Fifty Shades of Nay

“No, Joanna. That right there. That is specifically the reason why I don’t want to see that movie. Because everyone (including you) keeps telling me how great it is and how I HAVE to see it and I MUST see it and the world will end if I DON’T see it. Well, the fact that everyone is pushing so hard for my watching this movie is reason enough for me NOT to see it.”

That was a paraphrased quote from a friend who, for their privacy and protection, shall remain nameless for the remainder of this post. But who, nonetheless, used to annoy me with what I perceived to be outlandish curmudgeon-ness over anything deemed popular by society.

This person used to call the behavior “pushing back.” Pushing back against the “vast majority,” pushing back against the “mainstream,” pushing back for the sake of being “different” or in my opinion, “difficult” was this individual’s M.O. And it bugged the crap out of me. That is, until very recently.

It all began with Twilight and was later solidified by The Hunger Games. Not the books or movies per se… but the whole damn kit and caboodle. The books, the movies, the magazine covers, the posters, the commercials, the Late Night / TMZ television fodder about the minutia of the everyday lives of the actors, writers and directors, the fact that it was “newsworthy” that LeBron James was reading The Hunger Games in between championship games… It was all too much.

Thus, I began, ever so subtly to “push back” myself. I would not—under any circumstance—read those books, watch those movies or be drawn in by the over-hyped drama and frenzy that seemed to have raptured so many — including the genius that is one Lebron James.

As the title suggests, there are a few other things (not nearly fifty — though given time I’m sure there could be) over which I have begun to dig in my heels — just because I am either A. tired of hearing about them, B. I personally don’t “get” or C. simply because I can.

  1. Instagram – I just have to ask: Why is it suddenly so cool to have an app make your stunningly-clear, brilliantly-colored, high-quality digital photos look like crappy Polaroids from the 70s? The reason our photos looked like THAT in the 70s was because, aside from going to Sears and sitting for “professional portraits” taken by some over-zealous, obnoxious, balding photographer sweating profusely inside his polyester, powder-blue suit — we didn’t HAVE any other option.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey – If one more person tells me that I simply MUST read this totally A – MA – ZING and all-consuming series of horribly-written, thinly-veiled-porn-wrapped-in-a-ridiculously-disturbing-storyline, utterly-misogynistic novels which I will apparently NOT be able to put down even for one second after I have picked them up… I am going to punch them.
  3. Kindle (or any e-reader) – OK. I can understand the appeal on this one. Totally convenient, easy, practical, portable, yada, yada, yada. I just prefer to hold a real book in my hands. Call me a hopeless romantic or an old fart, but after staring at screens all day long from the phone to the computer to the television… it truly feels like an escape to retreat into an actual book made of paper, fabric and glue and get lost between the pages.
  4. Skinny jeans (for EVERY body) – First of all, there is no such thing. I don’t care what Old Navy says about how there is a pair out there for every type of body under the sun. I am here to tell you that there is not. The view from the bleachers last Friday night at a high-school football game proved that theory. Some people should not be wearing skinny jeans no matter what Old Navy says. Just watch the commercial next time it’s on. Notice there aren’t any short, round, pudgy, muffiny-toppy-types walking the runway in that ad? I wonder why?
  5. Gluten-free anything – Whether standing in line at Starbucks, at the department store or the movie theater, someone can be overheard talking about it. “So I’ve decided to go gluten free…” or “My chiropractor thinks my back pain is because of too much gluten…” or I think the reason I can’t shake these last 10 pounds is because I eat too much gluten…” (Or it could have something to do with the triple-shot, Venti, double-caramel latte with extra whipped cream in your hand — but what do I know? I’m just an outsider who can’t help but hear you gripe about gluten.) Let me ask this… Where was gluten 10 years ago? I have no idea but I suspect it was just as present then as it is now and yet all of the sudden it is The Great Satan. Have a sinusitis? It’s probably gluten. Car won’t start? Must be gluten. Polar icecaps melting? Gotta be gluten.

Call me a curmudgeon if you wish, but I think I finally understand where my crusty cohort was coming from. The fact that EVERYONE loves it SOOOO much, and is pushing for it SOOOO hard, is sometimes reason enough to say: “Nay.”

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Paper Treasures

I adore bookstores. Being a lover of language, I’m not sure if this is the due to the rush that I get from literally being surrounded by words… ensconced in words. Or perhaps I can blame it on the sheer excitement I feel being in the presence of so many lofty thoughts, ideas and stories.

And I have a particular affinity for used bookstores. You know, the kind of stores that are bursting at the seams with so many books that there are racks and bins of them spilling out onto the sidewalk, beckoning you like paper sirens to come hither and have a look a around.

If you’re someone like me, you’re almost immediately drawn in by the countless titles that call out to you from the various makeshift shelves that are haphazardly strewn outside. You begin your treasure hunt there, wondering what little literary gem might be buried beneath the stacks of trashy romance novels with paintings of exotic women in various stages of undress on the covers. Perhaps you find one—a shiny jewel that you simply cannot fathom how anyone else could have missed—and you tuck it under your arm.

With your curiosity piqued and your wallet burning, you venture inside. Instantly you are reminded of your grandmother’s basement, as a heavy aroma of dust, glue, aged leather and ancient paper envelops you. Stretched out in front of you are endless rows of leather and fabric-bound tales waiting to be discovered by just the right person. You see… each used book already has a new owner… they’ve simply not yet been introduced.

As you meander through the narrow aisles, head tilted to one side so as to read the inverted titles, your eyes pour over both familiar and unfamiliar names. So many books! It is incredible the shear volume of words that must exist under this one roof! A person could flop themselves down in a quiet corner for hours and travel to foreign lands, soaring through time and space to witness pivotal moments throughout history and experience wild and wonderful adventures all along the way! In the small span of an afternoon one could experience love and loss, danger and deception, death and dying, murder and mayhem, treachery and treason.

But as you navigate the passageways between the shelves of bargain masterpieces, you become aware of the presence of something far more valuable than the written works themselves. These books have stories all their own. I’m not talking about the words typed on the pages inside… but rather the silent stories of their previous owners. Over time, clues about them have begun to emerge on the covers, the spines, the margins and even in between the pages.

For instance, I once picked up a book entitled The Art of Pessimism and opened the front cover to find the following inscription: “1989 – To my dear friend Patricia, this needs no explanation! Love, Anne” I chuckled to myself at the inside joke that these two friends must have shared. And this was just one book on one shelf  of one store that I randomly picked up one day. That same day, a copy of Seven Short Works of Modern Fiction (which I later purchased) had a small stack of index cards stuffed inside which came fluttering out when I picked it up. Apparently, they were someone’s study notes on the different themes of each novel.

It seems that names, dates, doodles, coffee rings, notes, inscriptions, dedications, even rips, folds and tears are present everywhere you look. To me, these parcels of paper, words, ink and glue cease being books and instead become tangible evidence of people’s lives. I consider the shelves they once sat upon, the hands that once held onto them, the eyes that once scanned these pages, the souls who were once drawn into the story. The bags and briefcases they traveled in. I wonder where they have been and what was going on in the world at that specific time? How many different people posessed this very book before it landed in my hands now? Oh, but if these pages could talk! What secrets would they reveal?

I realize that anyone can go to a museum of Natural History and see valuable icons and rare relics of previous cultures and lives lived. And perhaps you think it’s silly for me to consider such things about plain, old, used books. Either that, or you may think I just have too much time on my hands. But I actually think it is because they are so ordinary, so unremarkable in their existence that they are of such unique value! These used books… These hand-me-down narratives… These second and third-time-around stories… They carry with them the indelible marks of everyday humanity.