Check out this article over at The New Yorker. It’s the latest Shouts and Murmurs, if you’re familiar with the magazine. If you’re not, Shouts and Murmurs is a humor column; I don’t always find it funny, but this time it’s great. The column starts off with this excerpt from an article on “Ten Sure Ways to Trim your Budget”:
Check books out of the library instead of buying them. . . New releases of hard-cover novels cost $25 and more these days. If you buy just two a month, that’s $600 a year.
The author, Ian Frazier, then gives a series of quotations from people who live in a made-up world where people are addicted to novels and waste tons of money on them and could turn their financial lives around if only they’d stop buying novels. Some highlights:
Mrs. Louise Rodgers, Eau Claire, Wisconsin: “I never owned brand-new hardcovers when I was a girl, and now I want my twin sixteen-year-old boys to enjoy opportunities I didn’t have. My boys are like any American teen-agers, in that they eat, sleep, and breathe novels. And they don’t want the three-dollar used paperback version, either. It’s got to be new, mint, original dust jacket, the works. How do you tell a youngster that he can’t have that just-released Modern Library edition of the complete Sinclair Lewis he’s been dreaming of? But I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do; I don’t see any other option.”
Jules Amthor, Torrance, California: “Let me give you a hypothetical situation: I’m walking down the street, I pass a bookstore, and they have a little table out front with some of the latest novels. I pick one up. The jacket says it’s about a male professor of writing who has an affair with a much younger female student. I leaf through the book, and I come across a sentence about the student, who is also very beautiful, sleeping in the passenger seat of a car that the narrator (the professor) is driving, and the student wakes, and stretches, and looks at the professor, and—here’s the part that gets me—the pattern of the car-seat upholstery is still imprinted on her cheek. Well, there’s simply no way I’m not going to buy that book. I can be dead broke, nothing left on the credit cards—doesn’t matter. And that’s what happens to me, over and over again.”
Mitch Gelman, West Hempstead, New York: “As an accountant, the first thing I tell my clients is ‘Get a library card!’ Otherwise, you’re too subject to temptation, and liable to find yourself in over your head. Few people know that the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is the ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ novels. You overspend on one, and, just when you begin to dig yourself out, the next installment comes along. Public libraries began during the Depression as a government measure against this very problem. They’re there for our protection, so we should use them.”
Melissa S., Manhattan: “Eventually, I was able to cut back on novels to one a month, then half a novel, then just a few pages. As of this week, I have not looked at a novel (except from the library) for eighteen months, knock wood. For the first time, I’m learning what it is to live within a budget. At the end of the month, I’m always surprised to find a positive balance in my checking account—it’s nice. Little by little, I’ve reacquainted myself with my TV. There have been some innovations in the formats of reality shows that I had known nothing about. Every morning now I make it a point to get dressed and go outside. I’m paying more attention to my hair. If I hadn’t happened to pick up that copy of the News that day, I don’t know where I’d be.”
I may have given you most of the article. Anyway — wouldn’t that be a very different world to live in?