Sunday, October 09, 2022

'All Thumbs and Unopposable'

On the way home from a haircut I noticed one of the branch libraries was having a book sale. Tables stacked with books lined the sidewalks in front of the building. I felt a hot flash of jealous anger: Already crowds were pawing at the rows of spine-up volumes and no one had told me about it. 

By Houston Public Library standards, the books were logically organized into categories, which is not always true in the stacks. I went to history and noticed a surplus of presidential memoirs and all of Cornelius Ryan’s books about World War II. There was a hardback of Omar Bradley’s A Soldier’s Story (1951) but I  already have the soft cover with A.J. Liebling’s introduction. I found a fat Penguin of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but I have that too. I was briefly tempted by a slender paperback titled Teach Yourself Greek! There was something touchingly enthusiastic about that exclamation point.


By far the largest category was fiction, thousands of novels, mostly from the usual suspects – Grisham, King, Clancy and Steele. Sounds like a Boston law firm. I looked carefully, convincing myself that a Cather or Nabokov might be lost among the rows of dreck. Bubkes. I couldn’t help but think of Howard Nemerov’s poem “Literature” (Sentences, University of Chicago Press, 1980) and its concluding lines:


“And now new generations of trained chimpanzees

Are manning their machines, moving their lips,

Coming along slowly, all thumbs and unopposable.”

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