I started listening to the Two Book Minimum podcast the other day. I had lots of comedy podcasts on my feed but only one literary podcast, and Two Book Minimum is a combination of both.
I’m not a comedian but I like listening to them speak. Not when they’re doing bits, though, just when they’re sitting around and shooting the shit with each other. There’s a rhythm there that reminds me of sitting around at Dave’s house until five in the morning, or of working with Brennan and Fiala and then getting drunk together at the most disgusting bar in the world. It’s such a ridiculous term for someone who doesn’t do (is not qualified to/has no desire to pursue/would never even allude to the possibility of doing) comedy, but being able to riff with some people about nothing is a weird and rare gift, and since I don’t have that network within a short drive anymore, I can download an episode and just listen to other people do it.
You know, I’m not comfortable with “riff.” It’s not part of my job to use the word and it makes me feel like an asshole. Let’s call it what we called it back in the Little Corner of Moron: careening into ridiculousness.
The thing about careening into ridiculousness is that it starts with nothing. Nothing of importance, nothing of interest, nothing at all. But then one person says something, and the other person responds, and shit just keeps getting added to this pile of nonsense and it not only becomes important, but it’s also one of the funniest things you’ve ever heard. This doesn’t mean that other people will find it just as funny; often, they won’t. But by the time you’ve careened deep into ridiculousness, the onus is on the interloper to keep up, play along, or get out of the way.
The other lit podcast I listen to is Literary Disco, and when I’m not being mad at it for insisting that “Moby Dick” is one of the best literary works in history (IT IS NOT), I’m really enjoying it because the commentary provided is a lot like my thought process on the same books or, if I haven’t already read that particular book, I almost always agree on the theme of similar books.
This is why I’d be bad at a book club, by the way. Apparently they’re all about wine and gossip and while I adore one of those things (ahem, it’s wine), no one likes the schoolmarm who’s in the corner harping that we need to discuss the actual novel.
One of the recent Literary Disco episodes was about Charles Burns’ graphic novel “Black Hole,” and because “Black Hole” is about teenagers, the bookshelf revisit portion of the podcast required a book that was either also about teenagers or had some other teenager-y theme, such as angst or something the hosts had read when they were younger. As I listened to the hosts describing their bookshelf revisit picks, I thought “Man, I think ‘There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock’ would be perfect for this.”
Just then, one of the hosts named “Maniac Magee” for her choice, and although it wasn’t “There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock,” it was also written by Jerry Spinelli and was also one of my most favorite books when I was a kid. In fact, these books made such an impact and seemed so essential that I’m always surprised when people have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention them. Which seems particularly insane when it comes to “Maniac Magee” since it’s basically a classic and Jerry Spinelli is a huge figure in YA fiction.
Nevermind that I can’t get “There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock” on Kindle, and that the only cover design available from Amazon is awful (even compared to the cover of my book, below).
Just know that even without re-reading it or “Maniac Magee,” whole paragraphs leap into my head when I make the most innocuous of connections more than twenty years after reading them, and considering everything I’ve seen and read and listened to since then, that speaks to a work’s lasting power.
Before my nephew was born, I went to the bookstore and bought him the books I’d loved as a kid. I’d brought the guy I was dating at the time, and he wasn’t a big reader but he wasn’t a total idiot, either. It seemed to take forever to pick exactly the right books, and also I had to put a lot of choices back because I am not a millionaire. At the register, the guy I was dating raised his eyebrows at the total and said “You know this kid isn’t going to be able to read for years, right?”
Um, right. I knew that. And maybe he doesn’t read those books now. I don’t even know if he likes reading as much as I did (although it’s doubtful, since my mother tells me I used to lie to friends and tell them I was grounded when really, I just wanted to stay in my room and read for the day). But they’re still available to him, and if any of them can wriggle their way into his brain like “There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock,” “Maniac Magee” or any of the other books I’m going into overdrive remembering right now, then it would have been worth it.