historical/romance

Ringo was only around the first few months Tangible Books was open. He was an old dog. Joe said that on the farm in Arkansas Ringo went everywhere he went. At the store, he mostly sat on the rug by the New Arrivals, his paws crossed. He was twelve when he passed. A full life for a big dog. A came across a photo of Ringo recently and made Joe a painting. It hangs behind the desk in the new store.

After moving a big share of the 60K stock, we’re reconfiguring the sections to make the most of all the new room. Joe built four new 9-foot cases to make a wall of Biography in the back room, where the Cozy Crime and Mystery sections used to be. I moved those shelves to the back corner of the room.

When Lisa moved all the boxes of books meant for the internet in the old basement, she discovered ten boxes of unshelved Biography. These had to be incorporated into what was already six cases up in the store. It took a whole day and half of the next morning, but I made most of it fit. It’s amazing who gets books written about them. Sometimes multiple different ones by different authors. An actress I never heard of named Sarah Miles published three hardcover memoirs. How much is there to say about a young person’s life? More than I can imagine, clearly.

I like putting all these books in order but I think it’s making me not want to add to the ever-growing pile of publication. Once my art book comes out in a month or so maybe I’ll be cured of the habit. I need to find some other ways of sating the demands of my ego. Something that kills fewer trees.

The empty former Bio shelves cried out to be filled. For the entire time I’ve been at Tangible, people have come in asking where our Romance section is. There were a couple shelves full of historical fiction in the old store. Books set in ancient Rome or some medieval castle. Full of men wielding firm staffs and gushing, feinting maidens. The Fiction stacks were dotted with titles illustrated with sunny beaches and young women in tight dresses. Joe and I had many debates about what constituted Romance rather than just Fiction.

The newly-empty shelves made Joe cave and let me cull some beach reads and historical fantasies. I pull the red wheeled cart up to the A’s and start scanning book spines. I look for bright colors and pun titles. It doesn’t take long to fill the cart. Any writer with more than six or seven books is a prime candidate. I joke with Joe that my cart is like the one in Pinocchio that takes bad kids to Pleasure Island.

Most of these are written by and marketed to women. But there’s a mens’ version. These involve war rather than love but they’re often similarly rooted in a specific historical era. Whatever the time period, kink, or fetish, these are wish-fulfillment books. They’re for people who want to imagine themselves into other worlds and different bodies. In the hours I spend picking up, carrying, and arranging hundreds, not a single one has made me want to stop and read it.

I’m off from the store a couple days. I don’t know what project will grab me the next time I come in but I look forward to finding out. It feels more and more like the bookstore is where I want to be when I’m not making art. I can see it occupying me for years to come.

But no more Romance for the time being.

RIP Don De Grazia

I lost a friend last week.

We weren’t the closest. We didn’t see each other that often. But there was grudging, unspoken respect between us. An understanding that we were cut from similar cloth.

I don’t know the circumstances of his passing but know he leaves a young child and a wife behind. He was a longtime teacher of writing at a local art school. I imagine he impacted hundreds if not thousands of aspiring novelists.

He only published one book but it’s a doozy. American Skin has to be one of the most vivid and specific Chicago books I know. The time and places it’s set in are long-gone and hardly recognizable today but Don’s depiction of that Chicago is imprinted on my psyche in permanent unsmudgeable marker.

I met Don through Irvine Welsh. Don had brought him to town to teach at Columbia College and he liked it enough to stick around for a decade. After Irvine split, Don and I kept in touch. I made an illustration featuring his beloved Cubs that was projected behind him as he read an essay at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Later, he commissioned me to make a drawing for his office.

We even tried making a movie review podcast. It didn’t last long but was a hoot for the time it did.

I don’t have any great point or moral to this list of memories. I could rattle off a bunch of platitudes and truisms the way we all do when someone we know checks out without notice, before we expect them to be gone. You can fill in the appropriate words here without my typing them.

There’s a memorial service in a couple days and I’m debating whether I should go. I’m not much for gatherings. But there’s a gravitational pull hinting that I should. Public grieving is not something I know how to do. I’ve only been to a few funerals in my life. None that have left much of an impression. Funerals are for the living and I don’t know that I necessarily need to commune with others who knew Don. We only had one friend in common and he doesn’t live here any more.

Feels like I’m making excuses to avoid a little awkwardness and discomfort. I’m still up in the air about it. All I know is I’ll miss the big lug.

RIP Don

A Numbers Game

I deleted two more social network accounts. I didn’t use them for socializing in any way but they still needed to go. I used them to log and sometimes review the books I read and the movies I watched. I thought I wanted to keep track of that but it turns out I don’t.

Up until I made the decision, I’d been faithfully noting every movie and book. I even went back and tried to remember the ones from the past. This was no easy task with no diary or record to reference. The trouble with reading and watching every day over decades is that much of it gets forgotten. There just isn’t enough accessible RAM to keep traces easily available. This goes for things I liked as much as those I didn’t.

I scrolled through dozens of lists to recreate my reading/watching history. Lists of best-of’s and regional lists. By decade, subject, and style. I came up with over 3000 movies and several hundred books. I don’t know what I expected would happen when this memory scrape was complete but whatever it was didn’t materialize. Adding to these lists became just another chore.

The thing that has always bothered me about every social network is the gamification of thought, feeling, and experience. There’s a built-in competition and envy component to every one of these platforms that eats at me like a bad rash. Art isn’t sports and showing off isn’t one of my hobbies. Yet, once you have an account on one of these sites, it’s impossible not to compare. I didn’t follow a single person on either StoryGraph or Letterboxd and still found myself checking ratings and reviews after logging my own.

There’s nothing wrong with talking over takes and reactions with others, but the online version of this has never lived up to the face-to-face one. Despite the endless potential of connection, these platforms feel howlingly lonesome to me.

As with most of the rash decisions I make, the impulse to trash the accounts came seemingly out of nowhere. I’d just gotten home from my eight-day tour with Bill. I was in bed watching a movie I can’t recall (though it was less than a week ago). It occurred to me that I’d need to note the movie on Letterboxd after it ended. This had begun to cause inner resentment. Why exactly did I need to keep track? Would there be a Participant trophy in the end?

I paused the movie, got out of bed, went to the front room, fired up the laptop and started deleting. It felt good to trash hours and days of now meaningless seeming activity. It always does.

It’s only a matter of time until another thing hooks me. But for now I feel like someone who shed fifty unwanted pounds. How long will I be able to keep it off?

My show opened yesterday. Here’s what’s in it.

Mallory and I talked I Saw the TV Glow.

Go see Robot Dreams. It’s a masterpiece.