Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar,
you should see me trying to walk past a used book store.
Roger Ebert, Books Do Furnish A Life
I recall back at a seriously young age, when stooling at my cousin Frank’s house, and he had an assignment to read “To Kill A Mockingbird” that was due the next day. Being a procrastinator, he had not even started it when it was assigned weeks before. But, who reads books like that in middle school anyway? It had no stories of dragons to battle, superhero comic panels to skim, or even lined drawings of semi-nude women to keep the interests of adolescent boys who wanted to sit in front of the TV or hit the local arcades.
Frank had asked me to time him to see how long he could finish one page. Looking at the wall clock (who has those anymore these days? Just flip out my countdown time app) and waiting for the second hand to come back around to “12”… five, four, three, two… go! About 55 seconds later, he told me he was done. He calculated to be able to finish the book in about 4 hours. It was like 200-something pages. That’s actually pretty good average for a reader in any era. But, nevertheless, that’s unrealistic. Even athletes run outta steam eventually… Frank never finished the book.
I secretly harbored a love of reading as a kid. I’m unsure where it came from but I attributed it mostly to my mom dragging me to the library during the weekends… or those Scholastic/Arrow Book Club flyers they’d pass out during class, and you’d marked down for a book you could get for only $1… or that I wanted to stay home and watch Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street as hand puppets are telling me reading is fundamental. And, a combination of all those nurtured this reserved kid to seek out books that had the most interesting (yes, this is how I judged them) book covers and titles.
Fast forward to a previous weekend on Saturday, July 19, and I was excited to do another bookstore hopping. The last time, with Jenn & James was one of the most fun I’ve had when it comes to browsing for books to buy. Jenn had recently sent me an article titled “Best Local Bookstores In The East Bay,” and I had shared it with my good buddy Matt, who is a competitive asshole, and I admit challenges me when it comes to reading and doing physical challenges – like hiking.
Matt was already noting down which bookshops to hit ASAP. But, I had a thought – How about we challenge ourselves, in a day, to go cross-city driving to each of the bookstores listed, and pick-up a book, for a total of 5 books each person per bookstore. Once we achieve that, for the second half-of-the-day, we carry the books we bought in our backpacks and hike a mountain. Matt came up with Mt. Diablo. And, his brother Yoshi, paintball champ, joined us too.
I’ve heard of Mt. Diablo but never hiked it. Folks have told me it was an intense spot to conquer. We found a challenge.
Bookstore Hopping in the East Bay
The first bookstore we stopped at was Books Inc. in Berkeley. I’ve been to a couple of Books Inc. stores before in South City. They seem like condensed Barnes & Noble bookstores. Most of the books in store are displayed with notable recommends, and off to the side are a few tables with marked off books. It was a quick browse, and I ended up picking up a new copy of Eddie Huang’s memoir “Fresh Off the Boat” (which is being made into an ABC TV series).
The second bookstore was Walden Pond Books. Now, this instantly became my favorite of the five on the list. Wall-to-wall of old and rare books. The musky smell of writers and their thoughts gets me heaved with excitement. (If that turns you on, read that last line again.) I could have browsed here for hours on end, but time constraint had to keep me moving, and a mountain was waiting. I ended picking up Nikos Kazantzakis’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” (for $3.50!) and “My Struggle: Vol. 1” by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. The later being a 10,000 page (in six volumes) memoir of mundane living. I hope to live that long of a life some day.
The next two bookstores, Diesel, A Bookstore (Oakland) and Rakestraw Books (Danville) are two bookstores who seemingly catered, respectively, to two different local residents (one hipster-ish, the later one middle-class). But, both hardly sell any books on sale, nor used. I was browsing through full-priced books. That doesn’t really hinder me, but I just couldn’t find anything at both stores that I could mark off my wish list…
Then the Hike
Because of more time constraint and being that the last bookstore we were at was in Danville, we decided to start hiking Mt. Diablo before we hit the next, last bookstore on the list. I know, you prob went back in this post to count how many books I’ve bought. I got three, okay? But, hey, my backpack already had 4 bottles of water, and a flask (to break out in case of emergency). But, asshole Matt had 6 books, himself, by this time. So, fuck him. Always gotta be competitive.
I’ve never been up Mt. Diablo, so this was a first time for me – and Matt and Yoshi. This is prob the toughest (besides Half Dome) that I’ve attempted to climb. Making matters more of a struggle, there was an actual sign saying “no alcohol” allowed on the mountain trail.
I’m pretty good when it comes to hiking long hours and miles, but when the sun is beating down on me for a time on ends, I experience some type of heat exhaustion. It’s more of an anxiety I got from blacking out during a 2 mile steep hike doing Tough Mudder awhile back, but that was an extreme case. So, I would go off trail at times, stop at a shaded area, chill, and take pics (esp. of Matt and Yoshi being ahead of me) to recoup. This way, in case I’m lost, I have proof where I was the last time (and pics of how my hiking companions tried to ditch me).
After walking a little over 2 miles, we began encountering nothing but mostly dry land. 2 1/2 of my water bottles were empty already, so it was time to head back. The sun still beating on me, as I wailed forward thinking about forthcoming books to read… words danced in my head speaking of inspirational struggles, escaping zombies and battling aliens, and memoirs involving aging filmmakers and activists, providing me a form of hope during this walk through desert heat at about an elevation of almost 4,000 feet. When we finally reached back to our cars, as a consolation prize, Matt gave me his one-and-only pork jerky stick. I downed my last bottle of water to wash down the tasty meat.
Back towards city life, we finally snagged a trip over to the final bookstore on the list, another Books Inc., in Alameda. This store was a 1/3 times more bigger than the one in Berkeley. So, I had more to browse. The first book I saw sitting on a table and recognized from my wish list had the title “Assholes*: A Theory” emblazoned across its cover. It’s a great companion to having read other philosophical books titled: “On Bullshit” / “On Truth” set now sitting on my shelf. Then I was in the mood for something sci-fi-ish. Browsing the “Science Fiction” section, I ended up picking a classic, historical fantasy book set in the era of King Arthur – T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King“. That totaled five books, and I was complete for the day. But, Matt has +1 more book on me than our planned goal. And, that is why he’s a competitive asshole.
I’ve, at least, earned this “Read Harder” shirt, no?
Careful. Humans don’t like smart ape.
– Maurice (the Orangutan),
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
With the recent release of the extinction pR0n flick, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and having read its prequel, tie-in novel, Firestorm, I have since watched the movie twice. I’m a Planet of the Apes nut. I have watched and re-watched all previous seven Ape movies (including the Tim Burton/Mark Wahlberg team-reboot. I know, it’s really not that good. But, I love the make-up effects) several times. Although, I do have the TV series and animated series sitting on my shelf, and several comic incarnations I have not read, you may say I’m not fanatical enough. There’s a thin line between Man and Ape that I may not have just crossed yet.
I grew up with the original “Planet of the Apes” and its sequels when it played over and over on local TV. Unsure if much of it was edited, but the scene of where Zira drops baby Caesar into the water at the end of “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” hits me in the emo spots. It’s also, in many ways, the reference point scene to a looping cycle of me watching the Ape films.
For me, it’s an allegory about the evolution of Man to Ape and back – between the savage and the civilized, when I enjoy the Apes stories. As the same to me for Clive Barker’s Hellraiser was the darkest of Man, and the Indy Jones series is the most adventurous and hopeful. Although, currently in limbo, in the end, the Bench Monkeys are United.
UPDATE: Matt messaged me and said,”Also, I ended up with eight books that day. Not six. I’m even more competitive than you noted.” What an asshole…