A Novel Concept

Until about a year ago, I rarely read novels. I had myself convinced they were too long and that my attention span was too short. Then I realized that was absurd, that surely I could focus my mind on something long enough to — look, a shiny thing!

Sorry, where was I? Yes, I was talking about food. At Red Rock Brewery in Salt Lake, they have an appetizer called “warm goat cheese.” When a friend urged me to try it, I told him I don’t want anything warm that came from a goat. I thought that was pretty funny.

Books. I was talking about books.

I finally buckled down and began reading novels and was surprised to learn how fast I can get through them. Of course, like an illiterate man who has recently learned to read, or a foreigner just learning the language, I started with young adult fiction. Am I embarrassed to be seen in public reading something written from the point of view of a 14-year-old British girl and called “Knocked out by My Nunga-Nungas”? Yes, but not as embarrassed as I was checking it out from the library.

Speaking of being embarrassed at the library, I was recently embarrassed on behalf of the 50-ish gal who trundled up to the information desk and said, loudly, “I’m looking for ‘Less Miserables,'” pronounced exactly as I just wrote it: “less miserables.” I wondered whether she wanted to read a translation, or if perhaps her interests were more scholarly and she planned to hunker down and scour the original French text of “Less Miserables.”

Anyway, once I’d been through the young adult fiction, I began to desire a true challenge. I debated whether to read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. This is a massive, heavy book with a lot of words and very, very few cartoon illustrations. It is not a pop-up book, nor does it contain a great deal of rhyming. It has been recommended to me by friends. But I thought: Do I want to be the sort of person who reads “Atlas Shrugged”? Next thing you know, I’m growing a goatee and hanging out in coffee shops and, worse, telling people about how great “Atlas Shrugged” is.

Instead, I picked up a magazine called True Experiences. It was the “Collectors’ Keepsake Anniversary Issue!,” not to mention “A Treasury Of The Best Stories Ever!” On the cover was a vaguely pretty blond woman who was smiling for the camera as if her family were being held hostage and she was being ordered at gunpoint to smile for the camera. She had a look about her that suggested she was a Kansas girl who had just gotten off the bus in Hollywood and would be working in the porn industry within three days; her smile had a porny air about it. Around her picture were the titles of the various “true experiences” being retold in this issue, including: “If You Ever Leave Me, I’ll Kill You!”; “She Killed My Baby, Now I’m Taking Hers”; and “Only Six Months to Live: I’m Not Ready to Die!”

Obviously, it would have been impossible for me not to buy this magazine.

The stories are written anonymously and almost certainly do not have a grain of truth in them. They’re also rather boring, surprisingly enough. It’s the titles that are titillating: “Desperate for Illicit Sex” is one, followed by this summary: “Stolen moments of secret sin were what I lived for. Still, I couldn’t tame my married lover’s wild heart.” Instantly, you know what this story is about, and you know you probably don’t actually want to read it, now that you think about it. It’s trash — pure, unadulterated, adultery-related trash.

So I turned from that unfulfilling dreck back to the more respectable American novel, in this case “Catcher in the Rye.” It’s barely less salacious than True Experiences, but at least it has the distinction of having been banned by some high schools. Books are fun, and they — ooh, a butterfly!

Someone pointed out that what this column is REALLY about is Attention Deficit Disorder. I like the idea that I write about food so much that when I lose my train of thought, I immediately assume that's what I must have been talking about.

"Knocked out by My Nunga-Nungas" is the third book in a series by Louise Rennison. The first two are "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging" and "On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God." They are laugh-out-loud funny, sort of a junior version of "Bridget Jones's Diary."