Stuck inside? Here's some reading material

A few samples from one of my favorite authors...

My mom tells a heartwarming story of me sitting on my dad’s lap while he read the newspaper, pointed out words and spelled them out for me.

I was 17-years-old at the time.

(Totally made up that 17-years-old bit because the image struck me as funny – I was actually 16-and-a-half.)

OK, no more goofing around, I promise. Apparently I was a toddler when this happened and I say apparently because my mom has been known to tell a story her own way and doesn’t mind running over the truth if it gets in her way.

In any case, whether it’s because my dad read the newspaper to me when I was a child or I’m actually the offspring of a family of traveling geniuses who accidentally left me behind in Rocklin, California in the early 1950s, I’ve always been a reader and pitied those who weren’t.  

If you’re not a reader how do you kill time in airports or while sheltering in place?

I’m going to go right ahead and assume you’re also a reader (I mean, you’re reading this) and just in case you’re looking for something good to read, I’m going to occasionally (meaning I don’t know if I’ll ever do this again) suggest some authors you might want to look into.

And we’ll start with one of my favorites, Joe R. Lansdale.

Funny one-liners

I don’t know what it is about the state of Texas that produces so many funny one-liners, but it does and Joe R. is no slouch in that department. Here are some examples:

  • I felt like she was a woman who could tell you a sincere lie.

  • “You look to me like the sort who would rather hear a fat boy fart than a pretty girl sing.”

  • Dr. Frankenstein with a grant from Johns Hopkins and assistance from NASA couldn’t have put that sucker together again.

  • She was a right nice Christian woman on the inside, but the outside looked like a four car pileup.

  • “There’s a redhead in there would make you write a hot check and rob a filling station pretty damn quick.”

  • Hit me so hard my clothes changed colors.

  • It was the kind of place where the mice belonged to gangs.

  • The front windshield collapsed like a Baptist deacon’s morals at a strip club.

  • It was as rare as baptized rattlesnake.

  • The words were as stiff as a classroom full of boys watching a cheerleader tryout.

  • “Hannah Jenkins is a whore and she ain’t no good at it.”

Good descriptions

What you think is pretty much up to you and subliminal advertising, but I enjoy writers who can give you a paragraph’s worth of description in a single sentence. To me, most bad art – writing, drawing, music and whatever else you want to throw into the pot – is bad because it’s overdone.

The artist wants to use every trick he knows and doesn’t count on his audience to understand and supply the parts not spelled out. Knowing what is necessary and what to leave out is what separates the pros from the hacks and Joe R. Lansdale is a pro.

In just a few words he tells you what you need to know:

  • He was a walking power plant.

  • Dark hair combed back virgin-ass tight, slicked back with enough grease to lube a bone-dry Buick.

  • Ice-blue eyes working like acid on everyone in sight.

  • A tyrant without courage.

  • “Said you were like a once-nice looking guy who had gone through a wringer and then been heated up in a microwave.”

  • The morning was hot as a rabid dog in an overcoat.

  • “A bullet come past me like it had to meet someone downtown and was late.”

  • She was muscular. She was leaning against the wall like she was waiting for something to come by that she could kill and eat.

  • She moved like she was hearing music we couldn’t.

  • I knew then she was the kind of girl that made single men turn their heads and take a deep breath and married men wish their wives would catch on fire.

  • The trees held the heat like an armpit in a seersucker suit.

  • He smelled like something sweet and maybe edible.

  • She looked like she was dressed to go out on the town, and not our town.

  • She walked like she’d just had horseshoes removed.

Snappy comebacks for all occasions

People say all kinds of stupid shit and one of my many failings is trying to respond to something that didn’t make sense in the first place. As a result I started collecting non-committal responses that you could use on almost any occasion and let’s start with one that might come in handy when you get caught lying your ass off.

  • “I just felt the truth lacked something.”

Or how about when someone wants you to care and converse about an issue that has them all worked up and you’d rather not get into it?

  • “Not our department.”

Here’s one for people who want to give you unsolicited advice.

  • “I like you, but you ain’t my daddy.”

Now say someone asks why you did whatever dumb thing you just got done doing.

  • “It’s a conversation starter.”

And finally, the all-around purpose response that basically tells the other person you’d like them to shut the hell up:

  • “It’s something to think about.”

A core philosophy

Here’s what I’ve discovered after six decades of being alive that I wish I’d figured out a lot earlier: if you don’t have a core philosophy, a set of beliefs that helps guide you through life, you’re going to be pushed around by other people and events.

Whether it’s what he believes or what his characters believe, Joe R. Lansdale includes some philosophy in his writing:

  • “It’s about finding the core of who you are, living with it, learning to accept it, and becoming calm. Like you’re the eye of the hurricane, and all around you the world is a-spin, but you’re focused. Nothing fazes you.”

  • “Anything and everything is about self-control. It’s about control of yourself to the point where you can feel what you need to feel and reject what is unnecessary.”

  • “God is an idea, the Devil is us.”

  • “You know what I think? I think we’re all responsible for what we do. It isn’t someone else’s fault. It isn’t always genetics or how our parents treated you, because there’s plenty born to bad circumstances with all manner of things wrong with them, and they don’t turn out to be crumbs. We choose to be who we are. We make ourselves into what we want to be.”

  • “If you ain’t willin’ to screw up, you ain’t ever gonna get any of the good out of life either. But thing is, even though you fuck up more than most, everyone fucks up. Only difference with you is you think your fuckups matter more than anyone else’s. Strangely enough, there’s kind of a conceit in all that.”

  • You are what you decide to be.

Recommendations

If you liked what you just read you’re in luck because Lansdale has written a ton of books and short stories and they’re all worth reading. He’s a fan of horror movies and I’ve had some people put off by that stuff, so if you don’t like things that slither and give you the creeps, don’t read it.

I’d start with his Hap & Leonard series and there was a TV show based on the characters and it’s on Netflix – which we all should have bought stock in – or at least it used to be. There’s also a movie version of Cold in July and it’s well worth watching.

Don Johnson plays Jim Bob Luke and that character is so engaging someone ought to make a series all about him and his pig farm.

Lansdale’s westerns and Depression-era novels are outstanding and you shouldn’t miss ‘em and I just now I realized I’m hearing a Texas accent in my head as I write which is a sign of how strong Lansdale’s voice is and makes me want to say things like, “It was slicker than owl shit on a hot tin roof.”

Anyway…if your local library is closed, you can get most of Lansdale’s stuff from Amazon, which ought to work out just fine as long as you sterilize the packages they come in and hold the books with your fireplace tongs six feet away and read them through binoculars.

(P.S. I made that last part up so don’t pay any attention to that advice unless we find out later is was 100 percent right.)

Happy reading.