I never have time to write anymore because I have a job (the merit of which I increasingly question since I’d rather write). But I never stop thinking about writing and in yesterday’s mail was an irresistible catalyst – one of those epic catalogs of remaindered books. Fascinating!
Here is true archaeology, the lure of intellectual rubbish beneath which The Meaning of Something may lie hidden. Surely at least one of these two thousand titles holds some buried gem, overlooked but priceless as that little vase on Antiques Road Show that turns out to be Tang Dynasty lead-glazed sancai, worth five million dollars. I read every title over lunch with the ferocious attention of a brain surgeon.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Chickens
We never really think about chickens, do we? And is it not in just such routine contexts that profound wisdom is perfectly obvious but tragically invisible? What are chickens saying? For that matter, what are chickens? $9.95
I am not intrigued by The Spam Cookbook or any of the eighty-two titles about the World Wars, but HAARP: The Ultimate Weapon of the Conspiracy has promise. “What conspiracy?” I ask the dachshunds circling my chair in the hope of fallen food. I read that HAARP is the acronym for High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It “involved (the U.S. government) building a transmitter of sufficient signal strength to turn the aurora borealis into a virtual antenna to create extremely low frequency waves to travel into the Earth.” The capitalized “Earth” is a red flag and the sentence structure alarming, but still. Maybe there really was a HAARP and some reason for “conspirators” to lure extremely low frequency waves into the earth. Trying to keep an open mind, I drop bits of turkey sausage into a swarm of wagging tails. $11.95
Ah! Having grown up five blocks from the George Rogers Clark Memorial (a national park) and having been forced to memorize much tedious data about the expedition in grade school, I am a sucker for this one, which will reveal “far more than the history books tell.” Apparently Lewis (although not Clark?) discovered “ancient civilizations, strange monuments…” and evidence that somebody white and blue-eyed was in North America long before the first Europeans. And Meriwether Lewis may have been murdered to cover up this secret! I would have loved such spurious theories in fourth grade, but alas, it’s too late now. Lewis was an alcoholic with a depressive disorder, and even Clark agreed that his death was a suicide. And of course there were stray “white” explorers here off and on before the documented European incursions. Hardly a “secret”. Rats. $11.95
I cruise through How To Repair Briggs and Stratton Engines (What is a Briggs and Stratton engine?), Ultimate Guide to Drywall and The Practical Art of Face Reading before skipping a whole page of disaster preparedness guides. (Are people really still building nuclear bomb shelters?) The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin looks interesting until I read that it “explores gender and gay issues evoked by the novel.” Will the post modernists stop at nothing? Gender issues, yes. They’re everywhere. But nobody within a hundred miles of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was gay, or at least if they were, Harriet Beecher Stowe failed to mention it. $11.95
Otto, who is a Jack Russell terrier in a dachshund body, violently shakes an empty cottage cheese container to death as I decide I must have the biography of Edward Gorey. It’s $13.95 and I find I can get it on Amazon for $3.12, which I do in a frisson of guilt over contributing to the demise of traditional publishing while feeding a looming monopoly. Molly, who is a sort of dachshund Emma Goldman, gives me a sadly critical Marxist look and drags her fetish terrycloth rag up their ramp to the couch in front of the TV, turning her back on my treachery.
I am guilty and do penance by reading a few porn titles. Anal sex in gas stations gives new depth to the term “special interest,” and I’m puzzled by an implied connection between the art of Imperial Russia and “buxom barmaids ready for a romp.” There are nine volumes of Letters to Penthouse that I know perfectly well were written by staid, happily married high school teachers who needed the extra cash. I know this because when I was a high school teacher half the crew in the teacher’s lounge were madly paraphrasing lines from D.H. Lawrence for their lucrative sideline in light porn. The abysmally low salaries of high school teachers account for this Louisa May Alcott Syndrome. (She wrote porn to pay the bills, too.) (And no, I didn’t, but it looked like fun.)
The Encyclopedia of Shot Glasses is a deal at $7.95, but I’m pretty sure my last shot glass (See Mammoth Cave!) vanished with my Terri Lee doll. And then I see IT. The buried gem I’ve been looking for.
Decoding the Enochian Secrets; God’s Most Holy Book to Mankind as Received by Dr. John Dee from Angelic Messengers offers “…strange and mysterious content about Enoch’s experiences in the higher realms.” The dachshunds are watching the noon news
as I try to remember who Enoch was. I don’t, but Google “Dr. John Dee,” whose name sounds like the label of a patent medicine. (Dr. Dee’s Exotic Bitters, Cure for Ague and All Bilious Discomforts) Except Dee turns out to be not a 19th century huckster, but a fascinating 16th century mathematician/philosopher/mystic who founded the Rosicrucians and as advisor to Queen Elizabeth designed the British navy, hexed the Spanish Armada and resurrected a 12th century belief that in 1110 Welsh explorers colonized what is now the U.S., vanishing into native populations later discovered to be using Welsh words and boat design. True or not, it provided Britain with a claim to a continent. Dee was a genius, owned the largest library in England and was Shakespeare’s model for Prospero and King Lear. He’s one of those obscure maps into histories lost beneath What We Are Told. What We Are Not Told (Dee was also an adept, a magician, intrigued by the occult) is always more interesting.
“Why have I never heard of this guy?” I ask the dachshunds, who have fallen asleep with the weather report. Everyone falls asleep with the weather report here because it never changes. Neither does history, until a catalog of two thousand remaindered books shows up in your mailbox.
Remaindered books are those nobody bought, nobody read. Their audiences (drywallers and white supremacists [who aren’t big readers] chicken fanatics, macramé artists, etc.) are too narrow for commercial success. The authors, a herd of eccentrics on whom somebody should write a dissertation, are smart but prone to miss the forest for their particular trees. And yet in their singular devotion to Something Or Other, they often open doors to real worlds this world has chosen to bury in obscurity.
I pull out my credit card to join the John Dee Society, except the website offers no membership. I imagine ways to write Welsh-speaking Indians and a genius magician into my next book. I can do that. But I wouldn’t have known to do it if somebody named John DeSalvo (a real person, Ph.D. in Biophysics, look him up) hadn’t written a book that was remaindered.
The catalog of remaindered books has fallen to the floor in my pointless scrounge for a credit card. Otto joyously rips it to sheds in seconds, tail exuberant in quiet afternoon air. Molly sniffs the colorful debris, then cocks her head to regard me with galactic dachshund eyes. “Was this something interesting?” she seems to ask.
“Oh yeah,” I tell her, gathering up the pieces. “You have no idea!”