Gills like Fluttering Pages

I mentioned about halfway down Thursday’s post that I was planning to get my second tattoo the next day.   My mother appears to be the only person who’s interested in whether or not I did or what it looks like—which is just slightly disconcerting, let me tell you—but the rest of you are stuck because I need a post, so here we go.

My first tattoo was a response to a lot of things going on at the time.  While the text had long been planned and the font finally chosen, the decision to get it done right then and there was completely spontaneous.  And I have no regrets.

But this one . . . this one was meticulously, ridiculously planned to the point that any mention of it was starting to seriously irritate both my husband and Watson.*  Mostly I think because this tattoo I’ve been obsessing over is only one single word.

It is, however, a single word that I’ll be confusing people with at the asylum retirement home for years to come, which I think should’ve earned me a little slack—even if it turned out to be a very good thing that the artist** had to move the original appointment back a couple of weeks because I was changing my mind about the look and placement of the thing up until last Monday.

My decision held steady, though, so Watson—whom, as I’ve said, I highly recommend as a tattooing buddy—and I went with me Friday morning, armed with my laptop and a flash drive with the image of what I wanted.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t access the building’s WiFi, my flash wouldn’t work, and my laptop refused to acknowledge their printer.

But I did know which font I’d used in which proportions—yes, obsession has an upside—so the artist downloaded it from FontSpace, recreated what I wanted, and then we all checked the spelling several (dozen) times, because the tattoo might be one word, but that word is . . . different.

After all that, the tattooing itself was a bit anti-climactic.  But, when finished,  perfect:

For those of you blinking in confusion and thinking, O-kaaaay, this is where it started (click to read, unless your eyes are much better than mine):

See, I originally thought I was Beth in this scenario—Lord knows  my husband does—but then I realized that it went a little deeper than that:

Reading is as unconscious a reflex to me as breathing.  I once lost a $50 bet when I couldn’t go an hour without reading—I’d automatically snagged a book on the way to the bathroom and I was honestly confused when I was called on it.

Writing is as much a part of me as reading.  About fifteen years ago, I decided to quit cold turkey—fiction, non-fiction, all of it—because I wasn’t a writer, I was never going to be a writer, I was nothing but a sad wannabe, and I should stick to other people’s words.  I managed one month, maybe, before my husband brought me a legal pad and a pen and told me to “Write something.  Anything.  Please.”***  So I did.  And whatever happens, or doesn’t, I won’t ever quit again.

I’ve been comfortable in all kinds of libraries all my life, and now I spend most of my awake time in one, like a frog in a swamp, so I can take a quick dip when things get too dry.

And to be honest, I’m probably more functional while swimming underneath a wave of written words—mine or someone else’s—and I sincerely doubt that’s ever going to change.

Words—chained, woven, knitted, glued, hammered, scattered, sung—have always provided nourishment, excitement, direction, and purpose.  And escape, too, until it’s safe to come out again.

But I never had a word for what I was, before.

And now I do.


*Though Watson is better at hiding it.  You would think my husband would have built up more tolerance for my unlimited ability to overthink everything, but it’s possible my immediate reaction to his marriage proposal fooled him.

**Whom I chose because I liked what I’d seen of her lettering, plus the place where she works has won several awards and has an excellent reputation.  They also have a couple wiseasses on staff, so I felt right at home.

***Yeah, he might be an enabler, but if I smoked, I’m absolutely certain he wouldn’t have bought me a pack of Camels and told me to light up—and if we asked him, he’d probably say it was more like bringing a Happy Meal to a stubborn toddler on a hunger strike.


Wondermark is the brainchild of the brilliant, handsome, and essentially non-litigious David Malki ! who deserves that exclamation point after his name.

Inner Shelf Life: Bibliophibianism

Lyra sent me a terrific article from the Paris Review last week about Unpacking My Library, in which Harvard professor Leah Price takes a look at the bookshelves of successful writers and interviews them about what she found.

Lyra and I both wondered what our bookshelves said about us and decided to do a Friday shelf share—hers is here.

Mine . . . took a little longer.  I could blame Averil, who just yesterday sent my blog places it’s never been, but really, I couldn’t figure out which shelf represented me.

Which is clearly the wrong way to go about this.  We have at least one bookcase or shelf in every room in the house, and I include the bathrooms in that statement.*  The majority of books on those shelves—including fully half of the ones written for children—are, or were originally, mine.  So, in theory most of these shelves represent me.

As you probably know by now—possibly ad nauseam —I’m a librarian by profession.  I’m paid to find information and reading materials, which means I like it when they’re where they’re supposed to be and spend some time each day making sure they are or complaining if they aren’t.** So you might expect the books I own*** to have some kind of similar arrangement—if not actually by Dewey or Library of Congress, maybe alphabetical within genre, by title or author.

But in my private life, such as it is, I’m a bibliophibian.

Bibliophibians also like to have information and reading materials at hand, but in a much more literal way.  And we tend to read from place to place and set books down and come back and carry them off again in, I like to think, a sort of literary current pattern, driven by metaphorical  thermohaline circulation.^

Which makes this less of a shelf than a tidal pool:

Those plastic things in the upper left hand corner?^^  The Christmas-colored foam picture frame on the right?  Suburban seaweed.

As you can see, there’s no real rhyme or reason to the double-packed arrangement:

There are several mysteries in several subgenres—including a terrific noir I reviewed a year ago and two Robert B. Parkers, which empirically proves this is my stuff— sharing space with quest novels, science fiction, and high fantasy adventures—yeah, that’s Labyrinth—while Emma and Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea try to bracket things with a little class.

A well-loved copy of The Lonely Ones by Mary Brown is tucked next to Geek Wisdom, while on the other side, a patch of theology-themed C.S. Lewis bides its time behind  some paranormal YA.  Beowulf and Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose are camouflaged amidst those serial romances for which an apology will not be forthcoming.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, an oddly shy Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Little Women are perched on top of a Destroyer serial,^^^ waiting for a couple of kids show some interest in books without pictures—though Greenwitch  gives me hope,  as it seems to have wandered from the herd of Susan Cooper two shelves over, and I didn’t move it.

So what does this shelf say about me?

I have questionable eclectic  taste?  I haven’t quite grown up yet?  I have trouble letting go?  I’m all about the escapism?  I’ll read anything that will hold still?


But the one thing I know about this shelf  is that I’ve read every item on it and liked them.  This shelf isn’t a show-shelf.  It’s a reader’s shelf.

So I guess, that makes me a reader.

Quelle suprise.

But several, if not all, of these books have had an influence on what I think a story is, or should be, or could be.  Some have taught me about dialogue, some about plot, about character interaction, strife, longing, or what makes a happy ending—or what can make an unhappy ending just as satisfying.  All by osmosis.

Which, I suppose, makes this a writer’s shelf as well?

Like there’s any difference.

Where are your tidal pools?  What’s in them?


Wondermark! is the brainchild of the ever brilliant David Malki !

* Toilet tank lids are wide and flat for a reason, and that reason, to my way of thinking, has nothing to do with toilet paper cozies.

** I also sort M&Ms into color piles before I eat them.  Don’t judge me.

***Which I will concede don’t actually, technically, include all the books in the library branches—but only under oath.

^If you consider fresh water influx to be new books constantly coming in and the big turnaround in the Oceanic Conveyor Belt near Greenland to be the bathroom off the master bedroom.

^^Remotes for the space heaters we bought when the furnace turned homicidal.  The instructions are on the other side.

^^^The Sky is Falling (#63, by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir), which is far better written than these kinds of things have any right to be.  If you haven’t embraced the cult of Remo Williams, I really can’t explain it.  Go find the movie and make sure your suspension of disbelief is well-secured.

In which a hypocrite bibliophile cleans her room

Janie is just as much of a clutterbug as I am, and it occurred to me last night that complaining about the state of her room is useless as long as my side of the master bedroom is worse.

Plus, you know, I have three chapters of Fun Project to finish and needed an excuse for not sitting down and getting to work.  Cleaning is traditional for this and hooking it up to parenting makes it sound noble.

It took me two hours.  Not because I’m unhygienic—all the laundry piled on and around the rocking chair was clean, thank you—but because I’m a good candidate for Hoarders:  Bibliovore edition.

Seventy-six books.  On my nightstand, on the floor by my nightstand, under my bed, on the back of the commode in the bathroom.  Both bathrooms.

I was strong.  I weeded out the forty I could bear to part with and put them in a bag for donation.  The rest are stacked neatly by my alarm clock or have been released into the general population. 

A general population that is about to call the Literary Civil Liberties Union to report severe and harmful overcrowding.   I’m not exaggerating by much—our books don’t have opposable thumbs, phones, or Internet privileges, but most of our shelves are bearing double rows of paperbacks and a couple lower ones have flat stacks of hardbacks six high.

We can’t keep all of them—okay, we can, but it’s not fair to the books (or the bookcases, if we’re going to go all anthropomorphic).  We don’t read half of them—we can’t see half of them.  So starting next week, the family is going to hold a good old-fashioned weed ing. 

If we can’t see reading it again, out it goes.  If we’ve left a series or author behind, out it goes.  If it’s an occasional reference book owned by the library, if it’s a duplicate or something I don’t mind reading on a screen, it’s gone.

This is going to hurt.  A lot.

But maybe they’ll find good homes, right?  Someone will want the 1980 The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (gorgeous cover) . . . or my spare copy of Police Procedurals: A writer’s guide to the police and how they work (1993)Or maybe Gerald’s Game by Stephen King, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s Blood Noir—both in hardback with dust jackets.


Tell you what:  pick one, leave a comment, and I’ll mail your choice to you for free.  If I don’t have any takers, these poor titles will have to take their chances at the library book sale.  And if they aren’t adopted sold within a certain time period . . .

Do you really want that on your conscience?