Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another Day, More Dollars

The head campus supervisor at La Mesa called the house tonight. He and another campus supervisor are going to be out for the next two days. Did I want the hours? Hell yes! 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for this other campus supervisors. Six hours. And, according to the paycheck I got when I was a substitute for Liz, that's $13 an hour. A few dollars taken off as they always are by the district, but it's not a bad shaving.

So my plan for tomorrow is as follows:

- Wake up a little after 6, giving a scant few minutes over to checking my e-mail and posting on my Facebook account as I usually do, since access is blocked at the school.

- Breakfast is Cheerios in the plastic race car with the Cheerios logo on the hood, and the back opens up for the Cheerios, Silk Very Vanilla soymilk, and a banana.

- Since I report in at 9:30, less than an hour after school begins, I have time to go online in my dad's classroom, being that the class that period is small, and I can read. I'm bringing Books by Larry McMurtry, American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by Joan Biskupic (I've been following the new Supreme Court term, reading transcripts of the arguments and the reportage of Lyle Denniston on SCOTUSblog ( and Biskupic on the USA Today website, and though I know a little about Scalia, I've become more and more curious about him), and On the Road with Charles Kuralt by Charles Kuralt, transcripts of his programs, with photos. I'm reading Books, so that'll be first in my reading time. At 259 pages, it's relatively short, and I may start the Scalia one towards the end of the work day tomorrow.

- I then do what I usually do throughout the day, making sure the kids get to class, walking around, making sure that everything's ok, supervising the kids at lunch along with the rest of the campus supervisors, and whatever comes around tomorrow. Each day differs slightly. Keeps it interesting, though to me, it's always interesting.

- I got some great news from Meridith that we're getting dinner from Wienerschnitzel tomorrow which, for me, means a pastrami sandwich (I liked it when I had it last time) and ultimate chili cheese fries, with sour cream and diced onions. Wienerschnitzel cares about good chili cheese fries and this is the last time I'll break my diet for a while. Plus, I'll be good for the entire day, and it's nice to have at the end of the day. Something as enjoyable as the previous parts of the day will likely be.

It's nice to have these two days slide right into the weekend. Money earned on a Friday. Can't beat that.

Every Book Has Two Authors

Inside the peaceful bliss that was Crown Books in West Hills yesterday, I couldn't pick up every single book and read every first page, first because not every book interested me and second, I didn't have that much time. I never looked at my watch when I got there, never glanced at it while I was browsing, but I'm sure I must have spent an hour and a half to two hours there. Not every book could be mine.

I noticed, though, relying heavily on the copy printed on the back of paperback, and on the paper flaps of hardcover books that every book has two authors. There is the author you know, whose latest book you pick up, curious if you'll have the same pleasureable experience you had with the work that got you hooked on them in the first place. Then there are those authors you don't know much about, but either the title attracts you or the cover or, indeed, the copy describing what the book is about. We don't know who those particular writers are. They work for whatever publishing company put out the book, probably working in marketing, and they have to condense that entire book into succinct sentences that can pull in potential readers, can make them buy that book. That's the business they're in, and maybe they're looking to become novelists or non-fiction writers too. Judging by some of the copy I read, whoever they are, they should.

The first paperback book I picked up from a table heavy with paperbacks that joined a harcover Anna Quindlen book called Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public and the Private (Quindlen's easy. I'll read anything she writes and I don't need the invisible writer's copy to tell me to read her) was On a Night Like This by Ellen Sussman. The copy on the back reads:

"Blair Clement is a struggling single mother with a teenage daughter, a job as a chef, and a tragic secret that will test all of her emotional resources. Luke Bellingham has fulfilled his early promise and is one of the country's most acclaimed screenwriters. The two haven't laid eyes on each other for decades, not since they went to the same West Coast high school.

Now, for a class reunion, Luke impulsively contacts the woman who has long intrigued him. And before she knows what hit her, Blair is faced with the decision of her lifetime: what to do when the right man comes along...but at the wrong time."

The keywords for me in this copy were "chef" (My sister's an aspiring one, and I'll read anything food-related), "screenwriters", and this reunion between the two. I'm curious about what will happen. Obviously the copy doesn't give away everything because then there may not be a point in reading the book, though I think I would anyway, because writing style interests me as well, the way this author, Ellen Sussman, chooses to tell her story.

Because of that copy, I turned to the first page: "Blair lifted the man's arm and slid out from under him. She tucked a pillow back in her place, and he embraced it easily. She smiled at that. Men. She gathered her clothes from the floor and tucked them under her arm, picked up her shoes, stopped in the doorway. She looked back at the man, his long, lean body curled away from her, his hair a tousled mess, his face half buried in the pillot. I could climb back into bed and stay there awhile, she thought. She closed the door quietly behind her."

Copy and first paragraph together. I'm in. And that's why I bought it.

The same happened with Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston, a novel concept for a novel:

"Quinn "Q" Boothroyd is a young British lawyer married to an American and living in New York City. She's checked off most of the boxes on her "Modern Woman's List of Things to Do Before Hitting 30," and her busy working life has been relatively painless. But when her doctor tells her she must spend the last three months of her pregnancy lying in bed, Q is thrown into a tailspin. Initially bored and frustrated, Q soon fills her days by trying to reconnect with her workaholic husband, provide legal advice for her sweet Greek neighbor, forge new emotional bonds with her mother and sisters, and figure out who will keep her stocked up in cookies and sandwiches.

Q experiences adventures on the couch she never would have encountered in the law firm and learns a lot about herself and what she wants out of life--and above all, about the little one growing inside her."

I hope the name is used for a better reason than just for the simple fact that Bilston may be a Bond fan, being that in the novels, there was Major Boothroyd, the weapons master known as "Q" and certainly as well known in the movies too. To me, that feels too easy, like there wasn't a great deal of thought about the name beyond Quinn. But I'm willing to try this.

I didn't need to read all the copy on the back cover of Do Bald Man Get Half-Price Haircuts?: In Search of America's Great Barbershops by Vince Staten. I wanted to read it just because of the title alone, and the first sentence of the second paragraph of the copy that states: "Staten visited more than three hundred barbershops, in towns ranging from Chowchilla, California, to Mount Airy, North Carolina."

That's all I need!

And with those who work at publishing companies, wise are the ones who find the right critical quotes to put on the backs of books. I picked up Maybe the Moon by Armistead Mapuin, because I had seen it listed on the inside page of every successive Tales of the City novel that I read. And because of my experience of reading those books, which tug at me for a re-read every few months, I decided to see what this one was about.

On the back of this paperback edition was a quote from Publishers Weekly which began: "Though Cadence Roth, the heroine of Maupin's captivating novel, is only 31 inches tall, her impact on the reader's emotions is enormous..."

Stop, stop, stop. That's all I need to know. Now I'm curious about Cadence Roth. But just to be sure, I turned to the first page:

"THE DIARY WAS RENEE'S IDEA. SHE RAN ACROSS THIS NOTEBOOK at Walgreens last week and decided on the spot that it was time for me to start writing things down. Just so you'll know, it's a Mr. Woods notebook, the spiral kind, with a green cardboard cover and the little bastard himself gazing wistfully from his hole in the tree trunk. Renee took this as a major omen. That evening over dinner she made such a solemn ceremony out of giving it to me that I felt like Moses on Mount Sinai. Since then, so help me, she hasn't stopped peeping at me sideways, watching my every move, waiting breathlessly for the muse to strike."

Not only do I want to read this book as soon as possible (Books by Larry McMurtry is next, and today I received The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie, and my Ann Beattie obsession is not going away until I exhaust her entire bibliography, and by then, it'll probably remain on "simmer"), but I feel like I should check in on Mrs. Madrigal again. That pull is back.

I appreciate those whose job it is to write that copy that'll market the book, or picking out the quotes by critics that will best represent the book because otherwise, I would still be at Crown Books at this very moment, reading every first page, seeing if something clicks and yanks me in. It's a great place to be, and it's where I would live if I had the opportunity (though with less dust because when I walked out with my 10 books in a plastic bag, I got a slight headache from my sinuses getting used to fresh air again, clearing out that atmosphere). But I'd rather be reading for long hours, books that I know I absolutely cannot go without. Crown Books is an incredible way station for traveling readers looking for their next destinations, and well-written copy on the backs of many books and the flaps of many book jackets makes the experience worthwhile. But one thing I know from years of reading is that you can't put your faith entirely in that copy. It's only meant as a bridge to the book. The rest of the effort is yours and if the book turns out not to be good, it's not the copy's fault. The journey just didn't work out, and there's always opportunities for others.

Truth in Books

If you're planning to read The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai, it may be best to skip this entry. Even though the end is hinted at at the beginning, the end isn't as vague, and it's what I quote from at length here because it imparts the truth about what books can do:

"Because what it's come down to, after that whole messy spring, that whole tortured summer, all the time since, is this: I no longer believe I can save people. I've tried, and I've failed, and while I'm sure there are people out in the world with that particular gift, I'm not one of them. I make too much of a mess of things. But books, on the other hand: I do still believe that books can save you.

I believed that Ian Drake would get his books, as surely as any addict will get his drug. He would bribe his babysitter, he'd sneak out of the house at night and smash the library window. He'd sell his own guinea pig for book money. He would read under his tented comforter with a penlight. He'd hollow out his mattress and fill it with paperbacks. They could lock him in the house, but they could never convince him that the world wasn't a bigger place than that. They'd wonder why they couldn't break him. They'd wonder why he smiled when they sent him to his room.

I knew that books could save him because I knew they had so far, and because I knew the people books had saved. They were college professors and actors and scientists and poets. They got to college and sat on dorm floors drinking coffee, amazed they'd finally found their soul mates. They always dressed a little out of season. Their names were enshrined on the pink cards in the pockets of all the forgotten hardbacks in every library basement in America. If the librarians were lazy enough or nostalgic enough or smart enough, those names would stay there forever."