at the world-famous Bookman in Orange, at 840 Tustin Avenue.
"Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
For serious used books, serious facial hair and smart, handsome clerks who know their collection, it's you best local institution. Check out the huge fiction section, regional, art and antiquarian books. And speaking of handsome bookfellers, how about that Matt Astrella, manager and salon host extraordinaire over at the UC Irvine Bookstore? Still the biggest, best independently run university store around! In addition to actually having an actual copy of that new book you want in stock, Astrella and his happy team of knowledgeable, polite anteaters welcome the community to frequent readings and book signings, often with coffee and cookies. Recent and upcoming guests: novelist Maile Meloy (The Apothecary), journalist Anne-Marie O'Connor (The Lady in Gold), poets David Hernandez (Hoodwinked) and Michael Ryan (Secret Life), and the startlingly wonderful Ismet Prcic, UCI MFA grad and author of Shards, about a young Bosnian named, yes, "Ismet Prcic," who escapes his war-torn homeland to reconcile his past with his present right here in, of all places, California. You need to buy this novel, trust me. I'm so confident you will like it that I just called the UCI Bookstore, where they are holding a copy for you.
In future weeks I will go on and on (if briefly) about, in no particular order, Laguna Beach Books, Martha's on Balboa Island, Mathom House Books in Laguna Hills, Acorn Naturalists, Mystery Ink, and Libreria Martinez. Do leave a comment please, to remind me what I've forgotten, or to recommend. Thanks.
No, wait, Room for one more favorite gratuitous book quote, this one from some guy name Borges: "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." Or maybe a bookstore?