Perspective on Distance

Thirty miles can be pretty close or pretty far, depending.  This time it was pretty far.  I know the Post Office has been having trouble, but when the tracking number on the package said it was “being held by customer request” (wrong) at a Post Office thirty-plus miles away, I had to wonder.  I still remember when zip codes were made mandatory for mail.  They would give the Post Office a more precise set of coordinates to get to your house or apartment.  The funny thing is they’ve been vastly outdone by other delivery services.  Amazon makes mistakes too (they recently delivered something I’d ordered for myself to my mother—thankfully it wasn’t too embarrassing), but less often.  It would seem that if you pay someone to bring you something, they should be able to manage a bit closer than thirty miles.

I went to the website where delivery instructions was an editable field.  In it the PO had helpfully written “DI not available for this delivery.”  If you want it, you have to drive over sixty miles round trip to get it.  Only during office hours.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve always been a supporter of the Post Office.  They generally get things to you—it’s pretty remarkable.  (Junk mail inevitably arrives, of course.)  I even used to collect stamps.  I’m still reluctant to not save one or two that catch my fancy.  But thirty miles?  You’d lose at both hand-grenades and horseshoes with that kind of accuracy.  When I called they offered to put it back in the system, but that would add several days to the delivery schedule.  Who’s to say that it might not end up even more than thirty miles afield?

If it were an atomic bomb, or a volcano, thirty miles would hardly seem far enough.  It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose.  So it is with most things in life.  Nine hours isn’t long if you’re engaged in a task you really enjoy.  In fact, the forty-eight hours of the weekend go by so fast that you’re left wondering where they went.  If you take nine hours and put them toward a dull and tedious task, however, they stretch to monstrous proportions.  Science tells us that the amount of lapsed time—or space—is the same.  It’s just our perception that changes.  In the larger scheme of things thirty miles in the middle of the day can take only a couple hours, with traffic.  From that perspective it’s better than a nine-hour drive to the original shipping location.  It’s all in how you look at it.

It depends on your perspective

Bookshop

I still remember when I first heard of Amazon.  It was getting on in my years at Nashotah House and one of my students, a former university faculty member that I’d know prior to his decision to attend seminary, mentioned that’s where he ordered books.  I used the internet with caution in those days and I still ordered books by mail directly from publishers.  My library grew slowly back then, in part because faculty pay wasn’t exactly competitive.  Amazon quickly grew to the point that it became a household word, and, like Google, became an internet giant.  Publishers have felt the pressure from Amazon’s bargaining power and, arguably, its market dominance led to the downfall of Borders.  Despite my love of independent bookshops, I do miss Borders still.

I don’t have a similar, singular memory about Bookshop.org.  It may very well be because I found out about it online and studies have shown that online learning is less effective than the old fashioned way.  We put up with it because it’s convenient and we can cram more stuff in that way.  It’s all about getting more.  In any case, I do recall that I was impressed with what Bookshop was doing.  At a recent seminar I learned it was even better than I’d previously heard.  The organization supports independent bookstores so that when things become more normal again they’ll still be there.  The book industry is a rather strange one, and it operates a little differently than many others.  Places like Bookshop really do help when one vendor becomes too dominant.

Reading widely is a form of education, and the key, it seems to me, is to get books people find interesting to them.  I stopped by a local independent on a recent Saturday to find it quite full.  The weather was good, of course, and lots of people were out and about.  Still, nothing is quite as encouraging as finding a bookstore doing good business.  When that happens it’s clear society is improving itself.  I’m trying to make a habit of stopping by Bookshop before the default of ordering on Amazon.  Amazon clearly has the logistics of delivery down to a science, but the world is a less rich place for not having physical bookstores in it.  Making one’s name synonymous with the product on offer is a sign of success, at least on the business side.  Balance, however, is important too.  And that’s where the Bookshop story has to fit.


Al’s Rhythm

Algorithms.  Who can understand them?  I’ve been having some trouble with searches lately.  Not on the internet in general, but on specific websites (including this one).  While Sects and Violence in the Ancient World isn’t a particularly media-heavy site, I find it difficult to find images by searching.  For some reason, even when I put the title of the image in the WordPress search bar, it doesn’t always come up with the answer.  Well, given the time of morning I suppose I might’ve misspelled something.  Then I went to Amazon.  I’ve been working on my author page and wanted to update something.  I tried typing the distinctive title of my most recent book (Nightmares with the Bible—it is apparently the only actual book with that title [and titles can’t be copyrighted, in case you’re interested]) and found that it didn’t show up on the first three pages.  They were filled with books with other titles.  Algorithms.

Now granted not a lot of people seek the book on Amazon (I’m a realist), but if you type an exact, and unique title in the search bar and it doesn’t come up, isn’t something wrong with your algorithm?  (By the way, algorithm is one of the many words English borrows from Arabic.  It’s named after a ninth-century mathematician, al-Khwārizmī.  You could do worse than to have something so useful named after you!)  I’m not so naive as to think Amazon isn’t thinking to throw better selling books at you first—if you’re like others you’ll buy those before you’d consider shelling out a Franklin for mine.  But still, isn’t searching made easier when what you enter is what you want to find?

The internet’s primarily about selling you stuff.  Some of us look up sites for information or entertainment, but then someone tries to sell you something.  (I’m not trying to sell you my book here, by the way—it’s not priced for individuals, or even mortals—I’m not even putting a link to it on Amazon here.)  I’m just wondering why, if you tell websites exactly what you’re looking for they can’t find it.  You have to wonder if we’ve reached the level of too much stuff.  There’s a lot of sorting to be done and new webpages are added every day.  Even though I’ve been writing here a dozen years now, there are far older blogs and many more newer ones.  Finding things is an important exercise, and maybe if we sit down with al-Khwārizmī for a while, we’ll be able to figure something out.

Image credit: Gregor Reisch via Wikimedia Commons

The Price of Independence

Recently I was updating my Amazon author page.  Since this is purely a self-promotional place (my books aren’t exactly priced to move) I try to approach it with a sense of humor.  I need to be in the mood to write funny, and some followers of this blog often mistake what I’m doing when I try it here.  (Satire and irony, at least to me, have quite a bit of inherent humor.)  In any case, the trick with Amazon author pages—or any internet sites really—is being an “independent scholar.”  To both the academy and to educated laity, that moniker suggests you’ve somehow failed to impress the academic establishment.  No institution wants to claim you, and why should anyone listen to someone who “blows their own horn”?  If you sell enough books you’ll gain some credibility, but at these prices?

Still, I try.  The marketers and publicists I know all talk about building a platform (“shares” and “likes” help).  Platforms require a lot of planks.  One plank I recently learned about was JSTOR (a not-quite acronym for Journal Storage).  Well, I’ve actually known about JSTOR for decades but only recently have been able to use it.  JSTOR scans and indexes academic journals.  While that may not be exciting to the average layperson, for academics (and independent scholars), this is a great tool.  Prior to JSTOR you had to spend hours plowing through various indexes to learn what had been published on a certain topic.  Then you had to go into the stacks and look the material up.  And probably end up photocopying it.  JSTOR makes all of that obsolete with a few keystrokes.  The problem was you could only get in with your university’s subscription.

I stand and applaud JSTOR because they have now made it possible for independent scholars (we are a growing demographic!) to access 100 free articles a month.  Even though “independent scholar” often means you have a nine-to-five with no sabbaticals, that’s quite a lot of articles you can now access.  While I think this is a great move, I do wonder if it’s part of the writing on the wall for higher education.  Around the world universities (except those well endowed, or supported by federal funds) are having trouble staying solvent.  Knowledge is free on the web, until you run into that paywall at internet speed.  Well, at least for now we have JSTOR and access to otherwise inaccessible journal articles.  But that’ll have to wait until after work.  And after I update my Amazon author profile.


Dirty Books

Dirty books annoy me.  Not that kind of dirty book, but books that arrive dirty.  If a book is expensive, particularly an academic book, I look for a used copy.  Since we’re in a pandemic, and also since the books I read tend to be outré, shall we say, getting them in the local second-hand place generally doesn’t work.  Sellers of used books online have to rate them.  Acceptable, poor, fair, good, very good—the scale is somewhat arbitrary.  I don’t like books with writing in them; I don’t want somebody else telling me what’s important.  I think I can find a topic sentence, thank you very much.  Lately I’ve gone down to the level of good with my online buying.  (Have you looked at the prices?!)  When you add that “very” to “good” sticker shock sets in.  Okay, so the books arrive well loved, I expect that.  But dirty?

I used to sell used books on Amazon.  I never sold many, but I always tried to be sure they were dusted off before putting them in the envelope.  I never put a cup of coffee on them.  Nor used them as a plate.  Some people apparently do, though.  I had one book arrive so filthy that I took the 409 to it.  Thing is, it cleaned up nicely.  Is it too much to expect that someone selling used books might go ahead and get some of the gunk off before sending it?  It’s not exactly Antiques Roadshow patina, after all.  It’s someone else’s slovenliness.  Who knows—might not a quick wipe-down improve the profitability by enhancing the condition of the book?

Library builders like yours truly want to afford the best editions that we can.  Books are more than mere objects gathering dust on the shelves—they’re individuals that we get to know.  Those that we meet but don’t really care for we pass along, hopefully to loving homes.  The way someone treats books reveals quite a bit about a person.  Accidents happen, of course.  A hazard of reading a lot may lead to the occasional spilled coffee or dropped bit of food, but treating books with respect not only increases their resale potential, it’s also an acknowledgement of the accomplishment.  Writing a book involves a considerable amount of work.  And although your property is yours to treat as you please, books are particularly vulnerable to damage by water, mice, or neglect.  Add fire, food, or extended exposure to sunlight and you get a sense of their fragility.  Acknowledging the effort a book takes to produce can go a long way towards making sure no book is dirty.  That, and a quick wipe-off before shoving it in the envelope.

Neat as a pin.


Ship Shop

I support the US Post Office.  As someone who still prefers print to electronic, having something actually delivered remains a thrill.  I have to confess, however, that electronic bills are much more convenient.  In any case, with Trump’s war on the mail (he seemed to hate everything), and lack of interest in the Covid-19 pandemic, shipping has been slowed down considerably.  People stayed at home and had Christmas shipped this past year, and, combined with the idiotic cuts to the Post Office budget, things were (and continue to be) delayed.  In this extended season of shipping I’ve had two packages that tracking services have told me had been delivered but, in reality, weren’t.  At least they weren’t delivered to me when the tracking indicated they were.  Of course, package thieves do exist.  I suspect that, if stolen, my items raised an eyebrow or two.

Most recently I had a notice of a Saturday afternoon delivery.  Said item wasn’t there when I checked my mailbox about half-an-hour later.  Someone could’ve idled on by and taken it in that time, I suppose, because the USPS said it was “in or near the mailbox.”  Now, my mailbox is down at sidewalk level.  The porch is a short distance away.  When I went out on Saturday it was in neither location.  Back before Christmas Amazon did the same thing, telling me that a package (small enough to fit easily in my mailbox) had been left in “a secure location.”  So secure that I couldn’t find it.  I even went outside in the dark with a flashlight after watching a horror movie to search for it.  That one, it turned out, had been delivered to an honest neighbor who brought it over after daylight returned.

The tracking notice that says “delivered” means nothing if the package isn’t actually there.  Hide-n-seek instructions simply aren’t helpful.  The way our mailbox is situated the only “near” is on the open ground.  Pandemic life is difficult.  If 45 had had any compassion for the average person needing a lifeline (rather than his self need to be in the spotlight) he would’ve strengthened the Post Office rather than gutting it.  Many people rely on it for the delivery of their medications.  For some of us it’s more a matter of awaiting some token of our preserved sanity.  As it is the tracking notice claimed I had items never received.  This may be a parable for the Trump Nightmare Administration after all.  Then, about two weeks after it had been officially delivered, my package arrived one day unannounced.  Parable indeed.


Bethlehem’s Grinch

We’ve got a Grinch around Bethlehem, according to Nextdoor.com.  A guy driving around stealing boxes from porches, in broad daylight.  According to home security cams, he wears a mask (which is more than many Republicans do).  The understandable outrage in the comments is at least partially justified.  A Covid-ridden populace is reluctant to go into shops, and shipping is easy.  You pay for a gift for someone you love and a stranger steals it with impunity.  There is anger there.  It’s also troubling to me, however, how people react.

One commenter claimed this guy was stealing from working people instead of getting a job.  Anger often speaks rashly, I know, but I had to exegete this a bit.  Without knowing this masked man, how are we to judge his employment status?  I mean people like Donald Trump have made entire careers of cheating other people for their own personal gain.  Isn’t this the way of capitalism?  And perhaps this man has a job and thieving is simply moonlighting.  Or, more seriously, perhaps he had a job that was taken away when the Republican-controlled White House and Senate refused to do anything about the pandemic and can’t even agree on a deal to help working people out?  Who’s the real Grinch here?  Theft can take many forms, some of them perfectly legal.

This holiday news, of course, makes people paranoid.  With many vendors trying to compete with Amazon’s (generally) first-class delivery system, packages are left on porches past bedtime.  Even without a Grinch about, that makes me nervous.  Just last night an Amazon package listed as “delivered” didn’t show up.  I found myself on the customer service chat pouring out my soul to a stranger halfway across the world.  Knowing my carefully chosen gift might be stolen to be resold by a faceless thief made for an anxious evening.  Amazon assured me it would be replaced if it really wasn’t delivered after all.

So I’d be upset too, if my orders were actually stolen.  Some people have medications or other necessities shipped, regardless of holiday seasons.  Stealing boxes is wrong.  It may not be the only thing wrong, however.  Isn’t a system that forces people to desperation inherently wrong?  A system that makes getting ahead almost impossible for most people so that a very few can control nearly all the wealth is hardly one that doesn’t involve theft.  Those stolen from are rightfully upset.  But who is really doing the stealing in the first place?


Toilet Paper Redux

So we find ourselves needing to clean up again.  Maybe you’ve noticed it too.  Since the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak has wiped across the nation toilet paper has once again become a hot commodity.  Not finding a single roll in Target, I decided to test the waters on Amazon.  Sure enough, many brands are now listed as “out of stock.”  Could it be a coincidence that Trump will be leaving office and we need a lot of toilet paper right now?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Capitalism is like that.  Supply (or lack thereof) and demand.  Instead of making sure people have access to the basic necessities, we would rather have panicky citizens with soiled underwear looking for leadership where none exists.  And voting for lack of leadership yet again.  Flush!

Still, you’ve got to wonder—why toilet paper?  What is it about thin paper on a roll that presses the fear factor?  If people can know to avoid embarrassing smells, why haven’t they plugged their noses when the breeze blows across Pennsylvania Avenue?  Logic fails here.  Have we educated a nation to fear for their backsides but not to see clear and president danger in front of them?  Now that we’re nearing two weeks since the results were announced, we have had nothing but pouting from the Oval Office.  That, and drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.  Seems like we’ve got to be dirtying the world somehow.  We could use some toilet paper.  Maybe America needs more fiber in its diet.

Those who still support Trump don’t seem to realize that his response (or lack thereof) is the main reason a quarter-million people have died in this country and the virus is completely out of control.  I guess it’s that way with messianic figures.  Ironically the Bible (printed on thin paper itself) warns of someone who acts messianic while lying all the time.  He’s called the Antichrist.  You can tell him because just about everything Jesus did, he does the opposite.  Welcome the foreigner?  Feed the hungry?  Heal the sick?  Talk about God and how to deepen your relationship with the divine all the time?  Have you got any boxes checked yet?  Or are you waiting for the Charmin supply truck to go rolling on by?  Perhaps it’s time to invest in paper.  We print our money on it and hope somehow it will save us.

White gold or pay dirt?


Nightmares Awake!

According to Amazon, Nightmares with the Bible has now been published.  Authors are seldom the first to see copies of their own books, strangely enough.  I probably won’t have any physical copies for a couple of weeks yet.  Until then I’ll wait like an expectant mother.  I don’t actually read my own books after they’re published.  Like some other writers I know, I’m terrified of finding mistakes.  And the older I get the less certain I am about anything.  I’m not even sure if it’s officially published yet or not.  I choose to trust Amazon’s opinion on that.

Right now I’m caught up between four or five other book projects, each a good bit along.  Since writing is often a mood-based thing, what I do in the sleepy hours of pre-dawn is what I feel like writing on any given day.  Unless you have a book contract in hand, that’s not, I suppose, that unusual.  I’m trying to guess what might most get the attention of an agent.  Both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible were written for general readers.  I don’t have the name-recognition to command any kind of attention (or affordable prices), so I need to find a topic that’ll do the work for me.  I personally find religion and horror a fascinating subject.  Many other academics do as well, but general readers not so much.  It’ll feel more like reality when I have a copy I can have and hold.  I still haven’t reconciled myself with ebooks.

What usually makes me stick with a project for the dash toward the finish line is a book getting close enough to see the ribbon ahead.  I write incessantly, so I have a backlog from which to draw.  I know my tastes are odd, which means it’s a challenge to get others onboard with my likes.  I know horror fans love to read about movies.  I suspect most of them don’t care much about the religious aspect of what they’re seeing.  That’s why I write about it.  People get information about religion from popular media.  Even if they deny their interest, writers and directors will slip it in regardless.  I’m just calling them like I see them.  The nice thing about movies is you can have instant replay.  And with a fair number of us now publishing books in this niche, hopefully conversation will follow.  Until then, I’ll just be waiting here until my first copy arrives.


Fire and Ice

Most people in our modern world consider a cooking device an important part of a household.  Many of us are also over-committed.  These two elements came together last week when our kitchen stove (“range,” I’m finding out, is the correct term) burned out.  We could tell when we bought our house two years ago that the previous owners had likely not replaced any appliances.  The refrigerator died our first year.  Now, in our second, the stove—excuse me, range—went.  Given that it’s turned cooler around here, a good hot meal in the evening has been a welcome relief, but with no stove how do you cook it?  This happened on a Tuesday.  My wife and I compared calendars.  The closest evening we could both get out to look for replacements was Friday.  Of course, once you shell out the money you also have to wait for delivery and installation.  It looked like at least a week without home-cooked food.  Grocery shopping, of course, had been on Monday.

It occurred to me how utterly dependent we are on our big appliances.  The refrigerator died just before a holiday weekend in pre-covid days, so we were on our way out of town when it happened.  A lot of food had to be wasted.  It took about four days before a new one could be delivered, and we had to cut short our trip to be here in time for the installers.  Food.  Unless you’re living on granola bars and trail mix you need to keep it cold or keep it hot.  Our ranges and refrigerators do the heavy lifting for us.  Our ancestors stuck things in the cellar to keep cool and chopped wood to keep what is properly called a “stove” hot in the kitchen.  It was pretty much a full-time job just to survive.  Now nightly Zoom meetings make any interruption of online connectivity difficult.

Weekends, given the circumstances, are gems.  They are the only time we can get things done.  Days are eaten up by ever-expanding work by people desperate to keep their jobs in a tanking economy.  Supply chains, interrupted by the virus, meant that a delivery of a new range would only happen in January.  Going without food until the new year steered us toward a DIY appliance repair solution.  I never thought I’d be sticking my head in an oven, but here I was, with a new part ordered from Amazon and the confidence of the friendly people on YouTube telling me I could do it.  Taking days instead of months, we were cooking again by Sunday, and I just might’ve learned something along the way.


Preorder Alert

Although you can buy most anything from Amazon, the book industry is particularly under its hegemony.  I have to admit that I enjoy browsing there, and often dream of the books on my wishlist.  I suppose that’s why I was pleased to see that Nightmares with the Bible is now available for preorder on Amazon.  I like to give updates for those interested, and the proofs have just arrived.  There’s kind of an inevitability to seeing your book on Amazon, a prophecy almost.  It now exists out there somewhere on the internet.  I do hope that it might stir some interest in Holy Horror, but like that book it will miss its sweet spot of a release before Halloween.  That means it also misses the fall catalogue.  The next one comes in spring, and who’s thinking of horror then?  Something all publishers of horror-themed books know is that minds turn toward these topics in September and October.  Just look at the seasonal sections of stores.

Horror films come out all year long, of course.  Halloween, however, serves as an economic lynch pin.  People spend money on being afraid in the early fall.  By mid-November thoughts have moved on to the holiday season and the bright cheer of Christmas.  Holy Horror arrived days after Christmas two years ago, and although I was delighted to see it, I knew we’d missed the boat for promotion and by the time it was nearing the backlist at the next Halloween it was old news.  That doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the books, of course.  It just means they won’t get the attention they might have had.

Nightmares with the Bible is about demons.  Primarily demons in movies, but also a bit of a history of how they develop.  There’s a lot of academic interest in the topic at this point in time, so hopefully it will get checked out of academic libraries that will make up its primary home.  According to Amazon you get five dollars off the exorbitant price if you order it there.  Although it’s standard practice in the industry, I’ve always disagreed with “library pricing.”  It comes from presses publishing too many books, I suspect.  Since few of them are pay dirt they have to recoup their costs by overcharging for the rest.  Nightmares with the Bible is reader friendly.  It’s non-technical and, I hope, fun to read.  Amazon seems excited about it (it’s an illusion, I know, but one for which those of us who do this kind of thing live), and is happy to take preorders.  Have your library order one, and if you do, be sure to check it out.


Something Burning?

It’s all Amazon’s fault, really.  Several years ago—I can’t recall how many—they were running a horror movie DVD sale (that’s how long ago!).  I hadn’t yet watched enough movies to write a book on the subject, and most of the movies on offer I hadn’t heard of.  One of them was called Burnt Offerings.  Well, burnt offerings, by definition, come from religious settings.  The DVD was very inexpensive, and so, well.  The movie wasn’t that scary, but it was moody, which is often what I’m really after.  I did wonder, however, at the title.  In one sense it fit the plot, but in other ways it was almost as if something were missing.  A vital clue.  For one thing, the movie was completely secular, nothing I could include in Holy Horror.  

I’ve watched the movie a few times over the years.  There’s something compelling about the story, even though missing something.  A little research revealed that the movie was based on a novel by the same title by Robert Marasco.  Now, when I learn a novel was written in the 1970s, my thoughts turn to used bookstores.  Although the days of getting books there for less than a dollar seems long gone, the fun of browsing makes up for it. I don’t know how many years I looked for it in shops throughout the tri-state area.  Now with the virus, I finally broke down and ordered it from Bookfinder.

My main reason for wanting to read the novel was to find what I’d been missing.  The movie, it turns out, follows the original story very closely, for the most part.  The ending is different, however, and that makes all the difference.  (If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, there will be spoilers here.)  The Rolfe family decides to move to an estate for the summer to get away from the noise of New York City.  There’s something odd in the house they’re renting, which they sensed even before moving in.  Marian Rolfe, the mother of the family, clearly becomes possessed by the house.  In a diabolical sense.  As her family dies off the house renews itself.  In a scene not in the movie, the regular caretaker stops in for a visit and tells Marian that she has to give her all to keep the house.  Finally, resigned to the death of her loved ones, she asks to have any remaining doubt burned out of her.  Her family will be the burnt offering.  So at last, it makes sense.  And yes, there’s a more religious theme in the book than there is in the movie.


Is It Real?

I’ve been reading an ebook and I feel lost.  I resorted to the ebook because I was invited to join an informal virtual bookclub.  Book discussion group may be a more accurate description.  Since I don’t see many people this seemed like a good idea.  Although I often take recommendations, reading a book someone else chose is kind of an infringement on my already crowded “to read” list, but connection is connection.  The problem was I couldn’t get a physical copy of the book delivered before the first meeting.  I struggled with whether or not to buy the ebook for hours.  I just can’t get over the feeling that I’m paying for something that can disappear at the next upgrade and all my effort in reading it will have been lost.  I’m a book keeper.  (Not a bookkeeper.)

After a morning of angst, I finally clicked on “buy.”  I’ve been reading the book but I’m finding it disorienting.  When I read an actual book, I quite often take a look at the physical object and assess it as I’m reading.  Appraise it.  Who is the author again?  Who published it?  When?  In the ebook world that information is obviously available, but it’s not where I expect to find it.  And there’s the matter of pages.  I measure my progress of book reading by the location of my physical bookmarks.  I can tell at a glance to the top of the book how my progress is.  A slider bar just doesn’t do it.  I click out of it and check on Amazon.  How many pages does this book actually have?  Why does my e-version have a different number?  Won’t that confuse the discussion?

I don’t feel so guilty about marking up an ebook, I’m finding.  Highlighting in a print book always annoys me—I don’t want some previous owner telling me what I should remember.  This ebook won’t get passed on to anyone else (that’s the genius of the business model—the ebook isn’t available for resale, which more durable, actual books are).  As I’m doing this I recollect that I’ve only ever read two ebooks before, both fiction.  They didn’t make much of an impact because it was only in writing this post that I remembered them at all.  The world of the coronavirus has taken its toll, I guess.  I’m reading an ebook and I can’t wait to finish so I can get my hands on the real thing again.


New Habits

We are a family of readers.  Still, during the pandemic things change.  Not only is my wife working from home, my daughter is also here, doing the same.  This seemed to be the most logical thing, given that her housemates weren’t working from home, and who needs pointless potential exposure?  What became clear to all of us is that pandemic normal was actually close to our normal normal.  I mean, I don’t get out as much on weekends now, but other than the panic, Monday through Friday are pretty much the same as always.  Awake obscenely early.  Start work before sunrise.  Finish work, eat supper, go to bed.  The real change has been on my reading habits.

When things are “normal” (if that word can ever apply to me), during the time my wife drives home from work, I read.  I also read in the morning and before going to bed, but that latter doesn’t last long if I’m tired.  Now, however, we’re all here and after work is over family time begins.  I don’t begrudge this for a nanosecond, but it does affect my reading habits.  You see, self-isolation has been a way of life for me long before the pandemic began.  Not necessarily because I wanted it this way, but I have always tried to preserve time for books.  I don’t have the reading time of a professor, so I have to carve it out of personal time.  In situations like this even bibliophiles have to admit that people are more important than books.  Still, with only essential businesses open, and Amazon delivering only essential items, books have fallen between the cracks.  Some of us consider them essential.

My daughter said the other day that not being able to buy books was worrying.  Indeed it is.  We’re pretty well stocked here for reading material.  I’ve got plenty of books I want to read, but I lack the time.  Also, one of my reading challenges specifies the particular types of books I need to target, including recent ones.  How am I to get them?  Our local library is closed.  As are the bookstores.  It’s beginning to feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone—being isolated but not having access to new books.  At work they’re suggesting which television shows to binge watch during the long hours of enforced alone time.  Me, I standing in front of my bookshelves staring in wonder and indecision.  Pandemic or no pandemic, it is time to read.


Data Driven

People just aren’t good at thinking things through.  Consider all the data on data.  Everything is data-driven these days, as if there’s no such thing as human spirit.  We do data all day at work and wonder why we having trouble making ourselves get out of bed in the morning.  If we had enough data I bet we could come up with a metric for arousing the soporific before the sun rises.  You could get the precisely correct amount of sleep.  Awake to precision-measured caffeine.  And get back to your data for another eight-plus hours.  There—feeling productive?

I miss the humanities.  There was a time when someone who didn’t give a fig about data could make a decent living pondering what it is to be human.  Even birds and bees know how to count.  Can’t we ratchet it up a bit?  Use our vast imaginations to come up with meaningful employment?  How you gonna measure that?  Some things just can’t be quantified.  How much joy is enough?  Too much?  Precisely how long is any coastline?  Even if we could measure it down to the nanometer, could that capture how it feels to sit on the rocky shore and feel the waves breaking against the cliff beneath you?  Even data has its limits.  Those who want to make a living without it will be sucked into its black hole nevertheless.  No light escapes.  Only numbers.

Companies like Amazon collect data.  Search engines like Google collect data.  All of those autosuggests?  They’re based on past searches.  I’m surprised just how wrong Amazon and Google are about me.  I was only searching dogs because I was curious about what kind the neighbor has, not because I plan to get one.

A wise man once said to a class full of wide-eyed neophytes, “If you want to get a surprise in your marriage just go home and tell your spouse you know everything about them.”  There’s no better way, he intimated, to get a completely unpredictable reaction.  Is that slap, or kiss, or knee to the groin driven by data?  Where’s the passion in that?  No matter whether you prefer Spock or Data, human motivation is emotional.  There are those who actually enjoy looking at data all day.  Dreaming about numbers and their hegemony over the workplace.  Others of us grew up with the classics and we have romanticism deep within our souls.  We nod our heads at Blake’s “dark satanic mills” and start to look for a coastline upon which to sit.  Perched upon this rock with the crashing waves, I suspect, I’ll be better able to think things through.