Do you remember automats? I do. Well, mostly I remember seeing them as a kid in old movies on television. Particularly movies set in New York where chicly dressed women in gloves with handbags on their wrists lunched at the automat with men in suits, gulped down their coffee, and rushed back to work. Or to finish their shopping. That was real life, I thought. Hustle and bustle and big cities, taxis, glamorous jobs during the day, lunching at the automat, and dancing in nightclubs in the evenings. I thought that was how all grown-ups lived. Well, except for the grown-ups I knew. Ha.
I was six years old when I had lunch at an automat. My mum and I were in St. John’s, Newfoundland visiting my aunt and uncle and their new baby. Mum and I were taken out for a day of shopping and lunch by the wife of a friend of my grandfather’s. I remember the kind lady who shepherded us around that day seemed sort of posh to me, in her white summer gloves, with her handbag on her wrist. Her husband was initially a business acquaintance of my grandfather, but somehow they became friends, probably through poker and too much Screech. The husband was a federal politician, and so a bit intimidating, but Mum said his wife was kindness personified. And that morning, I was warned to be on my absolute best behaviour.
And I was. Until we arrived at the automat. Such a panoply of food. At six years old, I had never eaten in a real restaurant before. And this was a real restaurant to me. One where I could see everything and knew exactly what I would be missing if I chose one thing over another. I think the lady loved little girls, or she just liked me, but I was told to have whatever I wanted. So with this encouragement, I chose one thing, then another, then encountered another even more delicious something further along the line, and despite my mum hissing at me, “You’ll never eat all that,” of course I chose that something too. I remember by the time we sat down my tray was full and I couldn’t eat half of it. The lady chuckled with delight. But Mum was mortified.
You know, I’m still a bit like that when it comes to eating out. I want everything I see. I savour the menu with anticipation, gaze longingly at other people’s plates when a waiter passes, and am unable to let a dessert trolley roll by without inspecting the delights it holds. Thank goodness I no longer order everything in sight but, I tell you, sometimes I’m tempted.
I’m like that with books too. I want to read them all. I do. All the books suggested to me by readers on this blog, all the great ones I read reviews about, every new book by a writer I love, every book tangentially related to one I’ve recently enjoyed. Diving down a reading rabbit hole is one of my favourite things. I amass a pile of new books I’ve bought, then add books which have arrived from the library. My pile of physical books is intimidating enough, guilt inducing almost, but I’ve also numerous e-books in a long queue on the library website. I think most avid readers are like this. We’re book gluttons. Sometimes I wish I still had my mum hissing at me, “You’ll never read all that.”
But you see, the problem for me now is that I am turning into a reading magpie. Sampling books here and there, dipping into one, then another, and sometimes having trouble making my way back to finish any of them. I want to read them all. And yet, I can’t seem to focus on one at a time. That’s because I have too many choices, and too many options to get too many books at a time.
What with the ability to reserve hard copy books as well as e-books from the library. Or if the reserve waiting list is too long I can buy the e-book on Kindle, or see if they have it at Cloud Library, for express library e-books. I can probably download the audio book from Audible and pay for it, or try to get a free audio book from the library. Not to mention ordering hardcopy books from Amazon. Or Indigo, with free shipping because of my Plum Rewards membership.
See what I mean? With so many interfaces and devices, reading these days is like lunching at the automat. I see a whole panoply of books arranged before my gluttonous eyes, push my tray along and each book I choose is surpassed by the next delightful one, and the next even more delightful one. And by the time I retreat to my chair I have a whole pile of books that I will never be able to read. Sigh.
Here’s my current “To Read” pile.
I’m halfway through Peter May’s latest book A Silent Death. I set it aside because Adam Minter’s Secondhand arrived at the library. Loved Clothes Last by Orsola de Castro finally was delivered from Amazon, but I haven’t started it yet. I bought The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline because I wanted to be able to dip into it at will and not be worried about returning it to the library. At the same time I bought Paula McLain’s newest book When the Stars Go Dark because I love all her books. I have wanted to read Robert Graves WWI book Good-Bye to All That for ages. It was lent to us by a friend. Hope he doesn’t want it back in a hurry. I waited for ages for Wintering by Katherine May, but I’ve only just started it..
And poor Hilary Mantel. I waited and waited for the last book in her Wolfe Hall trilogy, bought The Mirror and the Light last fall and have yet to start it. It keeps getting shoved aside by more pressing reading matters. I will read it eventually and I know I will love it. I just don’t want to give it short shrift. So it sits and waits.
Here’s my take on what I have sampled recently.
I will uncharacteristically return the Peter May book A Silent Death without finishing it. Hubby read it first and said it was okay. Not up to what we have come to expect from Peter May. And frankly, I am not that interested in the plot or the characters. Bad guys on the Costa del Sol, underfunded Spanish police, and a misanthropic Scottish detective who messes up his life and career because he can’t get along with anyone. I kept thinking I would begin to like it, but I didn’t. So back it goes to the library. “Peter, you can do better than this.”
I love Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter. So interesting and engagingly written. I’ve already talked about that book here on the blog, so I won’t go on. I have just a few chapters left. I’m reading it interspersed with fiction which is how I read all my nonfiction these days.
I’m almost finished a book we read for my book club. The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is a novel about three lighthouse keepers who disappear from their tower lighthouse off the Cornish coast. The men are never found and twenty years later a writer tries to uncover their story. The plot moves back and forth among the three women who are left behind, and the men in their last few weeks on the light in 1972.
I am loving this book. It’s slow moving, but captivating and lyrically written. I can’t put it down. Bit by bit as the novel progresses and the narrative moves back and forth in time, and from narrator to narrator, we learn about the characters, their lives, how others see them, and who they really are. Like the layers of soil scraped away by an archaeologist, slowly, slowly the picture becomes more clear. This is a novel about the past and its enduring effects on the present, about love and obsession, secrets and lies and deceptions. It’s interesting to note that it is partially based on the real story of three missing lighthouse keepers who disappeared from a lighthouse in the Flannan Isles in 1900.
Wintering by Katherine May finally arrived at the library after a long wait. I loved it from the first line. But I’m returning it to the library early so I can order my own copy. I want to savour this book, not rush through it. Sometimes this happens. I borrow a book and then realize that I want to own it instead. It was the same with The Conscious Closet. I borrowed it from the library, started it, and decided that I wanted to go slow with reading it, so I bought it.
Next up for me after I finish The Lamplighters is one suggested by my friend Frances in her latest book post. Lesley Thompson’s The Detective’s Daughter. I have downloaded the e-book from the library. You can read Frances’ book post here. When we go camping this upcoming weekend, I plan to take this fiction and combine it with Elizabeth Cline’s The Conscious Closet. I’m excited to read them both.
And tomorrow I plan to have a strict talk with myself. About my book consumption. About wanting every book I see. I will return all the books (hard copy and electronic) that I cannot possibly read in the next few weeks to the library. The Hilary Mantel and the new Paula McLain will go back to my bookshelf so they are not taunting me daily. I promise I will read them soon. Thus I will stave off book pile guilt.
I will read my fashion revolution books one at a time. No sampling. No getting sidetracked by a new bewitching title until I have finished them both. I will put off ordering Katherine May’s Wintering until the fall. I will go through my list of “holds” on the library website and pause all of them until later in the summer. Much later.
Then I can breath a sigh of relief. And get down to reading and enjoying the two or three books I will pack for our camping trip. Maybe I should pack an extra one. What if it rains all five days and I run out of books? It’s not like I will have a panoply of choice up there in the bush.
You know, writing this post has made me think that heaven must be like an automat. But with books, as well as food. Millions of little windows. We can reach in one window and pull out a piece of coconut cream pie, pull a book from another, pour a cup of tea from one of those huge brass spigots, and repair to a huge comfy chair with all the time in the world to eat and read.
Sounds pretty heavenly to me.
Here’s a clip from the 1962 movie That Touch of Mink. Okay, so the plot isn’t up to much. But Cary Grant sure is. And that automat. A classic.
I love fifties and early sixties movies. Cary Grant, Doris Day. Audrey Meadows; I love her. And the clothes. That little tie at the neck of Doris Day’s sweater? Divine. And my goodness, didn’t she order a mammoth lunch? I thought I had a full tray at the automat when I was there. Ha.
Now, how about you my friends? Are you kind of gluttonous when you are spoiled for choice? Do you want every book you see? Tell us what you’ve been reading so we can put yet more books on our “to read” lists and feel guilty about not getting to them. Just kidding. Really. Tell us what you’re reading.