Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.



My friend Doug — he of Doug’s Reading List and the only modern explorer any of us will ever know — was in town last week from the lower provinces of Patagonia or wherever his latest trek has taken him. You may recall that Doug, who is a reader for the ages, ejected all his thousands of books several years ago because they couldn’t fit onto a boat or a motorcycle. Now he and his wife, fellow adventurer Stephanie, have invested in a Kindle 2. I have seen the Kindle 2 and admire its functionality. But, as with print newspapers, it has proved difficult to break my addiction. I love books — not just reading them, but holding them and turning their pages and admiring their papery feeling and their floral aroma of decaying pulp. I also like having them on shelves in bookcases throughout my house and my office where I can see them and, let’s admit it, where others can see them. I check out the books in others’ homes and I like to see them checking mine out too.

But now I’m overbooked. Either that, or under-bookcased. All of our eight bookcases at home (one in office, three in kids’ rooms, one in bedroom, three in living room) are overstuffed with books and I pledged to my wife that we were done adding bookcases. And I’ve been unable to purge myself of any of these books because of the painful memory of my senior year in college when I sold my books back to the college bookstore because I needed the money. My favorite professor caught me in the act and said sadly, “Monsieur Wochner, you are selling your books?” It was heartbreaking. And stupid — because over the years I wound up buying most of them again at full price. I now know:  When you’re a playwright, you might have further need some day of “Seven Plays” by Sam Shepard, and books like it. Since then, I’ve lived in fear that the book I part with will be the book I’ll need. Having a Kindle 2 might help with that; my purchases would be digital files on Amazon.com.

But… what if Amazon.com goes out of business in my lifetime?

And what about after my lifetime? I like to think my books will find future readers. Who will read my future digitized Amazon library? Probably no one.

kafka_crumbcover.jpgHere’s something that I wonder if having clear bookcases — so I could actually see the spines of the books — might help. Last night I was reading Kafka by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz. Crumb provides wonderful illustrations to summaries of Kafka’s great works, with introductory-level biographical text by Mairowitz. Recently on this blog, a friend suggested that I get this and read it, and I almost did buy it two weeks ago at my local comics store. Then I stumbled upon it in the last stack of unread books from last summer’s San Diego Comic Con. So I had already bought it and completely forgot. I dived right into it two nights ago and was thoroughly enjoying it and was surprised, given that I’m a fan of both Kafka and Crumb, that I hadn’t already bought it when it first came out, in 2004. As it was, some of it seemed familiar, but I just figured I’d seen chapters in Weirdo or other magazines with Crumb work.

kafkaintroducingcover.jpgI Tweeted a tiny rave about the book today and resolved to write an appreciation here tonight. In so doing, I Googled for images and found this. First thought:  “Crumb did two books about Kafka? He must be a huge fan!” Second thought: “This is an earlier edition of the same book.”  The cover looked hauntingly familiar. As in, familiar from my bookcases. I went to the “K” section of the first living room bookcase, moved aside two stacks of books, and found “Introducing Kafka” by David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb right where I now thought it would be.  The same contents, but in a 1994 First Edition from Kitchen Sink Press. So I’ve now bought and read this book twice (and almost bought it thrice). That’s the downside. The upside:  It’s been a great first read — twice. Because in the 15-year interim I’d forgotten I’d read it.

(By the way, the Introducing Kafka cover  shown here has a slightly different title layout at the top than my first edition, meaning it must be a later edition. Proving that there’s still money to be made in Crumb and Kafka, if not Mairowitz.

kafkacrumborange.jpgEnd note:  My Google investigations turn up yet another Kafka book illustrated by Robert Crumb and with text by David Zane Mairowitz.  This one is called R. Crumb’s Kafka, “with text by David Zane Mairowitz.” I’m thinking this is the same book. (And given the title, I’m guessing it’s Mr. Mairowitz’s least favorite edition.) The cover is different, but they’re right when they say you can’t judge a book by its cover.

I’m not falling for it again.

3 Responses to “Overbooked”

  1. Isabel Storey Says:

    Your posting brings to mind two thoughts:

    1) Article in today’s LA Times said that Kindle might hold the key to the future of newspapers. A few newspaper companies are making deals with them requiring readers to buy a subscription to the paper in order to see it on the Kindle. This is encouraging to the papers, because it’s reviving the idea (which had started to slack off because of internet) that people should pay for a subscription.

    2) Each progression of the way we record words seems to make them less permanent. We still have stone tablets dating back thousands of years…paper lasts at least a few hundred…but words stored in electronic devices – do they even really exist anywhere – and will anyone ever remember, find them, even tomorrow?

  2. Paul Crist Says:

    I remember reading an article awhile ago about important documents that will have historical value in the future being electronically transmitted. The article compared the Bill of Rights treatment when it was written to today. The writer said that the Bill of Rights would have no paper trail, it would be created on a computer, singed by electronic signature, sent to the states by e-mail, voted on electronically, and the results sent back to Washington in a digital format. We would loose the historical value of the document with a electronic treatment of an important document.

    I agree with Isabel about the progression of recording words making them less permanent. In the PBS series, The Civil War, Ken Burns used many letters written from that time to illustrate the people’s thoughts and feelings. Today with e-mail there will be little for historians to look back on to see what we thought and felt towards our times.

  3. Autopsis » Blog Archive » The Book Shelf Says:

    […] books to display on your bookshelves. Bookshelves can be a trauma in their own right, as my friend Lee Wochner describes here. But the prospect of not having any books to display on those shelves, makes moving to an eReader a […]

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