Prelude part 1: Zanesville, Ohio, Spring 2011
May 19, 2012 Leave a comment
The Midwest has a certain squareness attributed to it. It is considered by popular perception to be an area of patriotic, sports-watching, jeans-wearing, church-attending, cook-out having, holiday house-decorating, tradition-keeping people: in essence, the birthplace of the normal, regular American citizen. Wisconsin has its distinct accent with that weird nasal ‘a’, Michigan has its cars, Kansas has its tornadoes, and Ohio is considered a place of comic relief in movies: it is the residence of nerdy cousins and obnoxious uncles, a place where whatever was cool (or not) ten years ago is cool now. Even Ohioans say that in some parts of Ohio people are known for wearing their white socks pulled all the way up. (To Ohio’s credit, this is deemed a faux pas by people within the state as well.) I am at liberty to say this because I am from Ohio. I don’t know the relative proportion of unsettling family members as compared with other states but I generally like what it has to offer.
I was on my way from the relatively cosmopolitan capital Columbus to my hometown of Zanesville to visit its used book store and to look for a new pair of pants at a discount clothing store. Coming from and going to any of the bigger metropolitan areas of Ohio is done so with almost without noticing – the cities suddenly present themselves along the highway and then quickly taper back off into countryside. Zanesville is an hour east of Columbus on Route 70, and you pass through only two noticeably populated regions – Columbus and Zanesville, the beginning and end points of the journey. There are a handful of gas stations and eateries set off the highway, but they have the feeling of being lawless, trade-only outposts. As you go through Zanesville, the highway does a light curve as you cut through the city’s almost exact geographic middle, which swings you across and out and briefly gives you an elevated view of a wide river and a classic Main Streeted-downtown. It’s over before you know it, and you are again driving across a boundless rural expanse.
But the drive southeast confounds the topographical unhipness of the Midwest. As you get further into the southeastern quadrant of the state, the glacier-induced flatness of the rest of Ohio gives way to plunging hills and precipitous river beds and the latticed gorges that adorn the sides of every highway. It is a surprisingly lush and refreshingly green place. The deep colors of the forests mix with seas of corn and soybeans and wheat. This part of Ohio, with Zanesville being one of its more populated areas, takes the Midwestern sense of propriety and augments it with good ole’ country-boy flare. It adheres to what is deemed ‘normal’ by other Midwesterners while pretending it is part of the South. Realistically, Zanesville has much more in common with hill people than with Dixie, as it sits at the confluence of the Licking and Muskingum rivers, in the earliest foothills of Appalachia. Students from the area are eligible for minority scholarships at some colleges, as Appalachia is noticeably underrepresented in higher education.
Zanesville is a city alternately maddening and comforting, homey and alien, glorious and chastening. Not inaccurate perceptions held by residents and passers-through alike peg it as ‘a nice place to raise a family,’ ‘a cultural vacuum,’ ‘singularly southeast-Ohioan’; it is the ‘big city’ to all of the rednecks from the tiny towns in its vicinity. It is a place that outsiders think can be assessed with a quick glance and few guesses while driving along any one of the many byways crisscrossing the city, and in many ways it can. But when faced with these snap judgments, I find myself either tirelessly or tiredly correcting these assumptions, especially because there is always within these appraisals a thinly-veiled suggestion that the town from which the challenger hails is superior to my own. I try to highlight the very interesting history of Zanesville that is so on its own terms, mentioning the incredible variety of people and enterprises that have called it home; the various well-earned superlatives that have come and gone throughout history; the many reasons that for a town of its size (and for one of any size, for that matter), Zanesville is a unique locale. Of course, while making this argument, perhaps because I am scrutinizing it to such a degree, I am also privately aware of its tacky pitfalls, those uncomfortable elements that nostalgia can make you overlook. The foremost affronts to my common decency are a comically, horrifyingly extensive stretch of fast food restaurants and shopping plazas, and innumerable (right-wing) denominations of American Church™. Sometimes Zanesville seems like a city whose primary source of enlightenment stems from the philosophical witticisms of clever church signs: “Prayer – wireless access to God with no roaming fee.” 
Standing as a grumpy bastion against these attitudes is Shanachie Books, Zanesville’s lone used book store. I went straight there from the highway. The store is also the owner’s home, and sometimes the operating hours are tailored to accommodate his life. It is on Linden Avenue near an old steel mill, on a street that has a number of other home-businesses. A sewing machine repair shop, an insurance broker, and an old-school ice cream counter are not far away. Linden Ave is a busy thoroughfare that cuts north to south parallel to Zanesville’s main drag; it is a way to navigate the city without having to deal with so many of its pesky stoplights. Houses on Linden open to a street decidedly not fit for children to play, or really for anyone to cross without being extremely cautious. I always thought it unfortunate that anyone would have to dodge cars to get to their own car, aware of the ease with which your door can be sheared off. Behind the houses that open to Linden are yards and alleys and parking lots that blend into a quiet residential street, so perhaps not all potential play area is lost.
Aside from the fact that Shanachie’s mere existence constitutes a sort of rebellion against the area’s resolutely wings, sports n’ God mentality, the store also flaunts the stricture that work is more often than not incompatible with your actual interests. It is owned and operated by a man named Nick, and he has turned his house, including every possible vertical inch and the numerous tables brought in for the overflow, into a repository of second-hand books. He is usually seated book in hand at a table in what would be otherwise be the living room, next to an old receipt pad and walled-in by a fort of books, a small-town Kurtz living among the objects that induced him to secede.
Nick looks up slightly guardedly before embarking on the perfunctory greeting when customers enter. New visitors are awed by the coziness and wonder where to start. Once you begin, you are fortunately not bothered by someone trailing you around and pestering you with solicitations; Nick is probably happy to remain reading downstairs.
It is an odd, voyeuristic sensation walking around in his house. One room upstairs has been understandably been kept clear of books and reserved for the amenities of a bedroom, and you try to tastefully avoid glancing in at his personal affairs. The creaking floors make you self-conscious of intruding and you can’t help but wonder if he is getting suspicious about why you are lingering for so long.
First, though, the visitor’s first sensation is to be quite impressed: people always note how lucky Nick is for being able to work in his well-kept store-home. Part of the appeal of the store is the notion that Nick did what many dreamers are scared to do, which is to simply “go for it.” He paid off the house, amassed a start-up of five thousand books, and, receiving advice that may not have had any bearing on his plans anyway, opened the shop. Complicated economic theory indicates that a varied stock is the key and so Nick was always on the move, paying visits to homes to purchase entire libraries and pawing through unmarked and unsorted boxes of books at flea markets. People leave donations unsolicited at his doorstop and he has purchased the remaining stock of similar ventures. Official literature on starting your own book store suggests that you have at least ten-thousand titles; Nick has three times that.
Shanachie Books has the obligatory cat – book store owners tend to be cat people – and he also has a handsome garden in the back of his house that is bursting with all manner of edible flora. A basket near the front door is full of cookies, and his house has the smell of healthy home-cooking common to those who quietly buck the system by doing their own thing. There is a lot of recycled furniture and a number of tastefully organized milk crates functioning as shelves.
Being an unassuming business lends itself to strange visitors. It used to be a weekly occurrence that someone would stumble in claiming to have run out of gas just down the street, and in order to get home was forced to humbly entreat Nick to please buy this $50 chain for just $10, c’mon, just $10 man! It got to the point where Nick could preempt a pitch by stating that he didn’t want to buy a chain, stunning the seller who didn’t understand how he knew what was for sale. Another get-rich-quick scheme particular to booksellers, whether on a busy street or not, is attempted by people who come across a book that is a century old and swear that because of its age it has to be valuable. More often than not – much more often than not, Nick explained – aside from the book’s mildew-laden or generally decrepit condition, the antique books most people find in their house were disposable even when they were initially published. That is to say, unless it is a first edition of a respected work or some sort of special reprint, antiquity does not automatically translate to liquidity. Eager sellers are indignant when something that looks and smells old does not award them the quick cash they were hoping for; better luck may be had hawking random chains.
Knowing customer tastes is the governing principle in business, which explains the humorously extensive romance section in Shanachie Books (and almost all used book stores, for that matter). The primarily pink and red spines with titles in delicate cursive create a wall resembling a physical manifestation of Valentine’s Day. The sheer number of titles is overwhelming. Even on the two walls, and I find it difficult to imagine that a historian of the genre would be able to completely document of all the titles and their respective publishers. 9,089 out of 832,253 new titles published in 2009 were romance novels. Book sales in 2009 were 10.274 billion dollars; romance fiction took the largest share of the consumer market with $1.36 billion (13.2 percent of the total), beating other market categories such as mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and inspirational.
A quick note of interest and clarification: ‘Harlequin’ is the name of a Canadian publishing house that has become interchangeable with the romance genre as a whole, like how the similarly weepy Kleenex-brand tissue is interchangeable with tissues in general (ie ‘to read a harlequin novel’ can mean ‘to read a romance novel’, which could be a Harlequin© publication but not necessarily). It’s important to note, however, that Harlequin the company publishes no less than one-hundred twenty titles per month under numerous sub-categories, including, in complete seriousness, “Harlequin NASCAR” and “Harlequin presents: Pregnant Mistresses.”
The number of science-fiction titles inspires similarly involuntary goggling. Scads of yellow-spined titles beckon, almost-complete series spanning over seventy-five installments, begging to be completed. I can see someone buying as many as they can and tracking the rest down elsewhere simply for the joy of the pursuit. This is a quest that could be sustained for a long time. I imagine that it is comforting to have the complete chronicles of a hero’s life, as if knowing the ins and outs of all of their adventures makes for a more intimate friendship.
I thumbed through a copy of James Michener’s Iberia looking for passages featuring the small towns in Spain where I used to live. Nick and I had discussed only moments before how in his estimation Michener’s books are so packed with information that they all start at the beginning of time:
“A guy tells me he is reading Hawaii – I’ve never read it but I have read some of his other books. I said ‘Let me guess, it starts with a volcano at the bottom of the sea.’ The guy laughed and asked how I knew, and I just said, ‘Well…’”
Discussing Zanesville and not mentioning its contribution to world literature is a crime punishable by the confiscation of one’s library: Zane Grey – “the man – and the phenomenon” grew up in this city. Despite what those hip to the wild western canon might think, Zanesville is not named after the famed author, nor is the reverse true. Well, technically the latter may be as Grey’s great-grandfather was the noted explorer and settler Colonel Ebenezer Zane, for which Zanesville really is named, but I digress.
There is a museum for him appropriately on the outskirts of Zanesville; although a view from the museum includes a highway, it is at least somewhat removed from the city. It shares a space with a museum celebrating historic Route 40, one of the most important arteries to Grey’s west.
Grey was an earthy renaissance man and his life could have gone any number of ways. Before he was a fulltime writer (his first attempt was derided by his father as “scribbling nonsense”) he went to college on a baseball scholarship and then had a dental practice. After the usual ups and downs with publishing, he was eventually able to write full time. He wrote at least ninety-six books and innumerable essays, and the cache of writings discovered after his death had enough material to continue publishing his works at their regular intervals for fourteen years. (The expanse of Grey’s novels displayed on shelves gives romance and sci-fi a run for their money.) He is estimated to have written between five and nine million words, sometimes at a pace of one hundred thousand per month. He had nine world records in fishing, and between 1915 and 1924 his books were on the best seller list nine times. There is a Liberty Ship named after him, and his nonfiction abilities – including a narrative biography of George Washington that was written mostly without research due his having memorized most of what was needed – were assessed with praise equal to that of his novels, which were noted to contain “splendid description, insightful narration, frequent humor, surprising vitality, pungent wit, and provocative philosophy.”
Of course, his works were also widely derided as being nothing more than copies of the dime novels he devoured when he was young, that the characters and adventures are identical, that the writing is as pedestrian as you’d expect from someone who has written close to one hundred novels. The lessons learned through his books are repetitive and jingoistic, providing predictably and unobjectionably moral guidance during a time considered by cranky seniors to be bereft of any real moral clarity (though this has been said of any time period ever). There was violence and terror and suspense but that was a given for stories set in the Wild West. Sex was downplayed enough to be recognizable only through oblique hints aside from the numerous scenes where two people share a passionate kiss. But this is almost universally unobjectionable, as a triumphant kiss is the most appropriate and widely-recognized way to cap off an adventure.
Derivative or not, his writing was a way to pursue the same life he lived as a boy: what more could be asked than for adventure and rough and tumble outdoorsiness and a canonization of those whose daily lives were full of it, often to the point of peril? He wrote books that gave adventurous young boys the clearance to be so. And as a bonus, these lessons were also taught through the stories of real-life heroes from American history.
Despite his astounding success – he became one of the first millionaire novelists and over one hundred films were made based on fifty of his novels, starring actors such as Gary Cooper and Shirley Temple – his achievements didn’t manifest themselves in a profound show of celebrity. His wealth simply meant that he could pursue his wholly consuming and lifelong interests; he shied away from publicity and continued to live full time as a fisher, hunter, explorer, writer, and inveterate philanderer. They were the joys specific to any red-blooded Man, relatively humble rewards to ask of life; not privileges of celebrity but the rightful occupation of a man who knows his appetites are larger than life.
Purchasing done and notes in order, I finally bid Nick and the store goodbye, continuing the conversation in the front room, pausing to continue talking on the porch, the sidewalk, and at the tree lawn before I crossed the street to get into my car. I had a few errands to run: I still needed some new pants and I wanted to visit my friend. Neither of them worked out the way I wanted – no satisfactory pants were found and my friend was asleep – so I went back to my parents’ house to relax. They were out of town and so I just hung out for a while, basking in the absolute sense of comfort and peace that I associate with my parents and the house in which I grew up.
My pseudo-journalistic inclinations were made to feel more professional by my interrogation of Nick. This, I decided, was the life – if I could somehow turn this into reality, if I could somehow be assigned these sorts of tasks as my livelihood (with any payment being incidental to my actual pleasure), what more could I want? I was ready to go. The next stop of the bibliophiliacal plundering of my country would Kent, Ohio, to visit my grandma.
Book Acquisitions, Zanesville, Ohio:
The first book purchased on the trip is the 2006 novel Gone, another stoically- and monosyllabically-titled entry into the thriller genre by perennial crime fiction author Jonathan Kellerman. His academic credentials and years of practice as a psychologist seem to give his voice a dose of legitimacy, in the same way that the novels of a former police officer or a former criminal prosecutor/current ultra-shrill “news” anchor might be presumed to benefit from their authors’ respective experience. Before his fiction, Kellerman authored the heavy duty non-fiction tomes Psychological Aspects of Childhood Cancer and Helping the Fearful Child. Elements of psychological insight are peppered throughout the books in an amount sufficient to give credibility to the reader’s perception of Delaware as a psychologist, and in the presumed academic parlance the average reader would imagine criminal psychologists to use.
Kellerman is known for his unending stream of murder mysteries (one, sometimes two per year) as told through the eyes of the not un-Kellermanesque detective Alex Delaware, who is similar to the author not just in appearance and presumed mannerisms but who is also likewise a psychologist dabbling in the world of gumshoery.
In this novel (which fortunately bears a much better title than cringe-inducing appellation of the first Kellerman book I read – Bad Love) two acting students, one of whom is bears the noteworthy and inspiring name Dylan, are found in the mountains of Malibu and claim that they were brutalized by some sadistic abductor. It is revealed that their abduction is a hoax, but it turns out that one of the two actually does get murdered. “A host of eerily identical killings” occur, and it is up to Delaware and best friend/grizzled gay cop Milo Sturgis to figure out what “bizarre and brutal epidemic is infecting the city with terror, madness, and sudden, twisted death.”
With some background information helpful but not necessary, the series can be picked up at any installment and be enjoyed as a standalone mystery or as introduction into the larger world of Alex Delaware. The effect is similar to that of TV shows like ‘CSI,’ ‘Bones,’ or ‘Law and Order,’ and the mindset used to watch a rerun or read a Kellerman novel is essentially the same: they are comfortable, mildly suspenseful, and totally escapist. You don’t talk about them like they are groundbreaking intellectual triumphs – you simply like them because you know what to expect. It’s not the aim of this project to explain why violence that would otherwise turn the average person’s stomach is available for consumption in grocery store magazine racks. The hold violence has on society (or not) is something far outside my capacity to convey concisely (if at all), so consider this explanation by John M. Reilly in the monster encyclopedia Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers:
“The account of a crime in, say, a newspaper article contrives to establish raw fear of criminal violence. In other words the conventions of reportage function to diminish the distance between readers and the threat of actuality. In contrast, mystery fiction thrills rather than threatens, because such motifs as the perversity of human invention when bent to violence, or the evident similarity of motives shared among likely suspects and the guilty, are contained within a design of plot in which we are always sensitive to the author’s hand. Theme, event, character – all these affirm the literary form rather than reconstruct reality. Crime and mystery literature, thus, displaces the subject of violence with patterns of story-telling that, even in tales of mean streets, work against our receiving them as direct commentary on real life.”
Violent stories may seem less so because they are not considered close to reality, but even so, perhaps because of his actual experience as a psychologist, Kellerman’s books are noted for being relatively free of the deliberately ghastly, oftentimes exaggeratedly violent crimes that characterize other best-selling suspense fiction. Occasionally gory and “twisted” scenarios arise out of necessity, but given the author’s own admitted intolerance of violence, the brutality of the crimes is kept somewhat in check as to not seem overly sensationalized. Similarly, though crimes against children are a necessary component of detective fiction (and unfortunately not an unfair topic due to the fact that crimes against children do occur in real life), he doesn’t exploit his knowledge as a child psychologist to give his books that much more of a seedy edge or to create villains with a blatant aura of perversion.
Not that his books are milquetoast, PG-rated accounts of crime, but they are kind of uncool. The books are narrated not with a show of gritty street slang or romantic criminality but with the avuncular next-door neighborliness of a good family doctor. It’s exactly the tone that a professional and not oversexed bachelor would adopt. Coupled with or because of the unthreatening language, dialogue that has the obligation of capturing the tough, sexy, manipulative, and/or vindictive voices of the cretins that populate the novels come across as, in the instance of street-smart toughs in a bar, clipped bursts of thought longer than would seem normal, like the distillation of an hour-long story into one remarkable and story-advancing paragraph. Or, more simply, a not-tough guy is trying to write really tough characters. The book also features priceless lines like (and these were found at random):
“I passed out. Maybe I’ve got a concussion.”
“Your head was stationary and if you had a rudimentary knowledge of neuropsych you’d know that severe concussions result most often from two objects in motion colliding.”
“You into fishing?”
“I’m into eating.”
“Virtually the same, huh? said Marcia Peaty. “More like twins than cousins.”
“Cousins can be real different.”
Obviously the storytelling is sometimes unintentionally amusing. Is it silly or is it the best language to convey the average person’s experience? The reader’s answer to this is directly proportional to the measure of sophistication and ingenuity assumed to be inherent in the books: it is up to the reader to decide if it is relatable and therefore successful.
Further questions are raised: are books like Kellerman’s dispensable tales for the beach, as more “sophisticated” readers would have it? Are they actually sociological packets rife with commentary on authoritarianism, poverty, sexuality, and violence? Is the prerequisite for the success of crime fiction a “public sympathy for law and order and the creation of official police,” and is a boot-licking reliance on authority thus maintained by the assumed dependence on authority to protect us, as furthered by novels of this sort? Or are books such as Kellerman’s, and those of many other million-selling thriller writers, simply entertainment whose stories contain only incidental socio-political commentary?
Answer how you will, but the real question to be doggedly pursued is, ‘do beaches require Kellermanian “light” reading to maximize relaxation, or is the act of reading on a beach something that should be relaxing in its own right, regardless of the book?’ I don’t know, and it for all intents and purposes of this trip, it is irrelevant: whether guilty pleasures to some or legitimate entertainment to others I pass no judgment, as I operate under the rightfully simple credo that a good library is a varied library.
And speaking of Gone’s use of neologisms to both lambast and admit a resignation to the influence of culture (…), we come to a seminal twentieth century novel by Witold Gombrowicz. “To irritate, Gombrowicz seems to say, is to conquer,” says Susan Sontag in her introduction to the Polish classic Ferdydurke. The extent of the conquering done through irritation is up for debate – thanks to the books’ complex, playful, and somewhat obnoxious twists and turns the book has inspired much controversy both politically and critically, and has been equally panned for this reason as well.
It is well-known that the author put an irreverent thumb to the nose at the eternally snooty cliquishness that is the writers’ circle’s pomposity, the posturing of all artists, and the arbitrariness of culture: one theme of the novel is a disjointed celebration of what is called ‘immaturity.’ It is not an immaturity of solely the childish kind (although this would certainly be celebrated as well), but a kind of self-aware flaunting of the established rules of art and society. However, this immaturity is counterbalanced by the “groan of the impossibility of such a postulate.”
The book certainly reads with derisive, playful abandon, like someone mocking experimental poetry by writing a poem chock full of haphazard line breaks and odd punctuation or attempting to mock modern art by gluing a bunch of junk together and splattering it with paint, yet nonetheless still holds some hope of success because he or she had done so with enough of the pretentious madness required to produce such works.
The book revolves around protagonist Joey’s return to adolescence thanks to the wiles of a Professor Pimko. He is placed back into a school yard where he is subject to various childish mockeries, games, and derisions (ie a funny-face battle) and as such has no choice but to become “immature” again himself. Couched in this is a lesson about “the nature of mechanisms that create one’s image and emerge from human interactions,” as Elwira Grossman notes, translating to a critique of any sort of social influence and thus socialized behavior.
I came across this book thanks to a fleeting mention in the pleasant but essentially unremarkable The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka – a Biographical Essay by Louis Begley. The book was mentioned in conjunction with Kafka’s The Castle and Amerika – Begley states that Kafka brought his Josef K. and Karl Rossman as far as he could but abandoned them prematurely; Gombrowicz didn’t know how to finish Ferdydurke until it was suggested to him that he end it with a “piece of doggerel” like a Polish fairytale: “Gombrowicz did just that, drawing on a Polish nobleman’s inexhaustible reserve of arrogance and sangfroid. The doggerel is almost untranslatable, but a reasonable English approximation runs as follows: ‘Basta and pop! Whoever has read this is a sop!’”
I pursued the book based on the context of this mention and the intriguingly-named author, the book was pursued. The edition I acquired was the most recent translation by Danuta Borchardt, and much has been said of the expertise and accuracy of her translation, inasmuch as the playful language of the original can be translated. The original Polish of Ferdydurke is brimming with linguistic tomfoolery and any translation not accurately full of the same wordplay falls woefully short of the experience Gombrowicz intended. Unfortunately I am completely ignorant of Polish and so cannot appreciate or vouch for how well the linguistic are transmitted to English, but it is sufficient to say that critics and scholars seem to be in unanimous praise of Borchardt’s accomplishment (and all the more so because the previous English translation was itself translated from versions of Ferdydurke in Spanish and French).
In any language, the linguistic playfulness also reads like a vague political critique. The deliberately untranslated/untranslateable Polish ‘pupa’ (approximately ‘bum, backside’) is thrown around like a revolutionary’s buzzword – it is the narrator’s attempt to codify all mockery of the mores, psychoanalyses, etc. into a term that can be used both by and for both sides of the struggle as Gombrowicz sees it: it is used as an expression by the narrator an immaturity he relishes and as he sees it as something the others look upon in derision; this ‘pupa’ holds him back and thus liberates him.
An amateur scholar by the name of Christopher notes in an online discussion of the novel that “a novel about the debilitating influence of convention could hardly be conventional; it is idiosyncratic to the point of an obsession.” Granted, but is this always a worthwhile approach? Ferdydurke is one of those novels whose love-it-or-hate-it personality is an integral part of its being; many readers give up in frustration sixty pages in while others tout the enlightening rewards of soldiering on. The reader has to ask herself – do I need to read something so maddening to realize that ‘normal’ conventions are themselves maddening parodies of what life can actually be?
Gombrowicz fled Poland to Argentina as a correspondent on a pleasure cruise hours before it fell to the Nazis – he arrives, Poland falls, and he wasn’t able to return to Europe for twenty-four years. He lived in relative obscurity and penury in South America until his novels were rediscovered and subsequently re-banned in Poland in the years following World War II.
The novel was naturally banned by both Nazi and Communist authorities doubtlessly because anything beyond the comprehension of mindless government thugs is considered subversive: I am imagining a frustrated fanatical censor feeling that the book is mocking his intelligence, and as a revenge for confusing him he deems the author an enemy of the state. More truthfully it was banned by the communists because Gombrowicz was the son of a rich landowner.
I personally can take only so much of this manner of critique. I appreciate the sentiment but am completely annoyed by the novel. Is that the point? Is the book done in a “new and revolutionary form” and is it really, as one critic notes hyperbolically, “a fundamental discovery”? Is the existence of the book, readable or not, a challenge to Culture in and of itself, despite or perhaps because of its unreadability?
A strange book I found on Shanachie’s porch was Diary of a Pigeon Watcher by Doris Schwerin. The name is intriguing enough and it delivers exactly what it implies using the not uncommon yet poetic conceit of having the activities of a family of pigeons throughout the changing seasons frame and function as a metaphor for the unpredictability of life. It was in a brittle cardboard box of $1.00 hardbacks on the porch. One edge of the book had been out in the sun for an untold amount of days and the edges of the paper were covered with the grimy fleculi of the outdoors; it was also book-musty to an almost asthmatic degree. In a weird way, the physical characteristics seemed to be a fitting match to the content in that while the both the contents and the condition of my copy aren’t totally unbearable, there is still something off-putting about them. In terms of content, I imagine that the culprit primarily responsible for my dislike is the extremely over-the-top “Look, I’m a writer!” language that comprises about half of the narrative; it reads like every moment of the author’s life is experienced in the throes of the utmost passion, where every single event is declared urgent with a romantic’s gushing exhortations. Granted, the author worked in the theater and the book discusses Schwerin’s bout with breast cancer and the difficulties of being the lone Jewish/atheist family in her pre-50’s New England neighborhood so I’m by no means saying that those situations don’t warrant their share of orotundity, but still, it’s a little distracting: would it be too much to say that I can begin to understand why the book is somewhat forgotten? Still though, it’s worth checking out due to the concept and title alone, as well as for the insight it gives into the life of an upper-class New York woman in the 1970s.
Lastly, we come to The Horsemen of the Esophagus, a delightful piece of pop-anthropology by Jason Fagone that explores the spectacle that is competitive eating. Full of alternately and concordantly likeable and outright bizarre personalities (“I’ve tried lion,” one eater says, “I’ll try anything.”) and a tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) appreciation of what they are actually doing, the book appears to make the case that anything approached with such devotion can be a worthwhile pursuit. The book presents the facts; the reader decides whether to laugh or be disgusted. Is the eating contest phenomenon a sign that the end of enlightened society has finally arrived or is it a harmless, endearing example of the vagaries of human behavior? Either way, the behind-the-scenes look at this sport wildly entertaining: the book is a much-appreciated find and will be devoured quickly.
 The program on which I am typing this underlined Zanesville as a misspelled word; one of the corrections it suggested is ‘Uncivilized.’
 For a much more extensive and dare I say extremely entertaining write-up of Zanesville, please see Appendix 2 for my transparent homage to Gay Talese, “Zanesville is a City of Things Unnoticed.”
 Sometimes these signs are unintentionally sketchy: “Jesus came to rub it out, not rub it in”(!) Maybe the good intentions of the sign’s author rendered him or her unable to catch the obvious masturbation joke. This sign was left intact for at least a couple of weeks.
 It’s difficult to assess where I stand in relation to my Zanesvillian roots, as my vacillating introduction indicates. Technically, I was born in Brownsville, Texas so I suppose I could claim some sort of spiritual-geographic affinity to that city too. Where I was little, there was a kid that swore he remembered being born – maybe he would have a more meaningful connection to his birthplace but I can’t claim that ability and so don’t automatically pat myself on the back for happening to have grown up there.
 This is IMPORTANT – if you’ve been ignoring these footnotes thus far, at least read this one. Although these reports may sound like a piece of fluff or at worst a fawning guidebook, the important thing to note is that in no way are any of the discussions of the business contained herein any sort of endorsement. Even if I like a place and/or its proprietor, due to my unwavering stance against advertisements – no recommendations, disses, or thumbs up/down are given or implied.
 Lamentably or hilariously, the South Zanesville branch of the Muskingum County Library system is almost completely made up of romance novels and detective fiction; not even the classics one would expect to suddenly appear in the library as it is being built (though perhaps classics of the traditional canon are replaced by classics of the two genres that are included). Also abundant are Christian versions of the same, the amount of which I would never have guessed to be so large. The Muskingum County Library System as a whole, though, is an incredible institution, part of why Ohio gets its official reputation as the state with the best libraries.
 According to R.R. Bowker’s Books In Print.
 According to the Romance Writers of America’s 2009 ROMstat Report.
 Though this could be its own thing as well, using the more obscure character from which both entities French passion plays. Hellequin, a black-faced emissary of the devil, is said to have roamed the countryside with a group of demons chasing the damned souls of evil people to Hell.” – Wikipedia.
 When I was about eleven, I got a copy of a book from a friend that whose cover was mutants and humans engaged in a shoot-out; I was excited for the rambunctiousness within and was stunned, even with my deep love of explosions and the sound of a good machine gun, by the startling violence and baroque weirdness contained within. The book featured, and these are just the highlights I can remember, a mutant clone of Elvis, Nazi thugs and a production of “Springtime for Hitler,” shootouts to the nth degree, popping eyes and flying limbs, and a ludicrous description of oral sex that has stood out in my mind for at least fifteen years, noticeably tacky even to a twelve year old: “his tongue darted in and out of her vagina like a hummingbird at a feeder,” or something to that effect. In essence, it is completely ridiculous and complete trash, and I’ve been trying to find out its title or the series to which it belongs ever since I lost it shortly after I got it. I ransacked every room in my house in an attempt to find it and have questioned numerous staff members at stores with large sci-fi collections if any of those plot points sounded familiar. So far, nothing. Will I find it on one of these trips? Will I ever find it again? Stay tuned…
 Check out Arthur G. Kimball’s chapter “Sagebrush Sex” from his study Ace of Hearts: the Westerns of Zane Grey, where he pantingly discusses how “Joan’s (a character in Grey’s The Border Legion) repeated ‘thrills’ prove the chief subversive in this tale of desire, suggesting that the savage life has an ambiguous character; they underscore the erotic and appealing nature of the psychic drama enacted – or projected – on the Idaho frontier. In the first of the book’s overtly suggestive passages, Joan reacts to her captor’s broad belt below his hip and the holster with a heavy gun: ‘That was a strange place to carry a gun, Joan thought. It looked awkward to her. When he walked it might swing round and bump against his leg. And he certainly would have to put it some other place when he rode.’”
 Much can be said of his take on Westward expansion and manifest destiny: a number of his books feature as a prominent character Lewis Wetzel, a notoriously brutal and unrepentant ‘Indian hunter.’ Grey at times also exhibited an uncommonly sympathetic and honest understanding regarding the plight of the indigenous people.
 Their garden is an approximation of paradise, and that is where I want my ashes scattered if I die. I also want a handful of my ashes thrown into the face of my high-school enemy, surprise-attack style.
 The only reason his orientation is pointed out here is because readers of the series seem always to note this element as particular to Kellerman’s novels, but in reality, a fictional gay detective is nothing out of the ordinary. “350 gay and bi sleuths appeared in novels, plays, and films over [a] fifty-two year period,” according to Drewey Wayne Gunn’s The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film, but it may be of interest to note that Milo Sturgis was the first openly gay police detective to appear on TV, as he did in 1986 in NBC’s adaptation of Kellerman’s first novel When the Bough Breaks.
 “He was born into a family of landed Polish nobles of mediocre means and no historical distinction. However, connections by marriage to richer and more aristocratic aunts, uncles and cousins gave Witold, whose moods swung from contempt for his caste to arrogant pride, a lifelong sense of unassailable social standing. His father supplemented the income from his property with earnings derived from industrial activities and directorships. Until he died in 1935, there was enough money for Witold not to need to work for a living, although, to please the father, he studied law and held for a few years the post of an assistant to a prosecuting judge.” – from a Washington Post review of a collection of Gombrowicz’s stories called Bacacay, by the aforementioned Louis Begley. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6300-2004Dec16.html
 I’m not saying this sarcastically – I appreciate any sort of day-in-the-life account.