JC: Aaron Goldfarb is the author of a sharp little satire entitled How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide, which he supported with the 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour – I can see the wheels turning in JE’s head already. AG’s also working for Seth Godin on the street team for The Domino Project, which probably merits some discussion around here, on another day. For now, here’s Aaron’s piece for the WWFIL series:
When We Fell In Love by Aaron Goldfarb
My mom used to pay me a penny a page to read books over the summer. I was never the kind of kid who needed economic incentive to learn, but I have to admit it was a better summer job than bussing tables, mowing lawns, or working in the coal factory. So, from the age of precociously-literate to around the time I had my bar mitzvah, I spent most of the daylight hours of June, July, and August holed up in my room, only emerging to eat lunch and perhaps watch a few syndicated episodes of “Family Feud” or “Tic Tac Dough.”
Based on these facts, you might think I was some sickly nerd, but that was hardly the case. I was a good team athlete and obsessed with sports. The first books I read, the books that kept me indoors, chugging along at a penny-a-page clip, were all books on sports. Mostly athletes’ bios. I don’t remember the titles, and I barely remember the subjects, but if you’ve read one ghostwritten athlete’s bio, you’ve read them all. I think I did read them all. Books on Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Jim Brown and Jim Thorpe. By the end of the summer I was usually onto the dregs of the sporting biography universe, reading works on NBA sixth men and Major League relief pitchers. Did I really need to know Jesse Orosco’s life story?!
Being a young boy obsessed with sports books was one thing, but the first novels I recall were the works of Beverly Cleary. I don’t exactly know how these got into my hands, nor who encouraged me to read them (probably some twisted teacher playing a practical joke on me), but I have to admit I fondly recall enjoying the adventures of Ramona Quimby, even when she wasn’t age 8. I was a bit of a good-hearted troublemaker just like her, even if I was a male living in the 1980s and not a female living in the 1950s.
In high school I temporarily lost my love for reading, which is I’m sure the place most children lose their love for reading. Because I was a “smart” kid, I took honors and A.P. English classes right from the get-go, but that didn’t matter; everyone ended up reading the same tired classics.
I had a few decent teachers, but the structure of high school English–the syllabusic need to have students crank out book after book after book, in rote fashion, and then test on their most trivial matters–made me abhor class. Why were we reading something as ancient as The Decameron, why did I only have a week to knock off a one-thousand page book, and why did the exams test me on the trees as opposed to the forest? Didn’t it matter more if we realized it was an allegory about love as opposed to remembering what color shoes the court jester wore on page 192?
By this point, I was out of love with books, and in love with movies. I saw Pulp Fiction in 1994 when I was fourteen and was blown away, thinking for the first time, “Wow, someone wrote that!” That summer my family visited L.A. and I stumbled upon a street vendor that sold copies of old scripts, which was the form of illegal pirating back in those ugly days before the internet existed. I bought a bunch of these scripts and they became my new reading obsession. To those out there who have never read a script, let me say: it’s weird for a fifteen-year-old to enjoy them. Actually, it’s weird for anyone to enjoy reading a script.
By the time I entered college for film school, it had been a few years since I’d read booksfor pleasure. I only read books when I had to. Nevertheless, I minored in English–because it seemed easy, I won’t lie–and had the great fortune to have a modern literature class first semester of my freshman year. The syllabus was covered with real adventurous neo-classics- -A Clockwork Orange, Ricky Moody’s The Ice Storm, even a graphic novel by Harvey Pekar– but Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity was the book that roped me back into the world of the book reader.
I recall having only a single Sunday to plow through the book, which coincided with the first time I ever did my own laundry. Reading in the laundry room while sitting atop a dryer, I’d like to lie and say I was so entranced by the work that I shrunk my sweaters and turned my underwear pink, but it’s really hard to screw up laundry nowadays. But, I did find the first book I truly loved as an adult. A book that I’ve now read countless times. A book that has inspired my own writing. I just loved how Hornby told the story of real people I knew, people that listened to pop music and watched television, people that lived in my era. I liked his first person narrative flourishes, his list-making style, and his humor.
I offer my e-mail address (email@example.com) on the final page of my book and I’ve received a lot of e-mails over the past few months that essentially say: “I hadn’t read a book since college, but I read and loved your book. Got any more reading suggestions?” Of course I do, because since college and “High Fidelity,” I’d rediscovered my love of reading too. So, I suggest to them the anonymous Philadelphia Lawyer’s Happy Hour is For Amateurs or Joshua Ferris’s The Unnamed, Sam Lipsyte’s hilarious The Ask, or perhaps Steve Hely’s brilliant satire How I Became A Famous Novelist, the book I was coincidentally reading as I did the final edits on my book.
As for me, I don’t just read a good fifty books a year, but, because of the Kindle and the iPhone, I’m carrying fifty books around with me all at once. And, though I don’t make a penny a page any more, which even at my borderline speed-reading clip would be barely minimum wage, I feel richer every single time I make it to “THE END.