Agony at the Barnes & Noble

It was agony. Exquisite agony.

I have a gift card from Barnes & Noble. It’s really a nice gift from my kids, and Monday evening we went down to the big store on Veterans Boulevard to spend it.

But it was not as easy as it sounds, not by a long shot. Everything looked so good!

“I’ll take one of those, and one of those, and one of those,” I thought as I wandered the aisles. But that was impossible, of course. $35 – possibly two books, if I ponied up a few bucks of my own.

My first choice was “City of Death,” James Goss’s novelization of a Douglas Adams script for “Doctor Who.” The story (for the fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker) is sort of legendary. On a Friday they realized they were supposed to start shooting a four-part episode on Monday, but they had no script. Adams said the producer, “took me back to his place, locked me in his study and hosed me down with whiskey and black coffee for a few days, and there was the script.” The four-part show is still among the most successful in the 50-plus years of Dr. Who. The novelization came out this summer.

I found another couple of paperbacks, any one of which would have padded out the purchase if I went into pocket for about five bucks. But then I saw the Elvis Costello memoir, “Unfaithful Music.” Costello is a great artist and an interesting guy, and his life is apparently quite – unusual. So I thought maybe that and something cheap.

But then I wandered through the young adult section. I write young adult/middle school, and it’s always a good idea to keep abreast of your field. What’s selling? What’s the style, the subject matter, that the middle school crowd is going for? No vampires or zombies for me, no fantasy magic (or magicke, if you prefer,) no dystopian futures. I have nothing against the genres, you can’t argue with success. They’re just not my thing. I saw several books I thought might be both entertaining and instructive.

But then I went upstairs to the history section, and I was lost. There was a new book on the battle of Waterloo, a book on Nixon, another one on Queen Victoria’s mysterious daughter, Louise. Basically two out of every three books in that section looked like it’d be a great read.

And then I remembered a book I’d seen in the library. I already had a book checked out when I noticed it, but I took a note to make sure I remembered it next time I went to the library. (These days, when I “take a note” of a library book, I take a picture of the cover.) I looked it up on my phone, got the title, and found it.

“They All Love Jack,” Bruce Robinson’s new book on Jack the Ripper. It’s a massive tome. He starts by lining up the “Ripper-ologist” industry and mocking them. Then he tears into the hypocritical morality of the Victorian era (I read the first couple of pages) before setting out for his quarry. It looked fascinating. And it was exactly $35. That would be the one.

I went back downstairs with it and started collecting the family But the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was with my choice Great book, hours and hours of reading. But did I want to spend $35 on a book I could borrow for free from the library? Why would I do that? That’s the point of the library.

It also doesn’t seem like a book I’d read frequently. Shelf space in our house is limited, and most of the books on them are ones we’ve read more than once. Some of them, such as “The Lord of the Rings,” “Stardust,” “Dog On It” and “If Chins Could Kill” we’ve read repeatedly. I suddenly wasn’t feeling as good about the planned purchase.

And then it hit me. A book I’ve read two or three times, had been thinking about just recently, and which I knew for a fact was not available at the local library. I took “They All Love Jack” back upstairs and replaced it on the shelf. (I’m like that, I worked several years in bookstores.) Then I went down and found it.

“Good Omens,” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The funniest book ever written about the end of the world, better even than Douglas Adams’ “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.” And the more background you have in religion, the funnier it is. I’ve read it several times, everyone in the family has read it at least once and expressed interest in reading it again. Great book. We’d left our copy on St. Croix three and a half years ago when we move back to the mainland.

And unlike most other titles by Gaiman and Pratchett, this one is not anywhere in the Jefferson Parish Public Library System. It’s just a guess, but I suspect the fairly sacrilegious nature of the story, with the forces of Good and Evil poised to do final battle. The infant anti-christ has been misplaced and there’ll be hell to pay if the big boys downstairs find out. So the demon in charge teams up with his opposite number. The angel and demon have been on Earth 6,000 years and really don’t want their cushy assignments to end.

And that’s what I bought. I’m delighted, and am already halfway through the book – and even spotted a joke I never noticed before!

But there’s a snag – there’s always a snag, isn’t there? The book was only $15. I’ve still got $20 on the gift card and am going to have to go back and go through all this again.

There’s also this. The gift card was NOT a Christmas present! I got it half a year ago, for Father’s Day. It took that long to decide how to use slightly less than half of it.

Some may be shaking their heads and saying, “John, you’re an idiot. This is NOT a problem.” Well, I probably am an idiot. But just because this is a good thing, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem (you may quote me.) It’s a good problem, but still a problem.

But I won’t dwell on that today. I’ve got a great (re)addition to my library, one that I’m sure I’ll read several times and the rest of the family will enjoy as well. And next week I’ll have to get to the library to return the book I’ve been reading the last few weeks and look for that Jack the Ripper book. A guy’s gotta keep occupied.

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