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by Rick Klaw

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Geek Confidential
TV Guide
Jackie Collins
Soap Opera Digest
/Detroit Red Wings
ArmadilloCon 25
James Owen
Jess Nevins
Heroes & Monsters: The Unofficial Companion To the League of Extraordinary Gentleman
This Ain't Brain Surgery
Jack Vance
Warren Ellis
Collen Doran
Joe R. Lansdale
Lou Anders
Robert Freeman Wexler
Rick's first column about the Patriot Act
Rick's second column about the Patriot Act
Patriot Act
Ashcroft tour
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I'll Never Understand.

Did you know that there are actually people out there who don't own books? The living room will have a television, some plants, a couch or two, a coffee table but no books. Oh, there may be a copy of People or the latest TV Guide sitting on the coffee table, but that's not real reading. It's reading lite. Just enough to navigate your existence. What's the point of having a television, if you can't figure out what's on?

Places without books make me very uncomfortable. For example, my sister isn't a big reader. She'll read the occasional Jackie Collins or Jacqueline Sussan1, but that's about it. Hidden in the back corner of her home office, she has one shelf of books. Not just one bookcase. Just one shelf. Whenever I visit her, I feel lost at her house. It's a nice enough place. After all, my nephews and niece live there, but there are no books. On top of that, there are no books in the bathroom. Just People, Soap Opera Digest, and the occasional hockey mag.2

Weird Business At the recent Armadillocon, James Owen, publisher of the forthcoming Argosy magazine, and I were discussing Jess Nevin's Heroes & Monsters: The Unofficial Companion to the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Owens embarrassingly admitted that he had read most of the book while in the bathroom. The companion is packed with not only annotations to one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, but also short analyses of Victorian themes and other related topics. The short essays and interesting subject made it a perfect bathroom book. I told Owen that there is nothing wrong with that. Hell, I'd take it as a compliment. After Weird Business came out, Lansdale and I often referred to it as a 23 shitter. (After all, there were 23 stories.3) I'm a big believer in bathroom reading.

All this potty talk reminds me of a good bookstore. One of the signs of a quality store is that you get relaxed enough to... well you get the idea. No need for me to go into graphic detail. It's the main reason I prefer bookstores with clean bathrooms. Actually, the same thing happens to me in libraries, CD stores, and comic book shops.

Currently, on the back of my own toilet is the current Utne, This Ain't Brain Surgery (an excellent baseball memoir by Larry Dierker), The Best of Jack Vance, Nevin's Heroes & Monsters (unlike Owen, I have no shame), Orbiter (a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran about the importance of space travel), and The Essential Iron Man. Comics are the best bathroom reading since the typical comic book can be read in one sitting.

In Springdale Town Another thing I don't understand are people who read just one book at a time. On top of the stack in my bathroom, beside my bed are Sunset and Sawdust (the manuscript of the forthcoming Joe R. Lansdale), Live Without A Net (Lou Ander's acclaimed anthology of Internet-less futures), Fallout (a graphic novel about the making of the atom bomb), and Prince of Pleasure (David Saul's biography of George IV). Since I ride the bus several times a week, I carry books with me. In Springdale Town by Robert Freeman Wexler, All in Color For a Dime (classic book of comic book essays), and Baby in the Icebox and Other Stories by James M. Cain all grace my backpack. In my home office, I currently have about a half dozen books on the pulps for an article I'm writing. I can't remember the last time I was reading only one book at a time.

I think this is the norm for readers. Most serious book fans have at least one book for each room of the house, a book that they carry with them,4 and even different books for various times of the day or moods. Sometimes you feel like non-fiction, other times a mystery, science fiction, or even a comic book.

Heroes & Monsters: The Unofficial Companion To The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Occasionally, a customer will come into the bookstore where I work and decides to not buy anything because they have NOT READ EVERYTHING THEY HAVE. My response is always the same: "So?" I once figured out that if I stopped acquiring books today, I would never be able to read every page of every book I own. Collecting books can be a lot like collecting art. I have them to look at, to adorn my walls, to show off to friends. Some are beautiful or rare editions of titles that I love. A 1917 illustrated British edition of Princess of Mars found5 its way to my shelves. Does any one really think I'm going to read that particular edition? Hell, no. If I want to re-read Princess of Mars, I'll pick up some cheap paperback. But the 1917 edition sure is pretty.

You can never, ever have too many books. You might not have enough space. Or enough money. I might say I don't enough space for more books, but never that I have too many books. Books are the lifeblood of any intellectual, culture, and advanced society. The fact that there some people who don't have any books, or think they have too many are among the many signs of the continuing decline of society.

Perhaps there is some hope. Twice I've written about the Patriot Act and John Ashcroft's attempts to label us as Terrorists through what we read and buy. It now appears that after a long battle Ashcroft is on the defensive. Ashcroft recently went on tour to promote the Patriot Act and to "set the record straight."6 It's hard to argue with hundreds of illegal arrests and detainees, with an act that requires legal immigrants to "register," or one that can have you arrested for your reading preferences. "I think he's disappointed that there's growing concern across the country," said Nancy Talanian, a founder of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton, Mass. "Maybe we don't have more than 50 percent of the public with us, but it's growing rather quickly."7 There are currently five bills in Congress to overturn all or part of the Patriot Act. Now, if we could just convince the American people that the President lying about the reasons for war is an impeachable offenses.

'Course even without the Patriot Act, Ashcroft, or Bush, people probably still wouldn't read enough. There will still be houses without books, toilet tank lids adorned with only crocheted tissue covers, and those who think they have too many books. I'll never understand.

1 My sister once tried to tell me that she reads smut. I had to correct her. You see, she reads "trash." Smut is a term usually affectionately reserved for erotica, which can be of high quality.

2 Although I'm a sports fan, I never got into hockey. My brother-in-law, on the other hand, lives and breathes the Detroit Red Wings.

3 When I told James Owen about the 23 shitter, he had just taken a sip of his drink. There is nothing quite as funny as ginger ale coming out of grown man's nose.

4 A Golden Rule: If you carry a book, then you don't have time to read it, but if you don't, you'll have all the time in the world.

5 Actually my mother and aunt found it for me at a garage sale.

6 Ashcroft spokesman Mark Corallo speaking about the Patriot Act. Newsday, August 19, 2003.

7 Ibid.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (currently available from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. He continues to dream of a future with unlimited supply of books and people to read them. Catch Rick in Austin, TX on September 7, 5 PM (along with a special screening of Irving Klaw's cult classic Varietease) at Opal Divine's Freehouse and in Houston, TX on September 20, 4:30PM (with Joe R. Lansdale) at Murder By The Book as he reads and signs.

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