Books Is Half a Book Better Than None?
posted by October 15 at 13:40 PMon
My brother took me to a bar under the El tracks in Chicago’s Loop yesterday. I’ve probably walked past Monk’s Pub a hundred thousand times and never thought to stop in for a beer because, well, just look at the place. Looks a little skeezy, no? And bars that you can’t see into—bars without windows—aren’t very welcoming, are they?
Ah, but everything inside Monk’s Pub was warm and worn and welcoming.
We got a round of beers and discussed the bookshelves lining the walls at Monk’s Pub while we waited for our burgers. The books aren’t there to be read, of course, but to give the place a nice, cozy library-like feel. They set my brother off: He lectured me about the long history of books being used meaningless decorative objects, citing The Great Gatsby, and he explained to me that bookstores once bound all books to order, which is why all the bindings match in, say, the library of grand old English country home. I told my brother that I was in the habit of removing books from hotel lobbies and restaurants and bars—books that are being used as decorative objects, not books that are there to be read—and reading them. Something about the randomness appeals to me. (My last theft? A particularly moving collection of poems—that’s right, Frizzelle, poems—that I found in a hotel lobby a few days after my mother died.) So I strolled over the bookshelves in Monk’s Pub to see if there might be a book that I wanted to take with me and read on the train.
But it’s kind of hard to read a book that’s been cut in half.
The bookcases at Monk’s Pub aren’t deep enough to shelve full-sized books, so all the books had been cut in half, lengthwise. Which makes you wonder: Would Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese be half as bad in this form? Or twice as bad due to its (enhanced) incomprehensibility?
The bartender noticed me pulling books off shelves and asked what I was up to. I told her that I thought it was hilarious/tragic that all their books had been cut in half like this.
“That way nobody takes any,” the bartender replied.
I was tempted to steal one anyway—two or three. I wanted to bring home The Gay Year—a classic gay pulp novel! in hardcover! first edition! cut in half!—and ask Paul to review it. How would it read? Would it make a rough sort of sense with half of every page crudely sawn away? And would cutting a book in half like this create any accidentally brilliant new passages? Alas, the bartender watched me like a hawk while we ate, so what remains of The Gay Year—the gay six months?—remains on the shelf at Monk’s Pub. But my brother promised to return to Monk’s sometime, order a pitcher or two of beer, and read a cut-in-half collection of science fiction stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and review it for Slog.