Of the Gutenberg Bible and other things

I was supposed to attend a book club meeting this week. My thriller, MESSAGE FROM PANAMA, had been scheduled as the topic. The date has been postponed until July, a welcome relief as I’ve never spoken before a book club and have absolutely no idea what I’ll be asked, what I’ll say, and if I’ll throw up beforehand.

Book clubs always seem to read “important” works that have gold foil stickers on the front cover proclaiming some highly sought after but little known award.  My book was a finalist in two mystery competitions but I have that in very small type on the back cover. While I’m glad MESSAGE was a finalist, it certainly can’t compete with gold foil.

Then there’s the matter of the cover.  “Notable” books always seem to have covers that are elegant, smooth, and evocative of “deep meaning.” Often they’re a luscious cream color and include lovely pastel paintings. My cover, alas, is none of the above. Even so, I like it. I like its rowdy colors, for one thing. I like the way the Panama hat is different from most, having an elongated brim that gives it a sleek modern look. I like the girl. Actually, I like all the elements. But the fact that they please me doesn’t mean the book resembles anything more than a gauche first cousin of the “important” books it sits beside on the shelf.

Of course, that’s assuming readers of “notable” books would want to place them next to each other. After all, something undesirable might rub off.

I think it takes great courage for a book club to talk about a mystery/thriller. Probably most of the members have exalted degrees in English, with impressive resumes that include working at highbrow places like the Library of Congress or, for those who speak fluent French – all of them, I imagine — the Sorbonne.  I visualize the interiors of their houses as altars to the very best books mankind has ever produced.  Possibly, some of them have glass cases displaying a version of the Gutenberg Bible.  For sure, the air is carefully climate-controlled to prevent moisture and other bad ‘uns from gaining a toe-hold.

My own library, I’m afraid, would be thought a pitiful waste of space by these august persons. My books are all crammed together wherever space will allow. Periodically, they have to be moved around and set in the sun to keep the moisture at bay. We fight a rear-guard action against this, as we live in the Panama mountains where there’s no need for either heat or air-conditioning but there is a ferocious humidity level. Some of my favorite books have the dreaded black spots that signal the onset of the book version of bubonic plague.

If you were to look closely at my library, you’d notice one curious characteristic of many of my paperbacks, and even a hardback here or there. This is the kind of wrinkling that paper suffers after it’s been wet and subsequently dried. Many years ago, when newspapers were still something tangible, I discovered the joys of reading in the shower. I only read the editorials as there were two pages of them and thus no need to unfold and refold to other pages. To display the paper so I could read it hands-free, I used a coat-hangar hooked on top of the shower, then clothespins to secure the paper to the hangar and more clothespins on the bottom to anchor it against steam.

After a few years, I decided the editorials were intruding on the peacefulness of my shower and replaced them with pulp fiction.  Unfortunately, unlike the editorials, I realized the books had to be held in one hand and the pages had to be turned by the other. Because I’m a voracious reader, a large number of very wrinkly books soon appeared on my shelves. If you look at them from a certain angle, you really can’t tell there’s anything wrong with them, although they do seem to list to one side a bit.  But when they’re out getting a sunbath, their wrinkles can give you vertigo.

In my later years, I grew tired of juggllng books and shampoo and washrags and all the rest, but the damage had already been done.  My library had lost any pretense of elegance and erudition. My books wouldn’t even qualify for flea-market status.

Well there. I just realized I started this post commenting on the book club and now I’ve wound up telling you my deepest, darkest secret of bookdom.

I wonder if anyone from the club will read this.  I wonder if I’ll be welcome in spite of it. I wonder if I’ll still throw up.

So many imponderables.  And yet so much time — at least until July — to ponder them.

Righto. I think I’ll take the dog for a walk.

~~ Jane Vasarhelyi

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2 thoughts on “Of the Gutenberg Bible and other things

  1. Um, you must be speaking before a very different kind of book club than the one I belong to. We’re into books we enjoy reading. Especially mysteries. And if there are any “exalted” degrees in English in the group, it’s never been mentioned. Heck, skip that group and visit us. We’d love to hear more about the wrinkly books.

    • Well, I have to say my comments about the club are based on what they’re currently reading and a chat with a single member who impressed me as being rather exalted. I have to admit to using a bit of creative license and trying to have some fun with the post.

      The wrinklies, however, needed no embroidering. They are what they are.


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