Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Burglar Who Stole Medical Journals

(with apologies to Lawrence Block)

In my wild and reckless youth (a Freyian fantasy, to be sure), I was asked by a girl (who I had a crush on) to steal a band-aid for her. She could have afforded to buy the band-aid and I certainly would have bought it but nooooo it had to be stolen. We were in New York at the time and even in my youthful innocence I knew it wasn’t an especially good idea. In an instant I had the aftermath storyboarded in my mind and it would have made Will Eisner proud. I was being carted off to the Tombs. As they dragged me away, there was a frame that was just filled with her lovely hand (with band-aid prominent of course) as she waved goodbye. As her hand fell out of frame, the screen was now filled with the leering faces of my future cellmates. Not too surprisingly, I passed on stealing the band-aid.

Later that day we were on the Staten Island ferry and this same girl dared me to take off my shirt. Not being a crime, I only had to endure the embarrassment of doing it in front of a rush hour crowd, and this being many years before chest-bareing became cinematically popular it was still something I mentally wrestled with. As a reader of Strength and Health magazine and a disciple of Bob Hoffman though, I possessed a bare chest that was pretty good in those days but evidently it was not enough to overcome my failure at the real test that day -- stealing the band-aid. I wasn’t too surprised when I didn’t get any further with this girl.

My larcenous nature was not tested again for many years until one day when I found myself in Macy’s looking at bookcases. I didn’t see any that I liked but I did notice a copy of Frank Gruber’s Brass Knuckles tucked in among all the other worthless books displayed on the floor model bookcases. I really wanted that book and even though I knew there would be no consequences in spiriting it away, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I did however come back the next day with another book which I “traded” for the Gruber. I still hadn’t really passed the larceny test.

Fast forward to the present. I am in a doctor’s waiting room pawing through the magazines when I come across a copy of The Journal of the American College of Cardiology. This magazine is just jam packed with articles I’d like to read -- articles about statins and stents, bypass surgery, and lipid levels. I immediately decide that not only am I probably the only patient that would want to read this stuff, I also decide that I would actually be doing a good deed if I “spirited” this issue out of there. What could the doctor have been thinking when he left a magazine out there that would undoubtedly scare the daylights out of any skittish patient who dared to crack it open?

After reading the journal I am still curious about this stuff and discover a website where I can learn everything there is to know about stents. I hope I’ll never need one but at least I’ll be prepared if that day ever comes. (P.S. I’m a minor expert on stents now if anyone needs a consultation). Again, I can’t believe this information is available for anyone to look at. I can access every issue of a journal that’s basically intended for cardiologists who place the stents. There are stories here about stents gone amuck as they were being placed and lots of other installation mishaps that would send any prospective patient fleeing. One article’s title was especially chilling -- “Don’t Cause a Stroke While Trying To Prevent One.”

I have quickly become a medical journal junkie. I have hundreds of journal articles on my desk and now whenever I go into a meeting I always take a stack of them with me. As soon as the meeting turns boring (usually almost immediately), I start reading journal articles. It’s better than sitting there with a bored expression on your face for a couple of hours and my coworkers have even gotten used to my behavior.

In my medical journal surfing I have finally found one that has obsessed me. There is an issue of The Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology that has eighty some pages devoted to the effects of chocolate and cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health (one of my favorite research topics). The problem is that this is not available online and a twelve issue subscription to this august journal costs nearly nine hundred dollars. Ouch!

I tried to find a medical school library nearby that had this but no luck. I’m not positive but I’m pretty close to the point where I might try to “liberate” this issue even if they had a guard watching it. Of course I’d bring it back after I had a chance to read it. I guess I’m still light years away from truly larcenous behavior. Stealing valuable knowledge like this can’t really be a crime anyway, can it?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

By Jeeves!

One of the great advantages of working in Newark (as opposed to New York) is that I only have a rather painless twenty-six minute rail commute. Another advantage is having access to the Newark Public Library, a library that’s actually older than the New York Public Library (though it has far fewer books to be sure).

Still, there are a lot of dusty old treasures in the Newark library since they don’t seem to get rid of their older books. One interesting book that I came across recently is Author! Author! (Simon and Schuster, 1962) which is a book of letters that P.G. Wodehouse (who will always be remembered for giving us that unforgettable servant, Jeeves) sent to his friend W. (Bill) Townend, a fellow writer The book is a veritable writing manual and there are no shortage of great passages one could quote. Here’s one I especially liked about the genesis of ideas for stories:

Listen, Bill. Is this a crazy idea? I suddenly thought the other day that, as there are always a lot of rats on a tramp ship, why shouldn’t one rat, starting by being a good bit bigger than the other rats and so able to eat them daily, gradually grow and grow till he became the size of a bloodhound? This accomplished, he begins to throw his weight about. Mysterious things happen on the ship. The bosun is found dead with his face chewed off, two cabins boys disappear entirely. And so on. Is this any good to you? It certainly isn’t to me.

There really ought to be some sort of central bureau, an Ideas Exchange, where authors could send plots they couldn’t use themselves and other authors could buy anything that suited their style. The bureau would charge ten per cent for its services and clean up.

Wodehouse proposed this idea in 1920!

I didn't know that much about Wodehouse before reading this book. His early years make for great reading. On his second trip to New York (in 1909) Wodehouse had a great stroke of luck, selling two stories in one morning, to Cosmopolitan and Collier's for $200 and $300 respectively. He immediately decided not to return to England, instead renting an apartment in Greenwich Village. He thought he could "live there practically forever on $500, especially as there were always the Cosmopolitan and Collier's standing by with their cornucopias, all ready to start pouring." Of course, as usually happens, he was not able to sell either of them another story and he eventually gravitated to the pulps before being discovered by Vanity Fair (he wrote about half of each issue under a number of names) and then going on to success in the world of theatre, and then of course his great creation, Jeeves.

This from the front cover flap copy of Author! Author!: Our advice to all writers -- would-be writers, stalled writers, good-style-no-plot writers, good-plot-no-style writers, rejected writers, and writers who want to be better, happier writers -- can be summed up in three words: GRAB THIS BOOK.

It is our hunch -- only a hunch, but a powerful one -- that you will be seized with a burst of inspiration and resolve that will propel you to your own typewriter the minute you have finished the last page of AUTHOR! AUTHOR!

Propel yourself to a library to look for this -- you won't be disappointed!