Opening Letters

Gambling for Another Good Book

if reading is addictive, then the public library is a pusher

Jim Jeffries |

Last summer I had this conversation with my daughter.

“Good morning, Papa.”

“Good morning, Claire. What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you were doing the Summer Reading Program at the library.”

“This summer’s pretty busy. I’ve got all of this work …”

“That’s too bad. I’ve already won two books.”

(Pause.) “Two books? How many cards have you turned in?”

“Just two.”

“Just two? Nobody scores two books their first two times on the wheel.”

“What can I say? I have the touch. Too bad you won’t be doing it this summer. Guess I win this year.”

“You are an evil, evil child.”

“I love you, too, Papa. Bye.”

I hung up the phone and looked at the list my wife left for me while she was gone for two weeks. Gut and rewrite the first act of the play Innocent Affair. Rewrite the conclusion on another play – again. Work on advertising our Fringe Festival show. And that was only the top of the list. I like calling myself a playwright. It makes me feel artsy and deep. But looking at my wife’s list again reminded me that writing and producing plays is frighteningly close to being actual work.

But you know, to write plays, you need inspiration. And nothing provides inspiration like reading outstanding writers. And if I’m checking out a few books anyway, I might as well sign up for the summer reading program. So I shut down the Spider Solitaire program, grabbed my backpack, and headed on down to the library.

The relationship I have with the library is … complicated. I mean, I love it there. I can read Mad Magazine without coughing up the subscription. I get to contemplate outstanding artwork that changes regularly. And there’s a naked wooden man on the second floor who listens patiently to all petty complaints. But.

Everyone at the library conspires to make me unproductive during the summer. I mean, they’re standing right there as I check out book after book by Neal Stephenson and they don’t say anything. I mean, those suckers run at least a thousand pages. You would think they would get together and have an intervention. They’d get me in a circle and say something like “Jim, we love you, and we appreciate what you’ve done for the library. The crack filler we bought for the front sidewalk came directly from your overdue fines. But we’ve noticed that you’re consuming books like a high school swim team at Old Country Buffet. Addiction is a physical disease and you can get better. We’re here for you.”

They don’t do that. They add turtle cheesecake to the buffet line. Turtle cheesecake is also known as the Summer Reading Program. If you read three books, you get to spin the wheel. The wheel offers several different prizes, such as a bookmark, which is the equivalent of “bankrupt” on Wheel of Fortune. You can also win pencils, toys, candy, blah, blah, blah, but all that really matters is winning a book. So I stand at the wheel, with dry mouth and clammy hands, and try to predict the torque necessary to get me to the Promised Land, or Promised Wedge, as the case may be. Never have I regretted sleeping through high school physics class so much. I spin the wheel, and my body surges with adrenaline. If I land on the book, my body is flooded with endorphins. If I land on the bookmark, my body is flooded with the hormone that is the opposite of endorphins, which I couldn’t find with a quick Google search. But either way, I love the chemicals coursing through my body and I read book after book, just so that I can spin the wheel again. I become addicted.

So I guess what I’m saying is that the public library is a very clean, very welcoming, very friendly crack house. And it’s not my fault that I got nothing done the two weeks that my wife was gone.

My wife didn’t buy it.