It’s a Man Thing

December 5, 2013

by Lou Borgenicht

So I rarely take an hour or two to sit down and read concertedly. My habits are sporadic and it takes me a long time to finish a book.

Every night I go to bed with the promise of reading at least a few pages of the book I currently say I am reading. I sit propped up for only five or ten minutes before the urge to hit the pillow overcomes me. I toss the throw pillow on the floor and go to sleep.

On my night table currently are the following unread books: In One Person, The Cat’s Table, Far From the Tree, Parisians, FDR and the Jews, Turn of Mind, The Human Stain, and The Last Manly Man (a paperback mystery mysteriously given to me by Dawn Houghton).

I just finished And the Show Went On (I have to read occasional books about France during the Nazi occupation–I think I had a previous life there as a French Jew). As I reached the last thirty pages I decided I would sit down in the middle of the afternoon and plough through the end in anticipation of opening my next book. I had already picked it out, The Devil in Silver.

Finally, the night before Thanksgiving I opened my new book at 10:00 p.m. and quickly read the first chapter before going to sleep. On Thanksgiving I lay down to take a nap but could not find the book. I looked under the bed and carefully checked the night table, but I could not find it. Could Jody have picked it up out of curiosity and not placed it back where it belonged?

I checked in the living room, my study, and the bathroom. No book.

I would have to wait until Jody got home.

Barely after she got in the door I confronted her.

“I have a mystery,” I said. “The book I was reading last night has disappeared.”

“What do you mean? What was the title?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. It is not unusual for me not to recall either the author of a book I am reading or the title.

Without taking her coat off she went into the bedroom. There behind my night table was The Devil in Silver.

“Where was it?” I asked sheepishly.

“Behind the night table,” she said with understandable incredulity. “And how can you not know the title of the book you are reading?”

I had no answer.


A Therapy Session of Sorts

May 22, 2013

by Louis Borgenicht

My trainer, whom I work with once a week, calls me a recreational overachiever. Initially I thought it was because it seemed to him that I simply did too much to avoid doing something constructive, but when I asked him what he meant, he suggested that with all of my recreational pursuits there was a common theme.

I play tennis twice a week, golf once or twice, fly fish, ride my road bike, and nap. His contention is that I am not at all competitive; I simply enjoy them. I do not need to win, never keep score in golf, enjoy the moment when I am fishing, don’t care if someone passes me on the bike, and wallow in the pleasure of a short nap.

All of which may explain why my reading suffers. So the other day I stopped in at The King’s English for a little therapy from Jan and Anne. I parked in the 15 minute slot across the street. I figured that I could only afford a short session rather than the de rigueur 50-minute therapeutic hour.

“I need some therapy,” I said making eye contact only with Anne. Jan and I have a long-standing sardonic relationship.

They both laughed though.

“I am currently reading a month old issue of The New Yorker and have a ten inch stack of the New York Times Magazine. Plus about fifty articles I have saved on my Mac, not to mention the book, People Who Eat Darkness, on my bed stand.”


“Well, I feel guilty about not devoting as much time to reading as I do to anything else,” I said.

Anne said, “Get rid of your New York TImes Magazines. Just toss them out.”

“But there might be really interesting articles in them,” I said, feeling a sense of expectation. I live my life through the phrase “but what if?” My glass is usually half full.

Jan simply watched the evolving conversation but I knew what she would have had to say.

The meter maid had not come by to to ticket me for overtime parking but I was getting nervous that my session was nearly over.

I knew that I would have a hard time tossing out something as august as the New York TImes Magazine.

I turned to both Anne and Jan and said, “I think I need to program my time better. You know maybe give up a golf game.” I knew I would not be able to do it.

Then Jan said, “Yeah, maybe you will have time to read Anna Karenina.”

I looked at my smart phone; my fifteen minutes was up. Thank god.

Nose for Books

February 12, 2013

by Louis Borgenicht

Back in the day paperbacks had a very definite smell. I was going to write “odor” but that connotes something noxious and “olfactory” is too technical. It was a smell, sometimes characteristic enough to encourage to buy the book on that basis alone. It did not last long; you had to read the book shortly after purchase to glean the full experience.

None of the unique smells are describable at least from the distance of fifty years, but each of them was distinctive. My favorite was Bantam paperbacks. At one point in the mid-seventies I had convinced the publisher that I had the (then) equivalent of a blog and that I reviewed books. Thus I would receive a box of newly published Bantam books and would open the box with literary expectation; it was redolent with my favorite paperback smell.

The books were a mix: fiction, non-fiction, self-help, The Best Jewish Jokes, etc. Receiving freshly minted Bantam paperbacks were one thing but their smell was another. I never really got high from sniffing, but the smell was always reassuring.

Ballantine Books, publishers of tales of adventure and escape (e.g. Paul Brickhill’s The Great Escape), also had a distinct but evanescent smell. It did not last that long. Penguin Books were odorless, perhaps because they were published in Britain back in the day. Crest paperbacks probably had a smell that I cannot recall.

Bantam was indubitably my favorite.

Nowadays books don’t smell. Sometimes they are hardly even books (see Kindle, Nook and Kobo).

IMAG0546Editor’s note: And for something completely different this Valentine’s Day…book-scented perfume! The perfect gift for the consummate book lover is from Steidl Publishers in Germany. Paper Passion: Perfume For Booklovers at $98 may be just the thing for the person who loves their e-reader but misses the smell of the written word! Perfect to pair with your new Kobo eReader.

Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith

May 31, 2012

by Barbara Hoagland

Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith

When Balthazar, aka, The Ghost of Antioch, escapes from the Judean jail of King Herod, he flees as quickly and stealthily as possible with his two companions. Exhausted they stop to rest in a stable in the town of Bethlehem where they encounter a young couple and their newborn child. While this all may be a familiar tale, never has it been told in quite this fashion. King Herod, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, plagues and supernatural occurrences all make their way through this most unusual telling of the birth of the Messiah. Grahame-Smith is more irreverent than profane in this always lively and entertaining take on the birth that changed the course of history. – Grand Central Publishing, $24.99


Evolution of a literary distraction

February 13, 2012

by Louis Borgenicht

Since the advent of the Internet my reading habits have dramatically changed.

Truth to tell I never learned the proper lessons from childhood: my mother was a voracious reader consuming several books in a day. As a youth I recall wallowing in Nancy Drew mysteries and the historical novels of Geoffrey Trease and would actually sit for lengths of time in bed before falling asleep.

Trease was a British writer of 113 books; the Nancy Drew mysteries were written by a variety of authors under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, a fact I recently learned from  Wikipedia. But the lessons learned in childhood did not last long; I rarely read for extended periods of time.

Readers of this blog have learned about my New Yorker angst, long ago making my peace with being behind.

Similarly, I have had problems with the Sunday New York Times. The drive to read it on the day it is tossed unceremoniously onto my snowless driveway is just not there. Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I would make a special effort to read the news of the week in Review immediately feeling I had to get the heady stuff out of the way first. If I waited until the end of the week to read it I would likely not.

Now I have become more lackadaisical. I glance at the front section, peruse the Arts section mainly to see if some spectacular television offering is coming up, and then relegate the business, sports, and travel section (unless there is an article on some destination we hope to visit) to the recycle bin. Living in SLC there is no urgency in getting through the Times at one sitting; years ago living in NYC there was a hip pleasure buying the Sunday Times on Saturday night along with fresh real bagels,
going to bed shortly after midnight, and awakening leisurely on Sunday morning knowing I had everything I needed.

The Internet has exacerbated my tendency to literary distraction. Emails were the first step. There are decisional issues: you read an email and have to decide whether to erase it immediately or retain it for future reference. This is particularly true if a friend sends you something with the subject “FYI or I thought you might like this.” You can open the attachment, give it a quick glance and file it somewhere for future reference.

That is the problem: future reference. It feeds into possibility and hope. Will I read it? If so when? Where will I find it if I finally decide to read it?

Unless you are incredibly disciplined you will forget about it, discovering days or months later when you accidentally open a file you did not know existed. The moment of truth arrives as your guilt wells: read it or delete it sight unseen.

This short-order reading has affected my dealing with real books. I rarely take the time to sit down for upwards of half an hour in a comfortable chair and just read. It would be lovely to do so, meditative even. But my brain has been programmed for distraction.

Even at night I am only able to read for five minutes before falling asleep. It is clearly the fault of the computer. I have often thought that Apple should give every new customer a prescription of Ritalin with each new computer to minimize attention deficit.

Only then might I get back to the good old days of my youth.

Reading What’s Banned

September 24, 2011

Editor’s note: As part of our recognition and celebration of Banned Books Week, September 24 – October 1, we present a guest post by author Dorothee Kocks. Kocks will appear at The King’s English, Saturday, October 1 at 4 p.m. Visit the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression website HERE and check out the Virtual Read-Out dedicated Youtube channel HERE.

By Dorothee E. Kocks

My novel, The Glass Harmonica, features an early 19th century bookseller who sells obscene books, and this surprised me. I come from a liberal family but a sexually modest one. What was I doing with a character who roamed the early American countryside, hawking risqué literature from the back of his carriage, including what would become the most banned book in U.S. history, Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure?

It’s a question particularly poignant this week, as librarians and booksellers celebrate Banned Books Week. A “virtual read-out” pushes the boundaries on YouTube of what is considered appropriate reading.

I got my answer from a reader recently. She wrote that the experience of immodesty, that brazen state of a woman’s rebellion against the prescribed life, was lost to her. But last year, “for the briefest few hours,” she got it back. When she did, she wrote, “I dazzled and was electrified. And then I was shamed, and shattered, and shuffled out of the room.”

There is something good about trying out what we’re told is wrong. Something brave. At the time of my book, the generation following the Revolution, people were figuring out what freedom meant. And one thing it meant was reading what your betters commanded that you avoid.

Henry Garland, a rebel son of Puritans, sells the top two bestsellers from his carriage: The Bible, and Noah Webster’s The Book of Spelling, a dry-sounding title that was a how-to manual for teaching yourself to read. The next hot-selling book seems to have
been a tie.

The Coquette, sometimes called the first American novel, told the story of a woman torn between an upright but boring preacher and a handsome Southern rake. She ends up pregnant, shunned, but sympathetically so – and the book swiftly is banned from the new public libraries.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece, despite the lofty title, concealed a ‘granny book’ or midwife’s manual –with illustrations, and explicit instructions on how to make a woman ready to conceive.

And then there was Fanny Hill. Now a classic of erotic literature, it follows an orphaned girl into the English urban sex trade – where she has a lot of fun. It could be called that generation’s The Joy of Sex.

Not all of these books were formally banned because the government hadn’t yet taken on that role – but they were certainly forbidden. From the pulpits, in the self-censorship of the newspapers which advertised Fanny Hill obliquely as “Memoirs of –”, people got the message: Don’t go there.

So they went. What is it about the forbidden that actually can drive us to be better people, even better citizens? Sometimes the content itself is liberating. But even more, it’s the experience of navigating that border territory where right and wrong are unclear. There, you find out what you yourself feel is right. Our forebears overthrew monarchies. They did not live as they were told to do. They invented a better way. And sometimes the first step is to do what is banned. Forbidden.

Freedom requires moral courage. And moral courage often arises out of the ashes of moral failure – out of shuffling shamefacedly out of the room, as happens to my characters. You have to be lost to be found.

Dorothee E. Kocks, PhD, is the author of and The Glass Harmonica, A Sensualist’s Tale (Rosa Mira Books, 2011). She welcomes invitations to book clubs via Skype (or via other technological wonders of our age).

New Yorkers Redux

August 24, 2011

By Louis Borgenicht

So several months ago I wrote a piece about New Yorker angst for the this blog. Several readers commented that I had hit the proverbial nail on the head. Nothing satisfies a writer more than hearing that.

But since then I have have come to realize that my relationship with The New Yorker is unrequited. The Webster’s definition of “unrequited” does not really fill the bill: not reciprocated or returned in kind. But it turns out I expect something in turn from The New Yorker. It is not a rational thought.

For whatever reason I expect that if I manage to read the magazine and “get it out of the way” I will be rewarded; I will assuredly be ahead of the game. But the next week there was another one in my mailbox.

There was a time when I thought it important to read New Yorkers in chronological sequence, a vestige of my Type A New York childhood. Now I have a vertical file stash of unread magazines (including The Atlantic and Vanity Fair) in my study and I simply grab one at random on my way out of the house curious to see what I have chosen for the day.

I feel naked without a magazine. You never know when you are going to have a spare minute while waiting for an oil change, in the checkout line at Whole Foods, before a meeting, even going golfing (the magazine fits neatly into a side pocket of my golf bag), if you arrive early for a lunch date. Just having an issue of The New Yorker on the passenger seat is eminently reassuring.

I finally got up the courage to publicly admit my dilemma with a post on Facebook today: I am sitting on 8 unread issues of The New Yorker.

Here are some of the responses:

“I bring them to my clinic and put them in the waiting room. I think it says something awful about a clinic when people in the waiting room have time to read an article in The New Yorker.”

“Usually use a telephone book. Can you reach the table? The magazines aren’t very thick these days. ”

“It is really hard to read them with your a%*!!!”

A partial solution to my dilemma is to grab a New Yorker, peruse the cartoons, scan the index, and read nothing in sequence. This approach takes the pressure off.

One intriguing take on the issue is to Google “unread New Yorkers.” I did it and discovered no one with my unique angst.

Hardly reassuring.