Sunday, December 17, 2017

Echo and the Bunnymen – "Read It in Books" (1980)

I've seen it in your eyes
And I've read it in books

I spent a lot of time reading when I was a kid.

One reason I read so much was that I had nothing else to do – especially in the summer.  My family couldn’t afford to go on vacations, and summer camps were unheard of in my hometown.

We had only two TV stations back then.  I enjoyed watching game shows in the morning, but not the soap operas that aired in the early afternoons.

So I read library books . . . lots of library books.

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Our local library allowed you to check out only six books at a time.  When I was 12 or 13, I routinely checked out six books, read them in one day, and checked out six more the next day when I returned the first six.

I read a lot of nonfiction –especially history and biography.  I loved the We Were There series of books – We Were There with Lewis and Clark, We Were There with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, We Were There at Pearl Harbor, and so on.   There were a total of 36 We Were There books published between 1955 and 1963, and I think I read most of them.

I also read everything I could find about baseball and car racing.  (I still remember the international auto racing colors – green for the UK, blue for France, red for Italy, and so on.)

But I read a lot of fiction as well.  The “Freddy the Pig” books by Walter Brooks were a particular favorite of mine – but you need to be an adult to truly appreciate their sophisticated humor.  

I was also a big fan of the “Danny Dunn” series, which depended heavily on science – Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine, Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, and so on.

I didn’t read many of the classic works of children’s literature – for example, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, or Charlotte’s Web, or Roald Dahl’s books – because no one told me about them.  (I rectified this by reading a number of them to my kids before bedtime when they were young.)

*     *     *     *     *

When I got a little older, I graduated from the children’s library to the adult library.

I checked out a lot of books that were way above my level of comprehension.  Perhaps I believed that I would absorb their contents through osmosis.  Or maybe I was just trying to impress the librarians and my teachers.

The Joplin (MO) Public Library
For example, I remember taking home Gargantua and Pantagruel by the 16th-century French writer, François Rabelais – a satire full of extravagant wordplay and risqué humor that was way over my head.  (It may still be over my head.)

I also checked out Winston Churchill’s six-volume history of World War II, as well as his four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.  Churchill was one of my heroes, but I don’t know how far I got with either of those multivolume works – not very, I suspect.

*     *     *     *     *

You’d think that someone who reads as much as I do would buy a lot of books.  But I don’t.  

I can’t help but feel that it’s a waste of money to purchase a contemporary novel that I’ll read once and never read again.  Much better to pick it up at the library and read it for free. 

Yes, I’m cheap – but in a very peculiar way.  It’s not the amount of money involved in buying books, it’s the fact that the library is a no-cost and very convenient alternative.  (There are a couple of library branches closer to my house than the nearest bookstore, and I can go online to search for books and reserve them – in a few days, I get an e-mail informing me that my choices have been delivered to the branch of my choice, where I can pick them up at my convenience.)

*     *     *     *     *

There are exceptions to my rule of going to the library rather than buying books.  For example, there are certain reference books that I like to have at my fingertips – like the Total Baseball encyclopedia, and The Rolling Stone Album Guide.  

I also enjoy owning certain books that have a personal meaning for me, but I look at those volumes more as collectibles than reading material.

For example, I found a copy of the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell at a local used bookstore many years ago.  The four volumes of that work came in a box, which was enclosed in plastic wrap.  I never even tore that plastic off, much less opened any of those volumes:

But Orwell has long been one of my favorite writers, and I’ve enjoyed having that big box full of Orwell on my bookshelf for all these years.

*     *     *     *     *

I wrote that last paragraph just a couple of days ago.  So you can imagine my surprise earlier today when I came across the following sentence in the “Acknowledgements” section of Thomas Ricks’s new dual biography of Orwell and Winston Churchill, which is titled Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom:

I want to thank [Washington bookstore owner] Andy Moursand for giving me, back in about 1982, the four-volume set of Orwell’s collected essays.

Orwell’s second wife, Sonia, was one of the co-editors of that collection.  Orwell married Sonia in October 1949, just three months before he died at the age of 46.  

Orwell was so ill that he couldn’t get out of bed the day of his wedding.  He donned a mauve velvet smoking jacket over his pajamas and got married while sitting up in bed.

*     *     *     *     *

“Read It in Books” was written by Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope when they were members of the Crucial Three, a band that they formed on McCulloch’s 18th birthday and that broke up a few weeks later.

McCulloch later formed Echo and the Bunnymen, while Cope formed Teardrop Explodes.  Both of those bands recorded “Read It in Books.”  (The Teardrop Explodes version is titled simply “Books.”)

The Echo and the Bunnymen version was the B-side of their first single, “The Pictures on the Wall.”  Both songs were released on the group’s debut album, Crocodiles, in 1980.  I must have bought that album about the same time I bought that four-volume Orwell collection.

Here’s “Read It in Books”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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