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Testing, Testing


It’s easy to get so far along a path – a marriage, a family, a mortgage, a job – that you never want to look back. Cross your fingers then, and hope that whatever decisions those were that you can hardly remember from one year ago, or ten, were somehow the product of such immutable wisdom they do not bear reviewing. In many ways that has been my approach to this unholy Frankenstein you see before you here, though on the event of its one-year anniversary which happened to coincide with my younger son’s birthday, and also the genesis of leprechauns, or whatever it is we’re supposed to be celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day – twelve anxious months after we finally thought we had arrived at some formula here for promoting and maybe once in a while delivering a couple of weird books you’d never heard of, I decided to test it out again, whispering many Irish incantations to myself while ordering seventeen books for myself.

Yes, Amazon takes full responsibility for most of the purchasing process here, still incidental incompetence anywhere along this chain - from here through each of many independent sellers who aggregate these treasures, to the big store itself which sends out copious reminders and reassurances – any little screw-up reflects poorly, maybe fatally, on the source.

All seventeen books cost about a hundred and ten bucks, two-thirds of which went toward delivery. I could have organized this better – ordering more than one book from each seller – but decided to check the whole range. “Storefronts” are everywhere, and I kind of liked the picture of all these arcing tendrils converging on my mailbox. This wider net was anyway part of the exercise, and I held my breath a little at the possibility of nabbing any really bad characters, but, people, let me tell you. Awards for quickest delivery go to outfits called (happily) Hippo Books and Owl Books. Goodwill did okay, Motor City Books defied my expectations, and a place called McTeacher even sent a thoughtfully handwritten note Scotch-taped to the particular obscurity I had summoned. Blue Cloud Books, Thermite Media (!), give yourselves a round of applause! For the record, nine of seventeen books made it in time for that birthday in one week or less, and the only real laggard was an entity called International Books which I am going to therefore presume is delivering its inventory across many time zones and unknowable peasant rebellions. “If you can’t find a book you want, we would love to have a shot at finding it,” reads their profile. No hard feelings then. I’m willing to give them another shot. Because really, come on, what a world. 

Sure, ice caps are melting, and dictators are terrorizing most of the African continent, and Miley Cyrus is mentoring our youth, still how amazing is it that we can reach out and grab two books from twenty years ago for thirteen dollars and then complain that it took an extra couple of days to arrive in our lobby?



Mind set at ease about the workings of this extraordinary machine, I was at liberty then to obsess upon the actual substance of what it is that all of those little hands were delivering. Recently, the CEO of Domino’s Pizza was heard to reflect that while every other indicator appeared to point to market strength, there was, conceivably, a problem with the core product. Hmmm. Would I then, like Domino’s, suddenly wake up to realize that I was pushing the literary equivalent of cheese soup pie?

There are 595 books listed here, and some I vaguely worried were selected in a fever of entrepreneurial rationalization. Maybe there was a need (penguins! aliens!) or maybe I was that day feeling particularly melancholy, or righteous – politically, environmentally – or indulgent, or intolerant, or nostalgic (authors, ye shall feel the fury of my nostalgia!). Who knows why we value stuff the way we do? Maybe something just looked really, really cool.

There were a couple of these dubious titles in my order then – among them Wings, by Christopher Myers, which I had remembered in its barest moody outlines, and whose cover was enough to continue to recommend it by itself, but truly? A book by it’s cover? I’d read Myers’ Black Cat more recently, and remained persuaded by its dark, forbidding vision of urban neighborhoods and the little shafts of life that flicker in between, but the more I thought about it, I wondered if Wings wasn’t possibly a bunch of inspirational baloney. And it did not help that right out of the bubble wrap I got a quick, queasy glimpse of this tagline across the back cover: “Let your spirit soar.”

Please. It seems to me now, as it seemed to me fifteen minutes after I opened the package (bravo Valu-Rite!), that books like Wings were specifically written to obviate such dreary slogans. And painted and photographed and collaged, and whatever other mixed media sorcery Myers has brought to this mysterious little fable that no synopsis can do justice, still here goes: there’s a new boy on the block, and he flies. This doesn’t, as you would expect, make him an object of adulation (nothing in this book happens exactly as you would expect), only ridicule, the whispers and “staring eyes and wagging tongues” increasing to outright scoldings from neighbors and teachers and classmates, even the police. Ikarus Jackson, the flyboy, doesn’t help matters with his sullen, even tone deaf defiance, but of course that is what makes him more interesting than the sum of his wings. And there is nothing generic about the intolerance here either - or the tolerance that lights up the end. These are the stories that need telling – and holding and studying - to be believed, and maybe this is reason to want to own them, when merely remembering isn’t enough. 

   

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