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.