The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, November 08, 2004

IT'S A MYSTERY TO ME: This may seem a bit odd to you, but the egregious mold pit that serves as our happy little burg’s public library has recently hired a dyslexic teenager to put the newly checked in books back on the shelves. I cannot say why the powers that govern our local library have done this; it does seem as if political correctness has run slightly amok here. I like the music of the late Ray Charles, but I’m sure even the New York Times at its most inclusive would hesitate to hire Ray as its art critic. A blind man can run his hands over a sculpture, of course, and get a feel for what the artist is trying to say, but I would imagine that a Van Gogh and a Pollock feel pretty much the same.

In any case, he is a nice kid, as teenagers go; I suppose we should be happy that he’s not smoking dope, beating up old people, and robbing liquor stores like normal kids; and I like him personally, but, and there’s always a but, isn’t there, why a library would hire someone who, by definition and by diagnosis, can’t keep the letters of the alphabet straight remains a Rosicrucian mystery to me. He says he doesn’t have this trouble with numbers so he’s been putting the nonfiction books back on the shelf, but with fiction, where most medium sized public libraries put books in alphabetical order by the last name of the author and then by the first word of the title, excluding the, a, and an, this can be a bit of a problem.

Shelving can prove especially dangerous in the mystery section; mystery writers tend to be a fairly prolific bunch, always happiest when they are serving up a brand new confection filled with chaos, murder, and general mayhem. This leads them to write one book after the other, slaughtering entire forests in order to feed their ever-expanding graphomania. This is a terrible waste of trees, since mysteries don’t have a very long shelf life; once your average mystery reader has consumed the newest mystery they move on to the next new mystery, leaving the old ones to gather dust on the shelves. With the classics, you can buy one book and that will last you for quite a while; the 1904 version of Moby Dick will serve just as well as the 1974 version or the 2004 version; but with mysteries one must constantly make room for the newest one. One imagines the relationship between a mystery writer and his or her readers to be something akin to that of an addict and his pusher, although in this case it is difficult to tell who is who: the writer who feels compelled to write one mystery after another (Georges Simenon wrote some four hundred of them, including eighty-four Inspector Maigret novels) or the reader, whose need to indulge a taste for the gorier side of life is not satisfied by the daily newspaper or the Golf Channel.

Unlike most addicts, the murder mystery fiend does not want the help of family or friends in overcoming their problem, regarding their addiction as little more than an irritating habit that they can stop at any time. The constant deluge of mysteries, however, points to an ongoing social problem of massive proportions, a problem that will swiftly lead to the deforestation of America’s wilderness areas as mystery readers struggle to keep up with the newest paean to murder most foul. A double standard is at work here, I think. Almost any oil company request to drill anywhere near where the deer and the antelope play is met with a veritable barrage of ecological protests, while publishers denude thousands of acres of forest every year to feed the public’s appetite for new mystery novels and no one says anything about such arboreal devastation. This may be because people in the publishing industry don’t wear cowboy hats to work. It’s hard to take an ecological threat seriously if they're not wearing a cowboy hat.



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