Friday, August 29, 2008

Five Great Ways to Stare at Books

I love to stare at books. I don't know if anyone out there shares this obsession, but I want to come clean about it. I stare at books, not to judge them by their covers (although I am quite guilty of and good at that), but to soak them in and relish them. Below are the five most common ways I stare at books. If you stare at books in other ways, please comment below so I may learn some new techniques.

1. Gazing at Books on Home Bookshelves
This style of staring at books stems from my own prehistory. I believe that I began this activity before I started crawling. I love to spend time gazing at books on the shelves where I live. I look for patterns in color and texture and size and type and title. I like to get an overall gestalt of what the collection means and also I like to focus in on single books. If someone asks where a book is, I can search my memory and picture the book and find it with ease. Whether the book belongs to me, family or roommates matters not. If the book is kept in a bookshelf in a common area, I know where it is.

2. Judging Covers by their Books
Whenever I am in a new house. I gravitate to the bookshelves. I can learn a lot about a person by the books they display. I can tell if they bought the books for college classes, and whether they have any real, continued interest in the subjects. I can tell if people are actual readers and whether it is for work or general knowledge or pleasure or guilty pleasure. I can tell if people like to go to yard sales [see below]. I can tell if a friend's new boyfriend or girlfriend is worth their time. I can usually guess the conversational depth that I am going to reach with somebody. I can also usually discern whether a person has a lot to teach me. I like to ask people questions about their books.

3. Eyeing my own Books
Up until recently, a lot of my books were in storage. The minute I got them on the shelf, I felt more complete. I felt like my own learning accumulation continuum could start again. I love to take my books down and start reading them. I will stare at books on the shelf and then take some down and leave them in different rooms and in bags where I might discover them at the appropriate times. I like to see books that I want to read stacked up on a table while I do other work. There is a sense of possibilities that build in me and gain momentum. There is also a sense of identification with the knowledge and stories and authors that makes me feel like I am on to something good - - attached to auctoritas of here and now and the whole body of human wisdom.

4. Ogling Books at the Bookstore
I love bookstores, notably Powells in Portland, OR, Blackwell in Oxford, UK , MacIntyre & Moore in Cambridge (although I really miss their Davis Sq., Somerville, MA, store) and the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA (especially the basement). Really any bookstore will do, but especially those with used books. Used books are free of current marketing and release buzz and help me focus on the content and the look and the smell and the feel of the book itself, the words themselves, the ideas alone. It's not the shopping that I enjoy so much as the staring. Staring at books in stores helps me envision where I would like my thinking to go and whom I would like to be. Whenever I travel, I often would rather go to local bookstores than see the sites. Book-seeing as opposed to site-seeing.

5. Scouting Books at Yard Sales
Call it what you will, the yard sale, jumble sale, rummage sale, tag sale, flea market experience is one of the most pure delights in book watching. Any true lover of books is a a treasure hunter at heart looking for the hidden jewels of culture, knowledge, wisdom and narrative. A yard sale puts a performative spin on this activity of the mind. At a yard sale - I can look for and find books I never knew I was seeking. Then I can buy them without worrying about the price. It's brilliant.

The one semi-infallible truth of looking at books at yard sales in the USA is that you are bound to see a copy of Trinity by Leon Uris. That is why there are currently 147 copies available from Amazon starting at $.01. It sounds silly, but it is a thread that can tie together all your yard sale book-watching and show a greater pattern at work in the universe. Someday I might actually buy that book and read it. For now, it is just an elementally important part of the science and sport of staring at books.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

7 Going on 6 Seasons for a 3 Season Porch

We've had this three season porch for about 7 seasons and this is the first time I have ever sat in it and done anything. Granted, if I subtract the two winters I am only left with five possible seasons in which I could have been working, reading, writing, reflecting, talking or just chilling.

But, up until today our porch has been filled to the brim with junk: many boxes, broken chairs, wooden shoe lasts, a fender twin, a giant wooden easel, a ceiling lamp fixture, ice skates, a cedar chest, canvas stretchers, and an American flag with an empty bottle of Vidalia onion sauce for a stand, just to name a few things.

This porch has been a mess for as long as we have lived here. In fact, this porch was a mess before we ever moved in. I distinctly remember spending hours cleaning the porch first. Why I did that I will never be able to explain adequately. Sometimes when there is a big project such as cleaning an whole apartment I space out and spend too much effort on some meaningless aspect of the project. In this case I got the porch nice and clean so that I could use it for storage. I am wondering if maybe my detailer's remorse regarding this has kept me from finishing the job of making it habitable until today?

One explanation is that the basement was full of other people's junk and the landlord just had someone haul out the 7 extra washers and dryers that were having their own nostalgias and cleaner's remorse. I am sure there is nothing worse for a machine built to clean than to be an agent of filth. Once those were gone, something in my brain clicked and I had a real vision for relaxing and writing on my three season porch. Now, there is still skateboard with camouflage grip tape and some PA speakers still keeping me company.

Another explanation is that last night I read this amazing interview with Derek Sivers from CDBaby that I found on Tim Ferriss' blog. They made me realize that my tendency previously to clean the porch before the house is something that plagues all aspects of life and business. We all have an amazing ability to misplace time and effort. The interview taught me that if I pick the one or two things each day that would make me feel as if I had accomplished something and start with those things, I will get a lot more actual work done and feel better about it.

Somehow, writing and researching SEO copywriting and social networking marketing techniques wasn't cutting it for me today. I was really just staring at the screen. Then I looked over and saw the porch and realized there is just enough summer left to really say that I only went 6 seasons without using our porch. That would be accomplishment. And heck, thought I, maybe if I was to do the porch first, my mind will open up to doing some writing anyway . . .

I always say to myself that I like the flowers of late summer better than those of spring and early summer. Well, today I and our porch bloomed.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Hotel-Style turkey was on sale for 99 cents/lb. at Johnny's Foodmaster. Yes, I know I live in an apartment, but why not add some Hotel-Style class to the day. When I brought it home, Amy Clay started shouting "Hotel-Style, Hotel-Style, bring me some Hotel-Style!" and galloping around the house and slapping herself on the thigh like she was riding her own horse.

Apparently, Hotel-Style is when they keep the wing attached to the breast. I am not sure if that is how hotels would serve it, or if it is because hotels have wings attached to an atrium, or if it is just kind of hotel-ish to add some kind bonus to your turkey. Maybe Hotel-Style turkey is the culinary equivalent of getting free soap. The only problem is I have never seen Amy Clay galloping around shouting "Free Soap, yeeehaaaw!" so I am not sure that is a good explanation at all.

So I improvised a brine out of mango nectar, rice vinegar, salt and fresh basil from my buddy's garden. I bathed it overnight and roasted it on the hottest afternoon so far this year. I probably should have smoked it on the grill. The little pop out jobby decided not to work, and lacking a meat thermometer, I had to guess when it was done. Perhaps Hotel-Style has something to do with making one think there's an easy solution when really one is left to guesswork. As in Hotel-Style furniture assembly, always a breeze.

Or perhaps Hotel-Style is just some term to get you to try something new or buy into some different idea or concept . . . like blogging. So here I am, about to eat a Hotel-Style turkey and serving up a brand new Hotel-Style blog. Ard Marks . . . smells good.