Thursday, August 23, 2012

There is No Friend as Loyal as a Book

The title is a quote by Ernest Hemingway, and it's perfectly true.

I know it will not be a shock to my friends to hear that I love books. And, since most of them are bibliophiles as well, I am in good company. But I suspect that books mean more to me than most.

I know, I know - them's fightin' words - so allow me to explain.

From the age of about 9 to 18, I lived in Luxembourg City. It was a beautiful place, but filled with people who - for the most part - did not speak English. The TV was in French, German or the local patois, and for the first few years I spoke none of those Occasionally, there would be a non-R-rated movie in it's original English-language, and those I would go to see over and over (which explains my somewhat skewed taste in movies, but that's for another blog post). My school was tiny, and I therefore had few friends my own age. I was resentful of being moved from my beloved England, and pretty much hated everyone and everything in Luxembourg.

I walked around a lot, bored. I played wargames that my brother brought home from the U.S. when he would visit - usually playing against myself, since there were very few people interested in playing Panzerblitz with a kid. And I read.

I read A LOT. Pretty much anything I was given.

The person doing most of the giving was my Dad. He worked on the nearby US Air Force bases in Germany, and had access to the bookstores and PX's that provided an endless source of reading material. He would buy 4 or 5 books in my favorite series at a time, and would dole them out to me at bedtime, along with a stick of gum. I still associate a paperback novel and Juicy Fruit gum with the feeling of being loved and cherished.

Since I typically burned through my homework quickly, and had little other entertainment or chores to do, I would consume these books at a truly ridiculous rate. Tarzan, John Carter, Pellucidar (yeah, I was a big ERB fan), Hardy Boys, Tom Swift...all were scarfed down in a day or 2 each. When those series were finished, I re-read them (two or 3 times each) and then graduated to other authors: Heinlein (my dad would buy his kid-friendly stuff, I would steal the more adult books from my brother's left-behind bookshelves), Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke...all of these wonderful books took me far away from an unfriendly land to strange and cool places with daring heroes, beautiful damsels in need of rescue, and lives far more interesting than mine.

In addition to providing much-needed entertainment, books also became useful educational tools. For example, I learned to speak French by watching Star Trek on TV avec Capitain Kirk et Monsieur Spock and following along with the book containing the current episode. In this way, I knew what McCoy was saying when he uttered the immortal line: "Merde, Jim, je suis m├ędecin, pas un faiseur de miracles!"

In short, books kept me sane through my turbulent teenage years, comforted me, and kept me close to my parents during a time when most kids reject them. They provided me my moral compass, and role models to guide my behavior. Although I was alone, with books to read I was never lonely. They were my best friends, and they have always remained loyal. I love it when they come to pay a visit, and we talk about old times as if the intervening decades had never happened.

So, if you have a spare moment, I encourage you to read a book. Make a friend. It will be time well spent.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weekly meeting of Music Junkies Anonymous

Hi. My name is Matt, and I’m a music hoarder.

(Chorus) “Hi, Matt!”

I’ve been hoarding music for years now. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but it’s true. My family doesn’t know because I keep my home office clean and relatively tidy, my coworkers don’t know because my cube is immaculate and orderly, and my friends – well, they’re crazy - in a good way – and probably wouldn’t comment even if I dressed up in some wacky costume and danced the Karaboushka in public.

I’m very good at maintaining order and letting go of junk but – I just can’t do that to my songs (whines).

(Understanding nods and murmurs of encouragement)

Right? How can I just throw away memories like that? Like the song that was playing on my music player when the dentist was yanking a bad tooth. Or the Gaga one that the MC played because he wanted to see me dance like a pasty White Guy. Or the entire Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over” album I played obsessively on that long-ass trip to Houston? These are key moments in my life, and those songs are touchstones to those moments. Oh, and don’t even get me started on that Taylor Swift song which is a real downer, but I liked it for a week and I can’t OFFEND her, can I? I mean, she could kick my ass if she found out…

Yeah, I know – when they come up on my Spotify “favorites” playlist, I always skip over them because, well, I’m bored hearing them, but still…I can’t, y’know, UNFAVORITE them, can I (sobs)? That’s like telling your best friend from kindergarten that you never want to see them again. It’s just RUDE! Hmmm…wonder what happened to Johnny, anyway?

So, anyway, I’ll deal with my 85,302-song playlists, dammit. It’s MUSIC! It’s the story of my life…or other people’s lives, anyway. Ones that I want to live. Oh, that reminds me, I need to leave now, because I’m late for my “Book Junkie’s Anonymous” meeting,

My name is Matt, and I’m a music hoarder.