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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 6 years ago

Book it; or, Fake it till you make it


Because I like to appear deep and literary, every now and then I’ll buy a book and display it in my bookcase to impress visitors.

You should really see it. I have a few of the “greats” — Raymond Carver, Kurt Vonnegut (I hear they’re very good) — to prove how smart I am; a couple fantasy novels, to show off my rich imagination; and even a handful of trade comics, to let the rabble know that, like them, I’m not above a little pulp fiction from time to time.

I don’t actually read these books, of course, but they do wonders for my reputation.

“You’ve read ‘Crime & Punishment’?” house guests ask, sounding monotone and bored the way people do when they’re trying to mask the fact that they’re blown away.

“Eh, you know, I skimmed it,” I say, slipping into my finest smoking jacket. “But I find that the English translation really loses some of the fire of Dostoyevsky’s elegant prose, so I tend to stick to the original Russian.”

Then I glide toward my window, praying they don’t ask me to read a passage out loud, and I pretend to know what I’m looking at through the telescope I have peeking through my velvet drapes.

Usually, this system works like a charm: See book, buy book, wow visitors with book. So easy. But recently, I bought something new for my collection — Frank Deford’s “Over time: My Life as a Sportswriter” — that got me taking a closer look at my own life, and where I’ve been, and where I might be headed.

I invested in a Deford (sidenote: if you refer to books as if they’re paintings — “a David Sedaris,” “a Dr. Seuss” — it’s proven to make you sound 41% more learned) after hearing him read a few of his columns on NPR. I thought, “Hey, cultured people love NPR!” So I ran to my computer and bought a copy of his new memoir.

Even if just one visitor connects the dots, I figured, I would get my money’s worth.

“Not only does he even read sports books,” guests would think, rummaging through shelves inside of the elaborate lie that is my living room, “but he probably heard about it on NPR — probably when he was tuning in for updates out of Syria and Egypt. How impressively worldly!”

No one has to know that I was only on NPR in the first place because the channel-changing buttons on my car stereo broke off. (No one has to know, either, that I drive a 1999 Civic — a car old enough that when buttons, latches or panels break off, you just sort of accept it.)

But anyway. What got me thinking was Deford’s bio, which I accidentally caught a glimpse of when I was cramming the book onto my shelf and it fell open beside me. It said that, right out of college, he landed a position at Sports Illustrated — his first job.

That made me think of Roger Ebert, who got his first job at the Chicago Sun-Times (where he’d work the rest of his career), while he was still in grad school, at the age of 22. You hear of pro athletes all the time who make big league debuts when they’re 20. And then there’s Woody Allen, who was writing scripts for “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” at 19.

Why can’t that be me? I began to wonder, cross-legged on a decorative Persian rug I bought to prove to friends that I’ve got my life together, staring at shelves of books I’ve hardly even opened.

“That can’t be you because Ed Sullivan’s dead,” you’re probably thinking. But you’re just being silly.

You forgot to mention the luck factor, too. And the bad economy. And the fact that, hey, there are way fewer opportunities to become rich and famous in Florida than there are in big cities like New York or Chicago.

And listen, you know what — another thing: I’m still young, OK? I have my whole life ahead of me to realize my potential, so I’d appreciate if you backed off a little.

It’ll happen. These things just kind of have a habit of working themselves out. It’s fine. Really. I’m not worried about it all.

But until then, maybe consider swinging by my house some time. If you think my books are cool, you should really see my DVD collection.


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