Scratch ‘n Sniff

What causes inspiration? More, importantly, what makes inspiration worth sharing? A large group of people can write with the same topic in mind , yet only a handful may create something worth reading.

English professors make a point to discourage their students from self-publication; they say it is not widely respected in the academic community. This opinion is difficult to dispute, especially when you actually start reading some of the self-published, and obviously unedited, digital garbage now available. I bought a Kindle the year they were first released; I have a lot of my classics and favorites in my cloud, but I still prefer to flip through pages.

I sometimes wonder if any book that lacks a paperback version is worth my time. This attitude is likely a result of a lifelong addiction to the library. Printed words have more meaning when they can be touched and smelled. (My name is Jane, and I am a book sniffer.)

There are, however, a lot of horribly written books that continue to survive the test of time: The Epic of Gilgamesh, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and anything with Chicken Soup in the title. I was forced to read Gilgamesh for three different classes, and the story was worse each time. Just because it is (one of) the oldest written work(s), doesn’t mean it’s any good. The James Joyce I only had to read once, but I didn’t make it past chapter three. And I went through my Chicken Soup phase about the same time I was exclusively watching Lifetime T.V. I deserve to be mocked!

Today, I had a fleeting desire to buy the new Stephen King. Two things stopped me: 1) my preference for borrowing, and 2) my dislike of name brands. Okay: a third reason is that Mr. Mercedes really is awful.

New books are too pretty. There they are all shiny and unblemished on store shelves, like centerfolds; you know you’re not the first, or even the twenty-first, to touch their words, yet they present themselves as being unread. The tramps. Used ones are more honest. They sit in libraries and second-hand stores gathering dust and waiting to be noticed. Some have stains and tears from careless hands. Their bindings are cracked, their yellowed pages showing through worn covers, and yet they are more enticing to me than the beauty queens vying for my attention.

New books are beautiful, but they’re too easily damaged. Paperbacks read once or twice become grotesque: spines bend, covers wrinkle and flap away from fluffed out pages. Used volumes, in comparison, retain their shape; library copies especially maintain a dignified loveliness, perhaps because, rather than in spite, of being loved so many times before.

It won’t matter for Revival; the library will have a brand new, non-bendy hardcover. It’s more about the principle: why buy a book you haven’t read? You don’t know if you’ll enjoy it. What if it’s only good for one read and then just gathers dust on your shelf with no hope of ever being picked up by someone else? Stephen King is a brilliant author. He’s written some of my favorites: The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Green Mile, Dr. Sleep, etc. But he’s also written trash like Pet Sematary, Thinner, and Gerald’s Game. He’s become a name brand; people buy his work because they know he’s good, but they forget that he is still a man who can make mistakes.

My point: I’m not interested in buying the author; I’m after the story, and some stories just aren’t worth the cost.


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