The Joys of Random Reading

The New York Times published a little piece yesterday on the pleasures of finding–and reading–random books in vacation spots. From the article: “There is fate in the moldy, dog-eared paperbacks found on the shelves and bedside tables of summer guest rooms. When the masterpiece we’ve dutifully brought along stalls five pages in, the accidental bounty of other people’s discarded reading beckons. Like conversations with strangers on a train, these random literary encounters can be unsettling, distracting or life changing.” They ask eight authors, including Wells Tower and Dave Eggers about some of their random reading encounters. Here’s Tower on The Bridges of Madison County:

“The Bridges of Madison County,” by Robert James Waller, found in a beach house in Brooklin, Me. Strenuously unrecommended as a novel, but if you strike every third verb and noun it converts into a superb volume of Mad Libs with which to pass idle hours by the sea.

I’ve picked up many weird books over the years, at guest houses, hostels, and other places I was staying: a cheap novelization of old Annie Oakley magazine serials (at a beach condo); H.G. Wells’s A Short History of the World (at a river house); too some mild shame, sundry trashy V.C. Andrews novels (they must have been my older cousin’s); any Stephen King novel I’ve ever read. Probably the best random reading experience I’ve had though was when staying at a friend’s grandfather’s house in Miami. I stayed in his mother’s old room–she had all kinds of cool books, including John Barth’s slim second novel The End of the Road, which I devoured in one sleepless night. I did not steal it.

Know He Is Made

Found this on the ground today:



“Dearest Friend,

Have you heard the gossip? Apparently, this past Friday, a certain young lady engaged in, as the French say (forgive me for being indelicate here) a ménage à trois. My ex-boyfriend was one of the participants, and, after the escapade, she reported that his sexual appendage was, well, smaller than average (he had a very small dick). Well, of course such spiteful calumny greatly agitated the young man, and, as for me, well, I must admit some measure of apathy (and perhaps distaste) for the whole matter. The young lady involved in the threesome had a boyfriend, and this young man has now turned his romantic–perhaps amorous–attentions in my direction; however, I declined his advances.”


Oh, I see? Oh, I see

My wife works at a children’s museum. Sometimes people send her “ideas” that they think the museum might be able to put to good use. Like this guy:


Found Folktales



I found this little gem at the bottom of a cardboard box in a locked cabinet in an abandoned teacher’s lounge. I had to break the lock: hidden treasure. Florida Folktales collects a range of folklore, ranging from ghost stories and trickster tales, to modern urban legends. I was intrigued by the back cover blurb by my one of my old professors at the University of Florida, Dr. Robert Thomson (he was the instructor for a folklore class I took. My project: I collected stories told by people who claimed to have had supernatural experiences while on drugs. Lots of LSD angels-and-demons stuff. I think I got an A-). Lovely book, University of Florida Presses.




Under Florida Folktales I was pleased as punch (yes, punch: like this guy) to discover Virginia Hamilton’s retelling of traditional American Black folktales, The People Could Fly. I used a few of the tales the same day in class. Beautiful illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon perfectly capture the axis of waking life and dreamworld these folktales express. Again, a lovely book.