Sunday, July 19, 2009

Books in Cars and Such

Oblivion and Other Fine Places

It wasn't too long ago that I was walking down the street and something caught my eye in the back window of a fine porcelain cheek-blue Toyota Camry. It was, after quickly scanning the object, a book: Oblivion: Stories, by the late great David Foster Wallace. I'd never been the biggest of Foster Wallace fans. I never was able to crack the brick of Infinite Jest, partly because it was so long (which would usually invite me to exploit the challenge), partly because I couldn't get into the drug infested narration, and partly because I had so many other things I wanted to read first. But too, I admit, it was the persona of the angst-ridden Gen-X'er, who gave off an aroma of "no one writes better than me" that made me react so violently. Now, shamefully, that he is no longer among the living, no longer able to cast his simple shadow on sunny days upon this glorious earth, I've taken more of a liking to his legacy. Mostly, because I find pity and sadness in his own story; now I feel obliged to seek some sort of redemption in my erstwhile thoughts of his presumptuousness. No more oblivion for you, Mr. Wallace! Of course, I will give credit to my good friend and librarian-in-arms, Chad, who gave a fine tribute to Mr. Wallace last year in his fine blog:

Zang-Fu, Where Are You?

Now what I have learned from this sighting of Foster Wallace's work in the back of a car window is this: there is something that can be gleaned from what people leave in their cars, or even what they display in their car windows, whether it is Foster Wallace or the arts of Chinese medicine, such as the Zang Fu. Let us look for a moment at some recent findings...

Here at left is a wider view of the primary photo shown in the blog above.  It seems to be entitled "Zang Fu Syndrome: Diagnosis and Treatment."  Stuffed amply with random papers (perhaps a medical bill), this tome is rather curious.  After a quick consultation, I've discovered that this book is likely the high-end Chinese medicine volume by J. McDonald and J. Penner (1994), with the full title "Zang Fu Syndromes: Differential Diagnosis and Treatment." (Note the changes).  My question, though, is "why is a book like this in someone's car?"  Well, you say, the obvious reason is that this person is either a practicing acupuncturist, or at least an aspirant.  But this book weighs in at a hefty $160 new! Why leave it out for the sun and urchins to either ruin or steal?  I suppose their aren't so many folks that would know that it's worth that much.  This poor other book is face down, like some Balkan tragedy of war in the mud.  I couldn't see its unknown face.  Indeed, that's yet another object of comment...biblio-anonymity.  What can we say of the owner, if we know nothing of the book?  It's like its been Kindlized!

Road maps, atlases, big spiral-bound book-objects.  These were a frequent sight.  Though, this was the most visible.  Many road maps were tucked under seats or in side pockets of doors or just spread open over back seats.  I hope not much has changed in the way of interstate infrastructure since 2003--the date of this Road Atlas.  Someone might get lost on those old Eisenhower highways.

An Interlude of Yard Sales
Of course, as I was in pursuit of the finest car window books to make this sociological adventure complete, I fell upon (in most undramatic fashion) a local yard sale.  Besides the ill-fitting clothes from about 1986 and a few other garments of choice, the yard sale did have a paltry selection of the usual mid-brow Hyde Park fare: airport books, 40 year old editions of Rousseau from some now forgotten undergraduate experience in poetics, other dust-bunny editions wrinkled under yellowing light.  But, all that said, they did have two fine titles that I've been looking at adding to my own serpentine collection of triffid-expanding tomes: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.   Surely, after writing this blog, I will have to display them at some point in my own car window, so that someone else can take a photo of them and write a silly blog about the sociology of car window books.  Now below, a photo on "the sociology of stroller reading" (thanks cute child for holding these books and giving me props!) and another of the yard sale itself.

The Book of Tea and The Bone Sharps?

If I am reading this correctly, I am (we are) experiencing The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (photo and book at top right), which was published in 1906, and apparently introduces us to "Teaism" and the culture of tea that has both been created in and created Japan and Japanese society.  With chapter titles like "The Cup of Humanity," "The Schools of Tea," and "Tea-Masters," it is surely a book that many would find absolutely intriguing, if not imperative, or tea-affirming.  The other book, The Bone Sharps (a title I find linguistically jarring for some reason, like something that's not supposed to be in my mouth, but is) by Tim Bowling, is an imprint of Gaspereau Press (a mainstay of one of my favorite Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia).  Here is but a snippet from a review by Alexander Varty on The Bone Sharps (my mouth still hurts):

Two trenches, both containing bones. One cuts into the volcanic stone of the Alberta badlands, where the remains of giant aquatic lizards have lain for millenniums; the other runs through the muck of Flanders, reeking with the charred and rotting fragments of men and mules. Poised above the first, a paleontologist tortures himself with phantoms even as his blood is consumed by avid mosquitoes; crouched in the latter, his former assistant devours scholarly dinosaur books while the guns roar and the rats creep in.

The review goes on to say that it is based on the true story of a fossil collector named Charles Sternberg.  And of course, much more.  So there we have it.  Zang-Fu, Road Maps, Anonymous face-down books, Tea Books, Fossil Novels.  Oh, and of course, oblivion. 

1 comment:

  1. Books In Cars! This blog is eccentricly delightful!!