An educational deficit

You gotta love an asshole. And by asshole, in this context, I mean curmudgeon.

So. Harlan Ellison. Today I saw on GalleyCat that he’s initiated a massive purge of his personal book collection, the third such purge he’s embarked upon. The sales catalog is a scan of a photocopy of book covers. To order, one attempts to reach Ellison’s wife by telephone during two, hour-long blocks of time daily though Thursday. There is an undeniable charm to this ridiculous setup. Among the collection, offered for sale, is an author-inscribed copy of Sandman: Book of Dreams given to him on the occasion of his birthday.

I tend to hang on to books that have been personalized to me, of which there are very few. But I also tend to buy used books that have been personalized to other people. If given the choice between a book that’s been personalized to someone in a strange way and one that’s not been personalized at all, I choose the personalized version. Discarding a personalized book implies a story of some sort. The receiver, perhaps, did not share the vision of him/herself that the giver had in selecting the book. The receiver passed away, maybe, and the book ended up as part of an estate. Or the recipient, aged and possessed of a huge and relatively valuable collection, begins to divest himself of his property, which happens to include some author-inscribed books.

I have read nothing by Harlan Ellison. Nothing. I haven’t seen I, Robot, much less read the novel. Although I am not much of a sci-fi reader, I think this is a deficit in my education. At the very least, I think I’d enjoy his collection of essays on the television, The Glass Teat and its follow-up, The Other Glass Teat. Today, searching for info about him, I stumbled upon a trio of interviews he’s given with the AV Club over the years. This one is from 1998 and is hilarious. Parts one and two of this one are equally entertaining, and it’s in part two that he comments on Neil Gaiman (“Mr. Poncy Brit”).

But what I really loved in the part two interview was his thoughts on his potential legacy. Now THIS is more like it. Here is a writer who doesn’t believe his own press: “There’s no way of knowing whether you’re going to wind up being Geoffrey Chaucer or Clarence Budington Kelland.” Nicholas Sparks should take notes.

As an outsider, I look on the human race as highly flawed. My feeling is that any species that can paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling and write Moby Dick and put someone on the moon does not have to settle for McDonald’s toadburgers, novels by Judith Krantz, and American Idol. I get very annoyed at the potential that is in everybody, and how little people will settle for, and how easily they are turned away from their true purposes that can enrich them, by the most transitory silliness! Whether it’s Paris Hilton or KFC food! [Sighs, pauses.] It’s a frustration, and it’s one of my most serious flaws. And they touch on it pretty well in the movie, that it keeps me in a constant state of submerged rage.


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