Mostly, I read fiction. I feel connected to fiction, in a way I don't feel connected to science, say, or current events. Fiction can move and interest me, can make me laugh or weep or say, Wow. When I saw the first pictures of Mars, I did not say, Wow! I said, Oh. When I hear about government excesses, I don't say, Isn't that awful! I say, Isn't that typical.
It's not that these stories are not important. I know that al Qaeda and the Dow Jones Average have far more impact on the world today than Jane Austen does. But I can't do much about terrorism or the stock market. I can enjoy Jane Austen's prose style, and look around and see her people in my own life. Why, just the other day I met a dead ringer for Mr Collins, the self-important toady from Pride and Prejudice. I talked with him for a half hour, laughing so hard inside that I almost wept.
The two non-fiction writers who do move me -- there are probably more, but these are the two who come to mind right now -- are both named Bill. One is Bill Bryson, who seems able to write humorously and knowledgeably about pretty much everything. (Maybe even finance, who knows. If he comes out with something called: The Dow Jones Average, I'll buy it.) The other is Bill James. Back in the 80s, in the BC era (that's Before Children) I had a lot of time for baseball, and Bill wrote a series of yearly Abstracts which absolutely captured my interest.
One of my favorite articles from this series related to an outfielder named Lonnie Smith. Lonnie was a pretty good hitter but a mediocre fielder. The article had to do with his ability to handle a mistake. Most major league players, said Bill, are so shocked when they screw up a routine play that they panic, and don't know what to do. The ball gets by them, and they freeze, or cast about hopelessly. Not Lonnie. He has screwed up so often that he can predict where the ball will go after it bounces off of him. In an important playoff game, Lonnie's ability to find a ball that had got by him resulted in a put out.
I liked that article because it applied to me too. The Lonnie Smith factor is part of my life. When I lose my keys I don't panic. I've lost them so often that I have list of places they could well be (including the top of the medicine chest, and that little compartment in the fridge door that opens like a garage, where you keep the butter -- what was I thinking?) Or, as I mentioned a few entries ago, if I find myself in front of a crowd I'm supposed to address, and find that my mind has gone blank, I don't freeze, smile nervously, cough, fumble, and then begin running around the stage in gradually narrowing circles, emitting girlish shrieks, until I collapse and the organizers drag me off. (Not since that time in Montreal anyway.) I am calm. Like Lonnie, I've been here before. I look around for an idea, and start talking. What a pain it would be if Jesus was a regular at your restaurant, I might say. (He orders the special, and then the rest of his party says, I'll have what He's having. Yeah, me too. And me. Then, from across the table, What did Jesus do? Oh, yeah. I'll have that too. You'd run out of something every night. I was the waiter, I'd make the other guys order first.) Or, if it was a business crowd, So who the hell was Dow Jones anyway?
Next time I'll bring you up to date on my myspace friends. I am so disillusioned ...