I was sat in Starbucks last night, thinking of tax, and people watching.
I had time to kill before meeting up with my wife outside the Apple shop to assist her in the attempted resurrection of her seemingly deceased phone.
Sat to my left were four Asian men, perhaps holding a business meeting or family conference. To my right was an amorous, touchy-feely couple, possibly Latin American. Surrounded by unfamiliar languages, in the safe knowledge that they would hold no distractions, I pulled out the cheap second hand book I had just picked up from Paramount.
I do love those second hand book shops, a lot more than Waterstones. The books smell dusty, show signs of being loved and caressed by strangers hands. Some have notes scribbled inside which you try to decipher and imagine probable cause.
When I’m out and about and see other people reading, I am filled with an abiding curiosity to know what they are reading. I try to steal sly, surreptitious glances at the covers. I get tempted to ask, but I am wary of other people’s boundaries and hate to initiate small talk.
I began to read my book, unfamiliar tongues dancing around me and circling my Americano. After only around ten minutes I became aware that one of the Asian guys, middle aged and not discreet, kept sending curious glances my way. Was he weighing me up, wondering why I would be sitting alone and radiating silence? Perhaps he was gauging how much coffee I had left-maybe there was another, fifth member to arrive and he wanted my seat? Surely he wasn’t trying to decipher the text on my book cover?
To my right, love’s young dream continued oblivious.
Then, after a studious few minutes, the man asked me:
“What are you reading?”
There-he just came out and asked the very question that was so often on my lips but had never escaped. And it would have to be when I was holding a book like this-when I had only just started and there were no easy answers.
There may even be the problems of a language barrier.
I could just give the title and the author-Nog, by Rudolph Wurlitzer. But that might come across as a bit curt, a little cold. There was the quote at the top of the book, by Thomas Pynchon:
The Novel of Bullshit is dead.
No, I wasn’t going to risk that misunderstanding. I turned to the blurb on the back,
In Wurlitzer’s hypnotic voice, Nog tells the tale of a man adrift through the American West, armed with nothing more than his own three pencil-thin memories and an octopus in a bathysphere.
An octopus in a bathysphere.
Maybe the other two quotes on the back would help?
Jack Newfield, Village Voice:
Nog is to literature what Dylan is to lyrics.
Or what about good, dependable, Newsweek:
Somewhere between Psychedelic Superman and Samuel Beckett.
He held my gaze as I thought it over. I took another gulp of coffee.
I befall similar urges when I come across people reading! I mostly don’t want to interrupt them and too often it appears to be some sequel to the ’50 shades of grey’ series. I’m not sure I’d ever want to cross that line in the realms of small talk!
I used to work in a second hand book shop so I’m also familiar with all the smells and peculiar pencil scribbles in old books. I actually have a small section of my bedroom wall dedicated to the odd pieces of paper I found in the books which is mostly made up of shopping lists and ‘to-do’ notes.
This was a very sweet blog post!
Reblogged this on Dolphin.
Thank you 🙂
Fifty Shades of Grey-yes best steer clear of that one 🙂
What a great collage you have going there-the random scribblings that have found a home on your wall. I dream of having a second hand book shop by the sea-coffee on the go and an easy chair or two.
One of the other temptations I have is when I see people asleep on the bus. I want to wake them to see of they have missed their stop, but I couldn’t handle the disappointment if they haven’t 🙂
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You and your fast-food restaurant connections. I have got to stop going through the drive-thru! And yes, I go through the Starbucks drive-thru! I’m glad you had that connection. Sometimes I have asked people what they were reading. When I began my graduate program, I could tell who the other students in my program were (before meeting them) by the books they read on the plane. Usually, they were the only ones reading novels for children and young adults. 🙂
Breaking down boundaries and genres 🙂
People really are inspiring. Sometimes in a peculiar kind of way.