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The Ballad of Reading Fail

There need be no censorship, because a dying art needs no prodding. Rather, there may be some who recall ancient rituals in stanza for the amusement of others like unto themselves in various obscure coffee shops.

A long time ago, my step-father foolishly indulged me with my own smalltown bookshop. I called it Modern Times. I sat there amidst the racks and I mostly wrote letters. I had presented my own favored enterprise, you see, to a small town of illiterates.

I read, in 1972, that there were only 820 bookshops in the nation which only sold books. I knew there was a tremendous markup in the newly bound hardback trade, 40%. Why, it’s like coffee today! Who cannot make a living with those numbers?

Economics 101. First you have to sell the product. Then you can calculate the customer price against your own.

If the evolved primary means of distilling thought for itself and its communication is through writing, and the principal way of absorbing that substance is reading (and I hold both these facts to be true), then how each is accomplished, or whether either is, would seem to bear a little discussion.

My good friend spoke of the doctor shot during the retreat in A Farewell to Arms. I know he’s talking about the movie, which must collapse a simple arc through flickering light. The doctor who baited the priest was not a part of the retreat in the original.

I go to the movies, sometimes. I see stories I recognize. I see Dances With Wolves and know it’s only a remake of Lord Jim with heroics subbing for cowardice, in keeping with the needs of the male superstar. An old beauty contest flick, Smile, is Babbitt. The "original screenplay" Oscar winner American Beauty is framed directly upon the scaffolding of the Hemingway short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis MaComber." (Interesting in the last case how the lines are mudged in the movie – a balance in a relationship is distorted when a Man Finds Himself© as a predator: in the story, by shooting big cats; in the movie, through seducing an underage girl.)

I’m sure any who reead more or see more movies can point to other uncited borrowings, but the sad fact is, even among those who extol the virtues of reading there is less and less of it about.

I go to alt.books.beatgeneration out of habit, and sometimes I drop in phrases from the very center of that special category, in text format. No recognition. The topics are an easy-read buffoon of some note and whether there will be a movie from On the Road this year.

I know I sound exactly like those campus dorks who carry around Ulysses and bemoan he and his reading are not more understood, but I’ll take that chance. Some work of noble note should occur to you like static cling whenever a near match occurs in your day. A suspicious woodman tells us he has been doing business in the neighborhood for twenty years, and he isn’t like those others. I think of a certain 300-lb Samoan making a similar claim in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Many troubles today can be traced specifically to the lack of number sense, such as, not being aware that a 40% profit will only count when the item is sold. But there is something to be accounted for in the severe and ongoing and perhaps tragic loss of literacy. Mark that down too.

"Why not just let it all wash over you, man?"
– someone in the sixties, about a preference for movies.

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Smalltown Texan, Blackland Prairie, a senior. Sometimes I have trouble keeping up. Married, with Rottie/Pit. Reading, and some writing, that's me.