Rain and Reading

We’re having a regular summer deluge here in SoFLA. Sue Ten reports that the IntraCoastal Waterway has overflowed, but the fisherfolk are still in place, with their aluminum folding chairs and bare feet just ever so slightly under water, and the snapper still biting.

The pie shop is having busy morning. The lightning is keeping people off the range, so they come in to eat pie, instead, and they do admire our new step-stool bookshelves. I’m still stocking the shelves, carrying books down from the crawlspace where some of them have been stored for years.

When I was in the library trade, we had some basic rules for accepting book donations: If they’ve been stored in a basesment or garage, forget it. If they’ve been in an attic, maybe. If they’ve been on “living shelves,” go for it. Books do better when they have a lot of human contact, and that’s a big part of why I want to bring mine out and set them free.

I believe, very sincerely, that private ownership of books is counter-revolutionary, and books lose value when they are locked up. I always cringe a little when people show me their hordes of bookish treasure. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Books die if they aren’t handled and loved, and the best way to keep them healthy is to keep them moving.

Accordingly, this little collection in the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range will change pretty steadily as people find just the right thing to read, and as they take my books, they’ll bring me the ones they’ve been keeping under grow lights in their own back rooms. I’ve never worked in a library — or pie shop — where I didn’t come out ahead on this kind of proposal.

I’m starting, of course, with some of my favorite golf stories — The Legend of Bagger Vance, Golf in the Kingdom, and even Slim and None, as soon as I’m done reading it. Slim and None is a Dan Jenkins’ story, and although it’s not as much fun as Jenkins’ Baja Oklahoma, or as pithy as Semi-Tough, it does shine with that good old boy brand of humor. Taking that into consideration, I’ve got to wonder why I like it so much, but I do.

I rate Jenkins high as an entertaining writer, and I feel the same way about Peter Gent (North Dallas 40), and William Kinsella (whose Shoeless Joe later became Field of Dreams).

Personally, I find men to be the great mystery of life, and, although I do like chick-lit stories like Bridget Jones and the Shopaholic series, I have never especially enjoyed reading vaunted feminist writers. You see, I know how women think. That’s easy. But how men think? Now that is fascinating to me, and it’s certainly easier to read about them than to have to go through the painful process of trying to get them to explain in their own words how and why they’ve chosen a particular path or made a specific decision.

My research on this subject has gone on for years, as I have sought clues in spy novels and crime novels and fiction by James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, and John Grisham. I like trashy books about men, and I like well-written books about men. I’m not ashamed to admit it at all. Sea stories? Pirate tales? Bring them on. Maybe I’ll learn something new. Maybe I’ll solve the puzzle and find eternal happiness. I am, if nothing else, an optimist.

All that aside, I’m sure our bookshelves will have no shortage of golf titles, or cook books. Those, I’m sure, will show up on their own. Myself, I’m bringing in a lot of paperback copies of William Faulkner, too, since I consider him and Henry James to be our greatest American writers. I know a lot of the guys still think Ernie Hemingway is the best of the best, but really? Are they talking about his writing or his lifestyle? No, not for me. It’s the Deep South of Faulkner that talks to me, and carries me into the kitchen to bake sweet-potato pie.

I’ve always liked to read about the South, and not just for the food. And not just Faulkner, but Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, and so many others. They offer a combination of lushness and decay, not unlike the vegetation that once encroached the pie shop’s back door. You know, I think building the driving range was one of the best things I ever did, just to clear the vines and god damn night-blooming jasmine away from the back porch. I think it probably saved my life, or at least set me free, just the way that I like to set books free so they can breathe again.

Yes, the natural world is lovely, and all that, but these days I find the most intense beauty in the arc of the golf balls at night. As as soon as it stops raining, I’ll grab a book or two, and a big glass of lemonade, and head out to the back porch. Sparkle Junior is behind the counter serving pie, and if anyone wants to come out and practice, they can just hand me ten bucks for all the balls that they can hit.

No problem, no problem at all. I hope you’ll join me soon.