January 25, 2005

More of a Habit Than Using: The Beautiful Obsession of Paper Frigate

"I needed a book .... and for my sins they gave me one ..... when it was over I'd always want another."

One of the continuing pleasures of publishing on the web, is that you can, if you are lucky, encounter people who share your obsessions to a greater degree than you ever thought possible. It is always a relief to know that, no matter how obsessed with an area of life you may be, there is always somebody higher up the ladder. In that way, you can hope for a little warning when they start rolling up the network.

Like many who write for a living and for their own satisfaction, I've been a lifelong "constant reader." At times my credit card bill seems to confirm that the entire staff of Amazon must be on my personal payroll. Long Sunday shopping trips with my wife? No problem as long as the mall has a bookstore. Going somewhere where I might have to wait for more than 30 seconds? I've got two books in the backseat and a case of books in the trunk of my car.

I pour over the latest Levenger catalog like other men consume Sports Illustrated, Popular Science, and Outdoor Life. (I thirst for the Luxe Laplander, but it far too expensive an indulgence. I own two Flag Wallets [with refills] and I am manfully resisting The Annotation Station ), but I can feel my resolve fading.)

I compulsively check the "Where's My Stuff" page at Amazon, even though I've selected "Free Shipping" and I know the order won't even leave until next week. ( "Why? Why did you do that, when for just a few dollars more...." ) When the shipment does leave, I like to get the tracking number and watch it move towards my front door. I have done this so compulsively that one morning I refreshed the tracking page and saw "Delivered" just as my doorbell rang and there they were. Impressive or insane? You decide.

During my stint as a book editor for Houghton Mifflin, I edited, published, or repackaged and caused to be republished, over 150 books in four years. It was the best part of my career in publishing, too bad it wasn't really a living.

My personal library wraps around my office walls and stacks across the floor to ceiling window. It continues along the back wall in the garage on a large rack of shelves, and then occupies so many stacked and racked book boxes that my wife has taken to calling the garage, "Frightening." And this is after I downsized in Connecticut with a donation of 2,500 books to the Southport library some years back. (A moment that remains seared, seared!, into my soul to this day.) In a phrase, I'm an "obsessive-compulsive reader," the Monk of Bibliomania.

Until recently I'd only met one other person who was more afflicted than I was -- Mike Godwin of Godwin's Law. (Yes, that law, now a fully featured and amazingly retro web site to which I commend to your attention. ) But now, I have to confess that both Godwin and myself and other bibliofanatic wanna-be's need to step back in awe of the new Book Editor of American Digest, Pat Cummings. In Cummings, I have to admit I've met my match at last; this is a reader's reader with a burning down word jones that has no cure.

When Cummings agreed to review books for American Digest last month, I imagined that, from time to time, there'd be a good item for the page. I had no idea that there would be more items for the page than I could handle. In a way, it was like shopping for a tasty snack-cake and coming home with the cornucopia.

Not only can't I keep up with Cummings' reviewing here, I can't even keep up with the output at Paper Frigate where Cummings notes: "I read. Since the time I was called "Paperback Pat" in school, my life has been entwined with the books I'm reading. It's not that I read fast, as much as that I read ALL THE TIME."

Now many have made that claim, but the proof is in the posting. Here's a rundown on the eclectic selection of reviews at Paper Frigate in the last six days alone:

  • A Ken Burns documentary DVD: Horatio's Drive, America's First Road Trip: "All three cars drive the entire way in 1903; the Oldsmobile even goes the extra distance to dip its front wheels in the Atlantic (touting its trip as the "only true sea-to-sea transit of the United States")."
  • The Holy Grail of Python quoters: Monty Python's Flying Circus: All The Words: "Many of my best friends are lumberjacks and only a few of them are transvestites. "
  • Greg Bear's speculative Darwin's Radio -- A Dragon Sleeping in Our Genes: "Unaddressed in this novel, or the sequel, Darwin's Children, is the question of intelligent design. In fact, the second book seems to imply the opposite, that the "radio" telegraphing messages forward is merely genetic selection at the level of the individual gene. "
  • A tale of ballet and school:Susan Jane Gilman: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: "Susan Gilmore leads the kindergarten ballerina Mafia, going to school dressed in her tutu and tights despite the time it takes to use the toilet while wearing it."
  • An exploration to the dubious quality of public education --It's a Wonder More Teachers Don't Drink (or Write Blooper Books) "From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30."
  • A deep look at coal mining --Freese: Coal, A Human History -- We Work the Black Seam: "Freese has marshaled a number of intriguing facts to illustrate her story, but many of her more blatant claims are unsupported in her text. The result is a fascinating look at a mineral and an industry, seen through a window fouled with more than coal residue."

    And, just when you think you've got the range on these reviews:

  • Better Homes & Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes: "My favorites so far: Beer-Stewed Pork and Dumplings, and Argentina-Style Stew with pumpkin from the Soups & Stews section; Spicy Sloppy Joes (made with hot-style tomato juice), Slow Cooker Goulash, and Chicken with Artichokes and Olives from the meat entree sections, and Texas Two-Step Stew from the Five Ingredients section. But I haven't tried all the dinner recipes, and have not even begun to explore the Appetizers or Dessert recipes."

    An amazing level of output and range of interests for six days, but the fact is that this goes on week in and week out. Those of us who live to read will appreciate just what is going on here and stand, hat doffed, in awe.

    Who is Pat Cummings, constant reader? I asked for a short biographical statement:

    I am a Geological Engineer (Colorado School of Mines) who has worked underground on two continents, worked "on the local economy" in two foreign countries for more than three years, written letters to the editor in three different languages, taught technical classes in seven countries, raised children, learned to dance well enough to perform on-stage, lived in a tent, ghost-written and edited books as well as writing my own, and stayed married and in love 33 years (and counting); all while maintaining a life-long love affair with books. My personal library is well over 4000 volumes, some 200 of which I reread on a regular basis.
    I guess my next question would be: "Just what are the titles of those 200 books?"

    All of which puts me in mind of a few favorite titles of my own. Let's see....

    Nope. Not in here. Must be buried somewhere deep in the garage. I'd better take a bell, book, candle and a sandwich.

    Posted by Vanderleun at January 25, 2005 11:01 AM
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