When you hear the term “classic” in regards to literature, it conjures up the idea of a time-tested work of some kind of brilliance or another. Even if it turns out you don’t enjoy it, its likely the work will remain in your estimation a “classic”, just not one that will continue to hold up shelf space in your book domain. I’ve found that it is rare to read a classic and doubt the collective sense of the literary minds that elevated it to a notable status. But while reading Riders of the Purple Sage not only did I have that exact doubt, but I wondered every three pages if a book elf had somehow mistakenly stuffed a harlequin romance inside the jacket of this classic.
It’s safe to say that my expectations for classic fiction did not include either of the following passages:
“His great brown hands were skilled in a multiplicity of ways which a woman might have envied.”
“Jane slipped her hand down to the swinging gun sheaths and when she had locked her fingers around the huge cold handles of the guns she trembled as with a chilling ripple all over her body.”
Apart from the suggestive nature of all this handiwork, the whole story is held up by the thin thread of Jane’s stubbornness which flirts on the edge of outright dumbassery. How she continues to function under the strain of such profound cognitive dissonance is beyond comprehension. Not much else spares the story. The plot lines that are so tidy and convenient as to stagger your credulity. And when you aren’t trudging through a 30 page detailed description of so much purple sage, you are packing a 3 hour horse chase into a few paragraphs.
Having said all this, I read to the end and didn’t chuck it into the sage strewn landscape. For whatever its failings, Zane taps into some latent desire for a Richard Boone-esque fix-it-man to saunter over the horizon and put up with all our bullshit. And this is how I will consider Riders of the Purple Sage to have attained its estimation as a classic.
Riders has inspired in me a great work of parody song writing. The following should be sung to Riders on the Storm by The Doors.
Riders of the sage
Its mentioned every page
Into this sage we go
And marry us a ho
To vengeance we are sworn
Against the Mormon born
Riders of the Sage
There's a killer in the sage
He's hot with angry rage
His sister led away
She was Mormon prey
If you give this man a flirt
He'll let you touch his quirt
There's a killer in the sage.
Girl you gotta love your ride
Girl you gotta love your ride
Touch the gun strapped to his side
His killer instincts chide
Make him babysit
Be a hypocrite
Gotta love your ride
2018 was a flaming dog turd of a year. It could have been worse, there could have been fields of conflagratory poo, burning in vindictive glory. So I will be grateful for my lesser dose. I managed somehow to read a few books during intermissions in the shit show. But even better than getting a few good reads under my belt, was finding a few good book friends.
I joined a true crime book group which is comprised of a wild pack of super-literate women who can wax obsessively on every criminal endeavor ever to be conceived by mankind. I feel like joining this group was the door that opened when so many others had closed in my life.
I think its important for us to know that when ‘our best laid plans’ go awry, that there are other avenues for us to be connected to this world and the people in it. So In lieu of a formal resolution, I’m just going to remember this and forge on. As Tolstoy says “You’re alive – so live.” To live requires us both to know ourselves and to see others with compassion. What better way is there to plumb these depths of human understanding than to read. And so in 2019 I will read to live. Hurrah! (That last hurrah brought to you in the fields of Austerlitz as Prince Bolkonsky runs forth to the fallen banner and unknown deaths and glories.)
Currently reading: War and Peace
There are a lot of things I don’t understand. Like canned chicken. I always thought this was the court of last resort when it comes to meat products. I didn’t realize until recently that people actually used canned chicken for normal food preparation outside a bomb shelter or a zombie apocalypse situation. I also don’t understand people who wear blankets as coats. Okay wait, I understand the oversized wool shawl serving as a blanket coat. I do not understand the people wearing queen sized microfiber plushie bedspreads over their entire bodies in lieu of any comparable sleeve-having garment. And wearing them in such a way that they must cling to them for dear life instead of using their versatile pre-installed hand tools to do basic things like carry a purse, push a cart and pull something off a shelf. There is always something very beleaguered looking about these women too with their heads tucked inside their giant blanket babushkas. Like they are mourning the loss of both summer and their dignity.
Part of me reaches out with a little bit of my ability to empathize and wonders if they are having a really bad day or maybe feeling sick. Maybe under these circumstances leaving the house is an event that requires the security of a mobile blanket fort. But I’ve seen it with enough regularity now that I wonder if this isn’t some trend gone a-wonk. I wish that someone who has worn part of their linen closet outside the home could tell me so that I could understand this.
Of course I’m hardly one who can claim I don’t do inexplicable and poorly judged things. Like the other night I wisely chose to go for a run in the dark near an irrigation canal and slid partially into aforementioned canal when I was light blinded by checking the status of my run on my phone. But I think one of the most inexplicable choices I’ve made recently was watching the Netflix original movie El Camino Christmas.
This movie packs tropes like a deck of cards. It has it all. A small town dynamic where everyone is some kind of hard luck case. A single mom who escaped an abusive boyfriend, a combat shocked Vietnam veteran, bumbling local police, the first snow on Christmas in over 40 years and a little boy who learns to speak his first words over the miracle of Christmas which revolves around misunderstood hostage situation and a bloody shootout.
The whole thing watches like a want ad for Alcoholics Anonymous. The majority of the movie takes place in a liquor store and a full third of the cast are blatant alcoholics or have good reason to try to be one. And whoa unto to me the irony that I was drinking and wrapping Christmas presents while watching this movie. And not labeling anything because I was wrapping Chrismtas presents while drinking. But really the only reason I watched this movie is the same reason why we like warm blankets and tropes we’ve seen a thousand times. It feels comfortable, familiar and makes us nostalgic for simpler times. That is what anyone wants right? A regular, old fashioned Christmas. I’ll take my Old Fashioned with an extra shake of angostura and two cherries thank you.
My 20 pound amalgam of terrier and wind up toy has to wear the cone of shame for 10 days. I am guessing he will finally start to understand how to navigate his environment with this encumbrance by day 11. The chihuahua however learned very quickly to avoid this drunken dog spaceship at all costs. Especially since every time he lowers his head to sniff her tiny buttmuffin he scoops her up in the cone and when he lifts his head again, launches her sassy ass into the air.
This is the exact sort of thing people with one pet won’t ever get a chance to experience. They won’t ever get to see two cats give each other two or three sweet kisses before smacking the living hairballs out of one another. They won’t ever see a cat stare a dog into giving up his bed. They won’t ever see a cat jump 2 feet straight in the air when the dog squeaks out a sneaky fart. And they certainly will never see one dog refuse to sit on anything but another dog.
There are things that people with multiple pets usually miss out on. Like hair-free pants, being able to eat a tuna fished sandwich in the house, making it through a whole day without a mysterious crash, using the bathroom without an audience and yards you can step in with a carefree attitude. Many of us consider these sacrifices easy to make because every time we come home a horde of furry hobgoblins races to the door to let us know how irritating it that we ever left in the first place.
There is a certain joy in finding a signed copy of your favorite book. I am really convinced that when Kurt Vonnegut touched my copy of Bluebeard to sign his name he left behind quantum traces of himself. And if given the right set of circumstances and a particle accelerator I can Dr Frankenstein him back into existence. Of course, he will take one look at who we elected for president and down a bottle of ice nine he keeps in his pocket for emergencies. So maybe I’ll just let his leftover electrons stay on my shelf.
Some authors will go beyond their name and leave an inscription. These are usually reserved for people who are standing in front of them in eyes-a-glazed adoration. David Sedaris appears to be the reigning king of these personalized inscriptions. His inscriptions are promises to never stab you, remembrances from earlier in the parking lot and well wishes on beating your rape charge. Sometimes he even draws little pictures to accompany his inscriptions like crying snails and amputee teddy bears. There is even a #davidsedarissignedbook hash tag on instagram and twitter for curious cases.
Being a book person, I’ve seen all kinds of interesting things authors do to make your book extra special. But I’m pretty sure that today’s find is the best creator inscription I have ever seen. Now, this inscription could go one of two ways. If it was deliberately done, I want this guy to write my eulogy. If it was done with no awareness of implied irony, I might still want that eulogy. I saw this epic gem in a beautiful Christmas-themed child’s picture book. This is really important. This is a picture book FOR KIDS. The book was an illustrated version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl. If you don’t know this story, I’ll run it down for you…
The story centers around a precious Victorian street urchin who can’t sell her matchsticks and has no money to take home to her sonofabitch dad. Freezing, she lights up her unsold wares and has a dying wish of being warm and having a good old figgy puddin’ Christmas with ghost grandma. The next day people look a little sad as they step over her matchstick-strewn corpse but its okay because she finally got a good Christmas.
And this is the illustrator’s inscription:
No. Seriously, don’t do it. I mean obviously reading is the only hobby worth our time and people who read are basically the most interesting people in the world. But don’t do it. Don’t get a gift you want someone to like. Get them a gift they will actually like. And after you’ve bought your dad that dinosaur claw back scratcher and given your uncle his favorite tobacco flavored candy, then you can buy a book. You can buy any book you want and give it to them to accompany their soulless, non-book gifts. And in 6 months you can go back to their house, knock the light layer of dust off of it and take it. They won’t notice. Or you could bypass that waiting period and keep the book from the start. These are essentially equivalent scenarios.
If you are more devious you can begin a long campaign against they who shall not read. Collect unto yourself the worst of gifts. We are talking expired peanut brittle, gift certificates for proctological exams, past due electrical bills, pre-licked stamps from the 90s, sculptures made from cat hair and any article of clothing in chartreuse 6 sizes bigger than the recipient. After several years of receiving these gifts you are likely to receive your uninvitation to future reindeer games. (Other possible scenarios include an intervention and recommendations to psychologists in your area.) Ideally, family and friends who do not read will consider you unsuited to gift giving and allow you to pass on the whole deal. At this point you can spend all that precious gift-budget on stacks and stacks of delirious, page-turning joy.
Of course there is always something else to consider. If your non-book reading friends go out of their way to enter the heretofore unknown land of the bookstore and buy you a gift card, don’t give them a book. If they care enough about you to look past their own prejudices to buy you what you want, then suck it up and buy them something they will like.
It’s interesting how the books we love become an extension of our personality. The more invested our affections, the more tangible this connection. These appendages are suddenly at risk when someone looks at us boldly and says “I don’t like that book.” Or even worse, when they list a whole lot of reasons why they don’t. It is as if somehow this opinion cuts with some objective reality that fits all sizes. When it comes to taste, especially in reading, there are no objective truths. Just ones that serve our own experience and interests. But for a lot of people to say that you don’t like something they love is tantamount to rejection of that person.
It has taken me years to unravel myself from my own interests. I have felt that acute sting of the furrowed brow of dislike after I have spouted off in rabid fangirl style about something beloved. But I have come over time to see the tyranny this sort of thinking imposes on ourselves and our friends.
We pride ourselves on promoting the idea that we are all special and unique and have private gifts, unlike anyone else to offer the world. So it becomes a sort of paradox when we presume that one thing will satisfy everyone the same way. It would be nice if our best friend loved everything we did with exactly the same intensity that we do. But in reality our friendships prosper under the diversity of opinion, the same way our lives flourish when they are introduced to the variety of human experience through reading.
We are all to some degree aware that people are connected to their passions. So as a a consequence we find ourselves withholding so as not to cause hurt. We avoid sharing our interests to avoid feeling embarrassed by someone’s disapproval. And sometimes we even project our dislikes onto others as a retribution for others not approving of the things we love.
Its really just a projection of our own insecurities onto our relationships when we think that the books we love are an extension of ourselves and that a disinterest in those books is equivalent to disapproval of us. Tempering our opinions and moderating our language so as not to be offensive is a reasonable way to maintain the working structure of friendships. But pretending you like a book so as not to hurt someone’s feelings is a wedge of dishonesty that threatens to crack the whole structure. Over time the falseness of this arrangement exposes itself when you realize you know nothing about your friends because you have boxed them into your own expectations.
I want my friends to be free to love and hate books with equal enthusiasm and know that my feelings for them will not change. And I also would like the freedom to love and hate with abandon knowing that my candor is appreciated. I think for this to happen we need to take our first tenuous steps into honesty and not withhold our passions for fear of rejection or embarrassment. We have to remember that someone’s disinterest in our beloved things has no power over us. We have to always remind people that our love is constant even though we don’t always like the same things.
That being said, you may in fact reject this whole thing and not like it one bit because you firmly believe in the rule of some objective measurement of worth. And that this very notion of “many sizes” flies to the face of reason and is near to obscenity. That is okay. You can hate it. It tells me something about who you are. That truth is much more valuable to me than you agreeing with me.