Friday, February 12, 2010

Court and Spark

Day 3 of the "What are you reading?" project.

Yesterday a physicist came into the bookstore looking for St. Thomas Aquinas. I love my job. He wanted to know where the science section was, too. "I'll take you!" I said. "Oddly enough, they are near each other, science and religion." It is not really that odd.

My boss, a self-declared atheist, may have done this on purpose, arranging the store.... No, I think not.

I paused during the ellipses to muse on "Darwinism," an essay by Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam. I had just finished reading The Barbaric Heart by Curtis White and somehow knew, based on things I'd read about it in the past, that it was time to read The Death of Adam, so I asked my boss, "Do we ever get The Death of Adam in here?" I knew we never got Mother Country, which is way too expensive for me, new.

He tilted his head. "I just brought in my copy from home yesterday," he said. "I realized I wasn't going to get around to reading it." So I got it for $5, plus my 20% discount. I love my job. Whenever we have a copy of Housekeeping, my boss presses it on the next sweet young woman who comes in asking for recommendations. (He does this with Gilead, too, his atheism not getting in the way of that recommendation.) This happens! People come in to browse, and who want to read a good book! Often, as with the physicist, this is when they are waiting for the train, as the Amtrak station is just across the tracks from us.

Back to the physicist. We chatted a bit about Richard Feynman, and then I left him to his happy browsing. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, I'd had the sudden insight of a sort rare to me that my interest in his reading habits might be misconstrued as...well, "court and spark." So I skedaddled out of there.

I will not go on and on about how stupid I am romantically, but I will say that I have engaged in many a conversation with a man, myself completely clueless about the possibilities sparking in him. Until too late. I will also say that back before Christmas a man came in to browse while waiting for the train to Texas, although he would be back after visiting his grown-up daughter, and I inquired as to his availability to date my recently divorced friend who was now ready to date. Courting and sparking on someone else's behalf! He handled it rather well. But he has not come back, and I may have scared him off used books forever.

OK, so the physicist did not find any Aquinas (just as I did not find St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, when I was looking for it a few years back; you can expect an entry about this interlude of my life sometime later; in additon to Dark Night of the Soul, I voraciously read any book I could find with the word "desire" in the title, plus a lot of Rumi), but he found two other books he wanted. I was not at the register at the time, and did not pry into his purchases, busy myself describing to a database a souvenir program of Walt Disney's Fantasia, published in 1945, but the conversation continued over the top of my computer, and I learned he was re-reading Crime and Punishment. RE-reading! Have I mentioned that I love my job?

But I stray. All this is to get around to what Sally is reading: Girls Like Us--Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. Sheila Weller is a writer for Vanity Fair, my guilty pleasure magazine. Sally says that those were the singers and the songs that got her through those crucial growing-up years! I have to confess that I came to them late, as I come to so many things, and that they are getting me through my midlife years! (Along with other great singer/songwriters, old and new. From Leonard Cohen to Eddi Reader to Lucinda Williams to The Weepies!) I remember when my high school English teacher said how much he loved the album Tapestry, by Carole King, and I had not heard of it, though I realize now I had heard all of the songs on the radio, and remembered most of the lyrics. How can I explain that somehow I grew up listening to showtunes and the Beatles? What journey was I taking? Why was I so out of sync with my own generation?

Is it because, as I realized later, I do not actually believe in linear time? Ah, but that is a question to pursue with the physicist.


Mike Peterson said...

Kathleen: the greatest conversations come about around books. I read something recently that made me quit my book club that said that there are two things that you shouldn't talk about: sex and books. However, I can't stop talking about books that I've been blown away by.
Usually I get blank stares. I don't work with a lot of readers. Perhaps I should quit my teaching job and get a job in a book store!

Kathleen said...

Yes, indeed, Mike! Thanks for commenting. And what could be better than sex and books?!

mike said...

Kathleen: nothing, of course. And all the pleasure of re-reading!

Mike Peterson