Friday, February 5, 2010

Judging a book by its cover

A little while ago, in the grocery store, I got in line behind an elderly man. He was kind of sweet looking, with oversized glasses and a careworn face. "Oh, a grandfather," I thought to myself, smiling slightly at him. Then grandpa let 'er rip.
"Young people have just gone to hell these days," he told the stoic-faced clerk. "I can't go anywhere without getting angry."
He continued in that vein for a good five minutes. He hated this thing, this other thing was terrible, and he couldn't believe how awful everything else was. At first I was surprised. Then I felt sorry for him. Finally, I really just wanted him to shut the hell up.
Compare that story to this one: A few nights after that, coming home from work, I was stopping off at Arby's. (Ok, yes, you caught me. I eat at Arby's. I know - I feel bad about it because I like cows. But those junior sandwiches are so dang tasty!) Anyway, the parking lot was very dark, and there weren't many cars. As I was pulling in, a car sped in behind me and pulled up a few spaces away. Two guys got out - big guys. They had a little bit of a swagger to their walk, and while I'm no wimp, I thought, "Why ask for trouble?" and hesitated a second, pretending to goof around with my car door so they could walk ahead and go in first. It was freezing out, (of course - it is Michigan, after all) and as I moved closer to the entrance, one of the big guys turned around. Even though I still had quite a bit of distance to cover, he waited - holding the door open for me and letting me go in ahead of him. "Thank you!" I said, honestly surprised and pleased.
He just smiled. "You're welcome," he said.
Yep, you guessed it. In both cases, I'd labeled these two books by their covers. And I realized later that not only was I doing it in life, I was doing it in literature, too.
I've been in a rut - reading the same type of fiction over and over, simply because I'd told myself at some point in time I didn't read "that type of book."
Romances? Ugh. No way. Non-fiction. Booooring. I just read mysteries, thank you very much. By my favorite authors. I knew their style, and I liked it. I just, um, hoped they could write fast enough, because I really like to read.
So I decided it was time to branch out. I chose a paranormal romance by Heather Graham called "Ghostwalk." It was great. Then I found out she's a prolific author who has written literally dozens more books. Non-fiction? I played it safe with the well-known "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell. Excellent - and far funnier than I thought it would be. It actually made me want to read Julia Child's memoir. Emboldened by experience, I even decided to try a "dog book," long against my principles because something bad ALWAYS happens to the dog and leaves me horribly depressed. But I picked up a copy of Jon Katz' "Dog Days" and God bless him, right there, after the dedication, he stuck in a page saying, in part: "To my readers: No dogs die in this book." Love that!!
I'm embarrassed it's taken me this long to branch out. Oh, I still love mysteries - heck, I just WROTE one. But there are shelves and shelves of great reading material got there - it would be a shame to judge all those titles before I even read the first page.


  1. Last weekend I yelled at couple who left their grocery cart beside my driver's side door. I get so ticked off when people don't return their carts. I'm going to use that scene in a book/screenplay one day.

  2. I belong to a book club. That helps me, a mystery reader and writer, get out of my comfort zone and jump into experiences that I would have missed otherwise. Take Pope Joan, for instance. I love that book.

  3. I had an editor once who used to keep this little notebook in his pocket, and every time he saw something interesting or heard something memorable, he'd scribble a little note to himself. At the time, I used to do a double-take, but I've been thinking recently that's a really good idea. There's so many fleeting little moments that you can miss. . .