I’ve found the perfect job for me: shelving books in a used-book store.

It doesn’t pay much and there’s no end to it but while I’m at it the world is a much more manageable place. There are achievable goals in short increments. There’s a satisfaction from completing tasks but enough variation and creativity to keep the work from becoming a monotonous bore. I can see myself doing it as long as I can still bend down and get back up.

I’m at Tangible one day and Joe complains it’s hard to get anyone to help him put books away. Boxes, crates, and paper bags of them come in every day. Donations and gifts from neighborhood people clearing out the homes of recently-deceased relatives or elderly hoarders trying to get a handle on their condition. Whatever the provenance, in Bridgeport, Joe is the beneficiary.

After sorting the books he thinks he can sell from ones to be taken to the thrift-store donation box, Joe makes stacks and towers divided by category. They wait on the big table by the door until he has the time or help to shelve them in History, Women’s Studies, Young Adult, Mystery, or an ever-expanding number of other categorized areas.

My first day I stick to Fiction. I alphabetize the books in New Arrivals, then take them three or four or six at a time to their proper shelf and wedge them in where they belong. Some shelves won’t take another paperback, so I have to move three or four books down or up to make room. Because they were printed anywhere from the late nineteenth century to this year, there’s no consistency in width, height, or style of tome. It’s a hodge-podge organized by alphabet and theme rather than aesthetic or chronological criteria.

There are personal choices at play as well. Joe has Chuck Klosterman’s books in Fiction, for instance. I question this—thinking of Klosterman more as a pop culture essay writer—but Joe just says to put it in Fiction. It’s his store. Not unlike the decor and organization of a home, a bookstore—or any kind of store that isn’t algorithmically assembled—is a kind of illustration of the owner’s mind.

Four hours pass before I empty the New Arrivals but I barely notice. Doing this scratches an itch. It’s satisfying in ways very few things I do ever are. Painting and writing are open-ended and ever-changing. There’s rarely a time when I feel a true feeling of completion. But when I pick up Volume III of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey slot it between Volume I and Volume IV, that’s all there is to it.

Can’t wait to go back and see what goes where next time.

Mallory and I talk 28 Days Later.


The printer in Michigan that printed the five books I’ve designed and published got swallowed by a bigger printer so I started looking around for alternatives. The new book would have color reproductions—a first for me—so I’d have to be extra careful to find a place that knew what it was doing and could do it for a price that made sense to me.

A longtime waiter at a restaurant I frequent tells me about his brother who recently gotten out of jail and started working at a printing shop in the neighborhood. It’s just up the street so I make an appointment to visit.

The guy who runs the place seems a little strange but that doesn’t cost him points in my book. You have to be somewhat off to launch the kind of enterprises I’m always throwing myself into. I explain what I need and he quotes me a price which is more or less reasonable. I tell him when I need the job done by and within minutes we have a deal.

The first couple months couldn’t go better. The printer cranks out a digital proof within a week that looks pretty good, so I sign off for the project to proceed. Then a couple weeks later the first offset litho pages start coming off the press. These aren’t as good as the digital version but I’m up against a deadline with the Printers Row Litfest around the corner, so I give him the go-ahead.

A couple days before the end-date the printer assures me the job is within a week of completion and asks whether I’ll pay the balance of what I owe. Like a fool—in what I hope is a gesture of faith and confidence—I write out the check. Nothing’s gone right since.

As of this writing, I’ve only gotten a hundred of the five hundred books promised. They contain printing errors and muddy colors. The reasons given for the delays and flaws include employee sabotage, mechanical breakdown, other jobs, and a half dozen other increasingly unlikely scenarios. It’s like the dog eating your homework every day of your school career. Some days I think it’s a scam; others, just gross ineptitude.

He tells a mutual friend that he recently suffered a heart attack.

I had the highest hopes. The place was a walk from my house. The guy said all the right things and seemed above board. I imagined the next couple books I could work on in the shop. But none of that will happen. Hell, I’ll be lucky if the rest of the books I paid for will even be printed. It’s all gone to shit and I didn’t see it coming. How many fucking life lessons do I need? Don’t answer that. Please.

Maybe I should do the thing I always think when I see people snapping cellphone pics: make the clicking sound of taking a picture but don’t save anything, thereby freeing both server and mental/emotional space. Design and write a book, then just throw it all away without killing any more trees. Would anyone notice?

I text the printer a week after he sends me the “final” invoice (which I’d paid in full months ago) and he texts back within minutes that the books will be ready this week for sure.

You can read a digital version of the book here, or, better yet, buy a real copy while I still have a few left.

I read a couple pages from Benjamin Labatut’s The Maniac into a microphone.

Here’s a video shot the last day of my show at Buena Vista Projects.

About every movie review I ever wrote is now here.

Hold Music

Wormhole Coffee, 11/3/23

The Separatist Party at Constellation, 10/26/23

Rainbo Club, 11/1/23

Jackalope Coffee, 11/2/23

Barbara Manning at The Sinclair, 11/8/23

Codeine at The Sinclair, 11/8/23

my parents’ dining-room table, 11/10/23


I talked to Mallory about her forthcoming novel, then we talked about The Signal.

Back next Monday with some writing, probably.