Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Lines

I bought six more books tonight. (Gasp!) My rationalization is that 5 out of 6 books were used with prices hovering in the $6.99 range. I then get 40% off that price. So a $6.99 title ends up costing me $4.20, plus tax. The other integral element to my well-thought out rationalization is that tomorrow is the finalization of my divorce. Buying books has always been something I do to cheer myself up. Having new books to browse through is an luminous activity for me. Don't get me wrong, I like to buy books when I'm happy too. I've said to my parents when they marvel at my book collection, "It could be worse. I could be spending all my money on heroin." That puts it all in perspective.

So tonight, with my marriage dissolution to occur at approximately 1:30 pm tomorrow afternoon, I bought six books; five novels and one book of philosophy entitled The Duck Who Won the Lottery. I usually read the first few lines of any book to see if it hooks me, or if it at least has elegant prose going for it. Here are the first lines from each of the six books I brought home tonight:
a.) For some time now the road had been deserted, white and scorching yet, though the sun was already reddening the western sky.

b.) I don't know whether I should tell you my dreams.

c.)She shook him awake into the quiet darkness.

d.) Joe "Kong" Allen's lifelong stepfather massaged his shoulders and said, "Son, this is your first big one. Watch your Temper!"

e.) Yes, of course I can come straight to the point and start with a sentence like: The telephone rang.

f.) No one in their right mind could read Cernan's testimony and deny that NASA must be giving its astronauts training in advanced rhetoric.

I don't know about you, but to me "b" seems the most mysterious and inviting of the six lines. I also realize that "d" is actually two sentences, but it just read better that way, and read more like a first line. When I worked at Bailey-Coy bookstore on Capitol Hill we would choose a first line each day and post it on a sign outside. Anyone who guessed the book correctly would 20% off any one book. Of course, with iPhones and such these days, it's easy for people to quickly research something trivial like a first line. In the bookstore we had a couple of books behind the counter that were nothing but first lines (last lines too!) We also had the freedom to just pick a random book off the shelf and use its first line.
* * * *

As I mentioned above, my divorce will be finalized tomorrow. This will be my second divorce. I realize that in the eye of the beholder the phrase "twice-divorced" would conjure up certain judgements and imaginings. I myself start to feel like Eddie Fisher, or Richard Burton. They both had been married five times, and share the fact that they were both once married to Elizabeth Taylor. Actually, Richard Burton married Elizabeth Taylor twice! I've never been married to Elizabeth Taylor, although my first wife's name was Elizabeth.

In reference to an earlier post: I do not have a bottle of champagne chilling in the refrigerator, ready to pop tomorrow upon becoming an ex-husband. The occasion is bittersweet, to say the least. I will be dealing the the emotional residue for months (and years) to come. We have child to co-parent, so that demands attention to feelings and respect for alternative points of view.

I haven't seen or heard from my first wife in well over a decade. It was one of those we-married-too-young kind of things. At least that's the veneer of it. I was 23 years old, and not long out of the air force. I look back and it seems like another version of myself that lived that life. Actually it was, since all of the cells in my body have regenerated a couple of times since then; sloughed off on couches, in showers, and just sitting in the car. Now it's a different Me being divorced from a different wife.

To honor the occasion of my divorce (and speaking of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor), here is a scene from the classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Ah, marriage...

a.)The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy, b.)The Man of Feeling by Javier MarĂ­as, c.)Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy, d.)Doom Fox by Iceberg Slim, e.)The Procedure by Harry Mulisch, f.) The Duck That Won the Lottery by Julian Baggini

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