Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Homage to the Kindle. Not.

It was March 18, 2109, and I was bored. Quendy and I were lying next to each other on Quagnar beach, drinking Zoofle Blasters and watching sky pirates shooting each other down over the ocean.

“I’m sick of Zoofle Blasters,” I said, throwing away my fluorescent blue cup. It disappeared as soon as it hit the sand. “And I’m sick of sky pirates. They always do the same thing every time.”

“Me, too,” said Quendy. “Maybe we should go visit the Xenon 5 beach. They have a whole new sky pirate show.”

“Okay,” I said. We both felt 25 zilodollars drain from our accounts, and the beach around us changed. Now it was green sand, instead of black. The sky pirates were black, instead of red, and they shot each other down even more frequently. There were four suns in the sky.

“What kind of drinks are there here?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Quendy. Immediately a pull down menu appeared in our heads.

“I’ve had all of these,” I said.

“Me too,” said Quendy.

“Well,” I said, “maybe we should call it a day. I can’t think of a single thing to do.” We lay there in the green sand, not wanting to go somewhere else because we’d already spent 25 zilodollars getting to Xenon 5. Suddenly Quendy spoke up.

“I have an idea,” she said excitedly. “I know something we could do. Let’s go to a bookstore.”

“A bookstore?” I asked. “Why?” I’d already downloaded all the books I needed for school. I had them on background filter, and they were slowly transferring directly into my brain. Some people like to do it all in one go, but that makes my head hurt.

“No,” said Quendy. “This is different. I saw it when we went to visit Grandma and Grandma in Happy-Old Land.”

“Oh,” I said. “So it’s out there?”

“Yeah,” said Quendy.

“Weird,” I said. “Why would there be a bookstore out there?”

“You’ll see,” said Quendy. We turned off our Virtua-Screens, and got up from my sofa. Then we got in the hyper-car, and Quendy set it for 5212324 Happy-Old Land Drive.

“I know it’s near there,” said Quendy. When we appeared, things looked pretty familiar. I’d only been to 3423435 Happy-Old Land Drive, to visit my grandparents, but this place wasn’t so different.

“I think it’s next door,” said Quendy. “But we have to walk.” We got out of the car, and walked about twenty feet to the next building, which felt strange. The building said “O’Gara and Wilson” on an green cloth thing hanging out in front.

“This is it,” said Quendy. “I’ve been here with my grandmother once.”

Inside the store were all sorts of things that I’d learned about in history class, called realbooks. There were big realbooks, and little realbooks, and they were filled with words, just like the ones in the advertisements and pull-down menus.

“This is so weird,” I said. “What do you do with these?”

“Read them,” said a voice behind me. “Although no one really does, anymore.” I turned and saw an ancient man, with bushy eyebrows and a goatee.

“Why would you read them,” I asked, “if you can just download them instantly and transfer them into your brain in the background?”

“Well,” said the old man, “some realbooks aren’t actually available for download. Take this one, for example.”

He opened a case made out of something called glass, and took out one of the strange old things. The front (he called it a cover) looked like this.

“Careful,” he said, as I flipped through it.

“Cool,” said Quendy.

“Not just cool, young lady,” said the old man. “It’s the coolest Collectible realbook in the store. Written in 1901 by H.G. Wells, a first edition, back when people had never visited the moon before.”

I’d been to the moon with Quendy lots of times. Super boring, unless you’re a little kid. “Can’t download a first edition,” added the old man, though I didn’t know what he meant. “That’s why it’s so expensive.” 400 zilodollars, said the price tag. That was like 16 beach trips.

“What are these?” asked Quendy, who had found something somewhere else in the store.

“That’s a magazine,” said the old man. I recognized the little white cylinders in the picture – they were cigarettes. Long ago, said the history textbook I’d uploaded last year, people used to kill themselves by smoking them.

“Is a magazine a realbook?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” said the old man. “But it would take too long for me to explain the difference. Not too expensive, though,” he said. “Only 6 zilodollars, so you could probably get one yourself. We’ve got Time magazines, like that one, and also Life magazines. Affordable and Interesting, magazines.”

“Of course,” he said, “you probably don’t know how to read.”

“Nope,” I said. Only old people knew how to read, like this guy or grandparents. “It would take so long. And these realbooks are big and clunky. I think downloading is much easier.”

“I don’t know,” said Quendy. “Maybe it would be fun to learn how to read.” The old man didn’t say anything. He just went over and pulled another realbook off the shelf and started reading from the back.

This is what he read:

“We read to find the end, for the story’s sake. We read not to reach it, for the sake of the reading itself. We read searchingly, like trackers, oblivious of our surroundings. We read distractedly, skipping pages….We read in gusts of sudden pleasure, without knowing what brought the pleasure along.”

Quendy and I browsed for a while, and I ended up buying the realbook the old man had read from, for only 9.5 zilodollars. It was called A History of Reading, by an elder-one named Alberto Manguel. Even though it didn’t look that special, it was my Favorite thing in the store, and no matter how much I searched the Virtua-Center, I couldn’t find a copy available for download, at least not at that price.

(Thank you to M.T. Anderson and his wonderful realbook, "Feed".)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"All for me Grog-Blog"

(Apologies to multimedia fans out there -- no pictures this time, technical difficulties).


Close readers of this blog may have noticed that the name of our store is O’Gara and Wilson. Wilson, needless to say, is the surname of our current visionary owner, Douglas Wilson. But what of “O’Gara”? Who’s behind those beautiful Irish syllables?

Don’t worry, I’ll give it to you quick and easy. Joseph O’Gara, a bookman of the highest order, that’s who. He inherited the store in 1937, and ran it for a long, long time. Smoked a pipe, had a cat, and argued with anyone and everyone who walked through the door. He left us for the Heavenly four-leafed clover meadows some years back, but his spirit still lingers in the bookshelves and the treasures they hold.

In fact, his spirit was in here this morning. “Alan,” it said wispily, but with a pronounced Irish brogue. “Why haven’t you gotten started on the grog?”

“Who’s there?” I asked. “What ghost haunts this bookshop? And what kind of grog does it fancy?” I added, just in case.

“Not grog,” said the spirit, materializing slowly. It was bald with a moustache and wire-rimmed glasses, and a pipe in its mouth. “Blog. Young Dougie has hired a real winner here, I see.” That’s when I knew it must be him, the legendary Joseph O’Gara.

Now, those who knew Mr. O’Gara might object at this point, if they haven’t already. “He didn’t speak with an Irish accent,” they might say, or “He never referred to Mr. Wilson as Dougie.” Fair enough. If you want the scoop on our founder, come in and chat with Mr. Wilson himself. He’ll tell you how Mr. O’Gara faked being Scottish, regaled customers with crazy tales, and made the bookshop a wonderful place to be.

But for the sake of this blog entry, please let’s power through the falsehoods until the imminent segue.

“I haven’t gotten started because I’ve got writer’s block,” I told Mr. O’Gara’s spirit. “I’m completely stumped.”
“Well, lad, write on Ireland, my homeland.”
“But why Ireland?”
“What’s wrong with you?” he said. “Are your brains addled from not enough reading? It’s Irish-American Heritage month!”
“Good Guinness!” I shouted. “That’s brilliant! But there’s a problem…”
“What’s that?” asked the spirit, and ultra-wispy smoke wafted from the semi-wispy pipe he held clamped in his teeth.
“Well—“ I hesitated.
“Out with it, lad!”
“I don’t know anything about Ireland. Not a single thing.”

Mr. O’Gara flitted over to the Ireland section.

“Start with this,” he said, and handed me the ironically titled Oxford Companion to Irish History.

“Leaping leprechauns!” I exclaimed, after flipping through it briefly. “It’s so informative and thick, just like all the other companions from Oxford that we've come to know and love. And cheap too, only $9.50! I’ll make it our Affordable and Interesting item.”

“Enough with the shop-talk,” said Mr. O’Gara. “You’ve not much time before I disappear and your deadline comes.”

“But I’m helpless without you,” I said. “All I know about is Chinese philosophy and fairy tales.”

The spirit’s moustache twitched with impatience. “And didn’t Oscar Wilde write about both?”

“Sure,” I said, “but that doesn’t help.” Suddenly it hit me like a blood pudding in the face. “He was IRISH,” I exclaimed, and rushed to the glass case and picked out one of most wonderful Collectible books in the store.

Were the blasted camera working, you'd be treated to numerous pictures from the second edition of Wilde’s famous fairy tales, illustrated by Walter Crane and Jacob Hood. You would be able to see the beautiful condition, and establish for yourself that the price of $650 is easily worth it. This book, you would think to yourself, is something one finds at the end of a rainbow on a lucky day. Instead you'll have to imagine all that, or come in to our store and see it in person.

In fact, the book is so wonderful that I began paging through it myself, before the blog deadline interrupted my reveries.

“Aiee!” I said, looking through Mr. O’Gara at the clock. “It’s nearly time, I’ve got to post this thing.” With a disdainful nod, the spirit floated back over to the Ireland section.

“This is probably beyond you, lad, but put it in there. Only true Irish-people will know what it is. But it’s one of my Favorites, from when I was a wee boy.”

He handed me (how did he do it with those wispy fingers) a book that appeared to be in a foreign language.

"But I need something in English," I said. Mr. O'Gara didn't even deign to answer. I asked the computer and found out that Fiche Blian Ag Fas translates as Twenty Years A’Growin, and it’s one of the most famous pieces of modern literature written wholly in Irish. An excellent present for the Irish lover in your life, difficult to find in a nice vintage edition like ours, and impossible for a mere $15.

As soon as I finished writing that last paragraph, Mr. O’Gara tapped out his pipe and spoke his final words to me.

“The craic was good,” said the spirit, and disappeared.

That’s right – it’s pronounced crack. But don’t go getting any ideas until you read up on the original meaning, hopefully in a book you purchase from O’Gara and Wilson. And "All for me Grog" really is a real song (just ask the Google-mind if you're an unbeliever).

Happy Irish-American heritage month!