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Woodworking column: The delicate, or not so delicate, John reading

WARNING: Those readers of a delicate nature may want to pass on this column because it deals with a subject members of polite society may find abhorrent.

The subject? John reading. I have long been an advocate of said activity when as a wee lad I pored over pages of a Montgomery Ward catalog whenever I was on a mission of evacuation in the outhouse on a farm where my father sharecropped. The catalog doubled as our toilet tissue when peach wrappers were out of season. I usually ended up in the J.C. Higgins bicycle section, while my father, if he happened to be accompanying me, drooled over milking machines we couldn't use because the farm lacked electricity.

And then I grew up and bought a hobby farm, which had no indoor plumbing, so I revisited my childhood haunts and built a magazine rack in our three-holer that held back issues of "The New York Review of Books" and PMLA ("Publications of the Modern Language Association.") My neighbor Henry Sylla thought that was a bit much, so I righted the situation with "The Country Today," which pleased Henry no end whenever he visited.

That wasn't the end of my adventures with John reading. Thirty years ago, I published a book of columns I had written over the years for Grit, a national rural news magazine. Grit editors had a strict rule: Each column must be exactly 150 lines long, no more, no less. Some reviews of my book were positive, others not so. The St. Cloud, Minn., Times reviewer commented that he believed the book would have been much improved, more "useful" if it had it been printed on a perforated paper roll. Each sheet, he said, would be 75 lines. And, of course, two sheets would have made up a complete column.

Thanks to the St. Cloud fellow's penchant for excretory criticism at the ripe old age of 40 I had graduated from being a John Reader to being a John Writer.

And I'm happy to report that I'm still plying the reader at the end of my career.

Recently, I discovered a book I had received from a publisher, hoping I might review it. I set it aside and forgot about it until yesterday. It now reposes on a bench in our upstairs bathroom and I look forward to reading a sheet or two every time I visit.

And it won't be a waste of time like the Montgomery Ward (I never did get a J.C. Higgins bike). Because I used to review books for a living and my new found treasure is written by a fellow reviewer. It's called "The Book of Literary List," a compendium of his remarks about books that he had known and loved and hated and tossed across the room.

Here's a sample: Author Nicholas Parsons lists "Fifty Works of English and American Literature we could do without," including "The Faerie Queen" by Edmund Spenser, "Pilgrims Progress" by John Bunyan, "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard" by Thomas Gray, "The Daffodils," by William Wordsworth and "Moby Dick," by Herman Melville. The students in grad schools, Mr. Parsons, thank you!

Even Shakespeare gets it in the teeth in Parsons' book. The often exasperating George Bernard Shaw redeems himself in his putdown of the Bard of Avon:

"With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity." God bless you for digging that up, Mr. Parsons!

Parsons also lists famous and beloved writers who also worked as pornographers. My favorite: Felix Salten, author of "Bambi" and other Disneyesque delights, was also a pornographer and author of "Josefine Mutzenbacher," the down and dirty adventures of a Viennese prostitute.

Parsons also lists hundreds of bestsellers that appeared between 1875 and 1895. Leading the pack with 23,285,000 copies sold: Benjamin Spock, "Pocket Book of Baby and Child Care." Bringing up the rear with a mere 2 million sold? Grace Metalious, "The White Collar."

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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