Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Hüsker Dü – "Books About UFOs" (1985)

Walking down a sunny street to the library
Checking out the latest books on outer space

I’ve decided that it’s time to come clean about my substance abuse problem.  I’ve kept my addiction a secret long enough.

I currently have 36 library books and DVDs checked out, with another 14 on hold.  

Do those numbers suggest to you that I have a problem?

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When I was a kid, my hometown public library allowed you to check out no more than six library books at a time.  During the summers, I would sometimes go through six books in one day and pick up another six the following day.  (We’re talking relatively short and simple books written for middle-schoolers – not “War and Peace” or “Great Expectations.”)

When I was a kid, the public library
was my home away from home
When I was a working man, I was able to keep my addiction to library books under control because I had a limited amount of time to spend reading.  As long as I had two or three books handy, there was little risk that I would run out of something to read.  (I subscribed to the New Yorker back then, when it was still readable – that gave me another reliable source of reading material.)

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I believe the computerization of my public library is largely to blame for my addiction.  

A trip to the library used to mean a rather haphazard trip through the stacks – not the most efficient way to track down desirable books.  But once the library catalog became available online, it became much easier to search for books.

And I wasn’t limited to the books that were on the shelves in whatever branch I was visiting.  I could search the holdings of all of the library’s branches – the county where I live operates twenty branch libraries (not counting the branch at the county correctional facility) – and reserve as many books as I wanted.  And once a book I had selected was available, it would be delivered to any branch I chose, and I’d get an e-mail inviting me to pick it up at my leisure.  (The same was true of CDs and DVDs.)

My current library stash
If I wanted a popular new book, it might take quite a while before my name made it to the top of the waiting list.  While most books became available within a few days, you could never be sure.  This encouraged me to reserve more books than I could read in the short term – I hate to run out of books!

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My hometown library allowed you to check out books for only two weeks.  You could renew them for another two weeks, but that was it.

My current library has a three-week checkout period, which can be renewed twice.  So you can keep most books for up to nine weeks.

For a library-book hoarder like me, this is the equivalent of free crack.  Even when I have a big stack of books at home, there’s no reason no to check out even more books – after all, I have nine weeks to get to them.

Years ago, the newest and most demanded books – like new novels by popular authors – could be checked out for only seven days, and you couldn’t renew them.  So if you weren’t prepared to drop everything and read a hot book, there was no point in checking it out.

Today, you can check such books out for three weeks – although you can’t renew them beyond that period.  But three weeks isn’t one week.  I’d never check out multiple seven-day books – why bother when there’s no way you’ll get to them all?  But I’ll go home with a big stack of three-week books even if I can’t renew them beyond those three weeks.  After all, a lot can happen in three weeks.

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I used to not bother checking out television series on DVDs.  My library allowed you to keep DVDs for only one week.  

That’s reasonable if we’re talking about a movie that can be watched in one sitting.  But what about a twelve-hour TV series?  It’s possible to get through twelve hours in a week, but it’s not easy if you have a full-time job and a couple of kids underfoot.  Plus I hate to have to rush through a good series.

Recently my library changed its policy on DVDs.  Movies can still be checked out for only seven days, but TV series can be taken home for three weeks – and they can be renewed for two more three-week periods.

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Of course, there’s no charge for checking out books and DVDs from the public library.  When something is free, people may overconsume it.  (Economists refer to this as “the tragedy of the commons.”)

Most people don’t overconsume library books – in fact, most people don’t read books at all.

But people who spent a good part of their formative years at the local public library – my parents both worked, and it was a lot cheaper to drop me at the library once I got old enough than to hire a babysitter – and who have recently retired consume library books like the crowd at an Insane Clown Posse concert consumes drugs, beer, and Faygo sodas.

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I like a nice, fat 19th-century novel as much as the next guy.  (Anthony Trollope is simply the best.)  And some contemporary “literary” novels are truly remarkable – you should really check out Julian Barnes, Herman Koch, James Salter, Edward St. Aubyn, and Lionel Shriver.

But there’s nothing like a good modern crime novel.  I’m not sure whether the best American crime novels (like those by Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos) are better than those by the best Scandanavian authors (like Karin Fossum, Henning Mankell, and L. G. W. Persson), but they’re all great.

From an article about modern crime fiction in The Guardian:

At its best, crime writing offers unique insights into society, psychology and human behavior.  It can be both engaging and literate; compelling and well-written.  It can be innovative and surprising, but what it can't be, it seems, is feted in the same way as literary fiction. . . .

This is perhaps the rub: crime writers know that the people who matter are the readers, not the critics.  But it's high time that the critics – and the award panels – began to truly sit up and take notice of the importance of good crime writing.  

Amen to that.

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The books I’m currently sitting on include some fiction classics (David Copperfield and a book of short stories by Dostoyevsky) and new literary novels by Julian Barnes and Hideo Yokoyama.

I also have some travel guides for France and Belgium and a couple of books about World War I.  (That war ended 100 years ago, and I’m going on a group trip in July that will visit a number of World War I-related sights, with some Gothic cathedrals and lots of Belgian beer thrown in for good measure.)

Most of my current stash of library books consists of crime novels.  For example, I’ve got several of George Simenon’s Maigret books – Simenon is perhaps the most underrated popular novelist of all time – and a couple of John MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels (which are a bit dated, but still interesting).

I also have the Jens Lapidus “Stockholm Noir” trilogy, three of Lars Kepler’s Joona Linna books, and Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth, so I’m well-stocked with Scandanavian crime novels.  

Then there's John Sandford’s two most recent books – one from his Lucas Davenport series and one from the somewhat related Virgil Flowers series.

I don’t have any books about UFOs.

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“Books About UFOs” was released on Hüsker Dü’s 1985 album, New Day Rising.

The critics loved New Day Rising.  I love New Day Rising.  Case closed.

Click here to listen to “Books About UFOs.”

And use the link below to buy the song from Amazon.

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