The Winter of Our Discontent, The Summer of My Despair

A few weeks ago, a guy at the pool asked what I was reading.  “Oh” I glanced at the cover a little sheepishly, “It’s called Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.”  I think it was the phrase “killing streets” that convinced him to peddle his small talk elsewhere, and if you ever find yourself hoping to kill a conversation, I’d try working it into a sentence.

I’ve been reading and catching up with TV on DVD lately because, as you’ve probably noticed, it’s too hot to do much else.  The nice thing about working in a library is that as I walk to my office or look something up for a patron, I usually find a thing or four for me.  Periodically throughout the summer, I scanned the shelves for a little light reading, which brings me to a shameful confession.  Every once in a while, I indulge in a bad—but not too terrible—mystery with a candy-colored cover.  I’m not proud of myself because taking a lot of English and writing classes tends to make one a bit of a book snob, but that’s why they call them guilty pleasures, I suppose.  This summer, though, I couldn’t settle on anything that was mindless and fluffy.

While I read Homicide by the pool, in my car I was listening to Freedomland, a novel about a woman who claims she was carjacked with her son still asleep on the backseat of her missing car, but…something about her story doesn’t add up.  It was darker than my usual poolside fare to be sure, but I really noticed something was up when I tried to watch some more old movies as part of the on-going Celluloid Project for Kim.  I was trying to watch the old Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, and I couldn’t focus.  I switched to Laura and found that I sank into the world of film noir just fine.  I followed up with The Wire and Wire in the Blood, and a few grisly British mysteries.  Deciding to take a break from such gritty material, I headed downstairs to the children’s books one afternoon and picked up a few things that I could read quickly without too much thought or effort.  I came back up with one of the Series of Unfortunate Events books (because what’s more cheerful than books about orphans who can’t catch a break) and a book about kids trying to prevent an evil scheme to brainwash and enslave the world.  Oh, well done, Mick!  Mission accomplished.

I started to worry about myself just a little bit.  I usually defer to my moods when I can, so what I wear or eat or watch or read is often influenced by what I feel like at the time.  So what did all this stuff tell me about my current mood?  I ran through a quick depression check.  Was I sleeping more than usual?  Was I spending too much time alone?  Withdrawing from those around me?  Was I putting off a run because I simply didn’t feel like it?  No.  Ironically, when I’m in a funk I usually console myself with cheesy mysteries and crappy TV.  We’re talking Lifetime movies of the week and romantic comedies on both the Family and the Hallmark channels.  But I wasn’t doing any of that, so I’ve decided to feed my urges.  I saw The Dark Knight.  I’m re-reading Jarhead.  I just finished a memoir about a homeless teen who may or may not be dying and proceeded to start a memoir that in the first 30 pages has touched on the death of a loved one, and the guy’s dog isn’t looking too healthy, either.  In fact, The Soloist, a book about a writer who befriends a homeless schizophrenic musician is one of the more feel good books I read all summer, and it was not without its share of heartbreak and trouble, although I enjoyed it.  Quite a lot, actually.

Ultimately, I think what these books and movies tell me is that I’m in the mood for stuff that is a little more complicated.  And the stuff I’ve been checking out is worth it because it’s really, really good.  Much of it is also darkly funny, which appeals to me, and while these things are hardly as cheerful as bowl full of puppies or whatever, I don’t find them depressing so much as interesting.  And since nothing good has ever come from me being bored (in fact, staving off boredom has led to some of my more terrible ideas), I’ll take interesting.

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