duck-shaped pain


7 April 2001
Booktacular. Or, Maybe, Book-o-Rama. Something Like That.

Sure, spring officially began last month. But things are different here. The weather is still dicey at times and nothing's really growing much yet, so we rely on other things to let us know that's it's really spring.

The big marker is a group of otherwise-unrelated events that, for the most part, always happen in April. Sometimes they happen all fairly close to one another, like this year, and sometimes they don't, but when they roll around, then you know that it's time. Time to enjoy the outdoors when it's not terribly cold and before it starts to get incredibly warm. Time to enjoy the little amount of precipitation we get -- most of which shows up about now -- before the four or so months of utter dryness we call summer roll around.

The first event is ditch burning. Farmers and other people who have ditches on their property do this to clear the ditch beds and banks of all sorts of weeds and extraneous debris before water starts to flow through them. You can always smell ditch burning season before you're really even aware that it's arrived: the entire valley smells sort of smoky and dank for awhile. Ditch burning season actually started in March this year, though. People like to out-do their neighbors in the race to see who can light up their ditch banks first.

Ditch burning used to be more anticipated than it is now, at least where I live. It meant that asparagus season was about to start, for it used to grow wild on the ditch banks in this part of town. I have no idea why it doesn't anymore, but it used to be a big deal.

The second, and the biggest, is the opening of the Grand Valley Canal System. Every April 1st or thereabouts, various city and county agencies hold a big ceremony to mark the start of irrigation season. Important People huddle around the head of the largest canal in the morning (invariably always a really dusty, dry morning -- appropriate somehow) and then someone turns a wheel or pushes a button, and the canal opens and the valley's allotment of Colorado River water starts to fill it. The Important People cheer, or so I've heard. I'm not Important enough to go. But it's a big deal.

From now until the end of October, there will be water flowing places water wouldn't flow naturally, so that people can water their lawns and grow their tomatoes. While I can get behind tomatoes, the filling of the canals makes driving all that much riskier. These are open canals, and there are only flimsy guard rails between them and the roads that go over them. Every year, there are inevitably one or more tales of automotive woe, of someone who somehow drives into a canal and can't get out. I am always certain that this going to be me someday, and I try to go out of my way to not drive over a canal.

Unrelated to irrigation is the third thing, which happened this weekend: the enormous library book sale. The library culls its shelves of unwanted books and pulls together an entire year of donations, and fills the big "barn" [1] in the park with them. People come in a buy them, for cheap cheap cheap. (The as-yet-unmentioned fourth even is the enormous Methodist church rummage sale, which is either next weekend or the one after that.)

This is something I look forward to all year. When I lived in Denver, I used to drive back here for the weekend just to go the book sale (however, I did not fly back here when I was in Oregon for the sale, but I thought about it). I didn't go last year, though, because I was on crutches and people at the sale get all book-crazed and mean and I wasn't up for that.

I took the day off of work for the book sale (actually, I took the day off for the book sale and because I was planning to go to Denver for the weekend, but since that didn't pan out [2], it was all book sale, all day, whether going there, coming back from there, or recovering from there).

I planned to go there early and stand in line and be one of the first ones in the door, but that would have required me to get up when my alarm rang. And, it was raining, so I figured going right at the opening time was the plan for me. I got there, prepared. Comfortable shoes. Cargo shorts to put my wallet and keys in, leaving my hands unencumbered. Enormous string bag to haul books around in.

It wasn't as busy as I thought when I got there, at least not in my favored sections. The real battles were going on in fiction and romances. I had the entire cookbooks section to myself for awhile, and I grabbed many things (more on what I actually bought in a bit). My next goal was the poetry/classics section, even though I didn't find anything there. What they had either wasn't good or was something I already have, so I passed it by.

Where I found the most books were the non-fiction tables. Just by the meaning of the word, this was sort of a mixed bag. Gems poked out every once in awhile from the multiple copies of What Color is Your Parachute? (various editions), biographies of unimportant celebrities and almost every book ever written by a local author. [3]

There were fights over things at the religion, health and self-help section, so I just skimmed those. I found a couple of things there, but I also saw a lot of complete nutjob books, ones that insist the entire key to life is getting enough fruit enzymes or things like that.

I sidled up to the fiction tables and looked for awhile. I know this is heretical, but I'm not a huge fiction fan. It's probably the category of books I read the least. It wasn't always this way, but it's true now. I like reading non-fiction a lot more. Still, I managed to grab some good stuff, even though the little old ladies who dominate the fiction section can be mean.

Textbooks - not too interested. I glanced through the genre fiction, but this is also not my area, really.

I ended up having to make two trips. The bag I brought held a vast quantity of books, but it expanded so much that they all spread out too much, making sort of a book pancake that I had to carefully maneuver around the floor, being careful not to smack anyone in the ankles with it. So when it got to be too much, I bought what I had, took them out to the car and came back for more.

In the end, I got about 35 books. Not bad, considering I only spend $12. Now I have absolutely no reason to buy any more books for a long time, since between the purchases today and the books that were already in my unread pile, I have about 75 things that I could read.

I could list everything, but I'll spare you. Here is just a sampling of titles:

  • How to be Brief: An Index to Simple Writing, by Rudolph Flesch. I could use it, certainly.

  • The Book of Green Tea, by Diana Rosen. Lush photography, not many words. Too many instances of the word "healing." Originally immensely overpriced for its size and length, but includes a decent section detailing different types of tea. I got it because it was slick and barely read, which means that once I read it, it's heading on over to the pile.

  • A History of Kansas. High school textbook, published in 1914 -- did Kansas have a whole hell of a lot of history at that time? Begins with the sentence, "No State has a history better calculated to inspire patriotism in the young than has Kansas." Guess that settles it, then. Breezes through the native Americans and the Spanish in about three pages, then devotes the rest of its 225 pages to things that occurred just before or after statehood. Riveting chapter titles such as "Kansas as a Pathway," "Kansas Welcomes The Indians," "Kansas Fights the Civil War," and "Qualities That Make The Kansas Spirit."

  • The Collector Collector by Tibor Kallman. Novel narrated by a sentient jar. That's all I needed to know.

  • A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm, by Stanley Crawford. Agriculture porn. New Mexico porn.

  • Children's Gastronomique, by Christine Ripault. Bizarre book on how to get your children to eat French food. Not like I ever plan to use it, but it's pretty fascinating, written under the assumption that everyone will like veal chops in cream sauce if you only make them.

  • The Kangaroo Notebook, by Kobo Abe. One of his that I haven't read, about a man who finds that there are radish sprouts growing out of his shins.

  • A Bowl of Red: A Natural History of Chili con Carne, by Frank X. Tolbert. Self-explanatory.

  • Water: Almost Enough for Everyone, by Stephanie Ocko. Survey of towns around the world are facing water crises and others who are successfully dealing with their limited resources. Fascinating to me and about five other people.

  • Cooking in a Small Kitchen, by Arthur Schwartz. Nice soup recipes, set in Garamond. Author in picture on back has really impressive beard. Sometimes that's all it takes.

  • How to Make Love in Five Languages, by Doris Lilly. Silly paperback with silly cover. Advice not to be taken literally.

  • And, about 24 more. I also found two old school notebooks full of writing that I snapped up. When I got home, I found that they were some unnamed woman's lists of all the books she read during the years 1936 and 1939. She read a lot, but most of her comments run along the lines of "I didn't like these characters." Not like any of mine are better, but with handwriting like hers, you expect some sort of profundity.

    [1] It's called a "barn" but it really looks like a big gymnasium or enormous glorified shed. Anyway, it holds a lot of books.

    [2] Many reasons: it was snowing in the mountains, it was windy in the mountains (my car is nearly impossible to drive in high winds), I was tired, I was supposed to go to a show (Low) with my friend S., but he was too broke to go and I've already seen them twice, so the desire to drive eight hours round-trip just wasn't there anymore, and I haven't gotten paid yet, so the disposable income isn't exactly free-flowing at the moment.

    [3] I suppose this would be depressing, seeing multiple copies of your hard work for sale for 25 cents a copy. Even if it's for a good cause, it just might be hard to take. However, if like one local author, you titled your book Betty: The Awakening, you get what you deserve.

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