Truth or Dare

Source: Goodreads
Source: Goodreads

As heady evenings go, I more than held my own. After spending a bit of time on the election, the dinner conversation eventually switched over to books we had all recently read. Being the only librarian at the table, and at one point this was indeed made known, I felt obliged to be engaging and earnest on the topic. But in fact I already knew in advance that my own reading tastes were vastly different from those of my table mates.

We were a table of four. There was my sister, a retired social studies teacher and a lover of Judaica-oriented literature. And there was also her late husband’s sister and husband, both PhD’s from Boston. The sister-in-law’s professional background is in public health, and the husband teaches ethics and philosophy. I braced myself for a discussion of Hegel, Sartre, and Uris along with perhaps a sprinkling of Margaret Sanger or David Satcher tossed in for good measure.

In the act of eating, drinking, and conversing, my own thoughts went somewhere along the lines of wondering when or how I would introduce my own literary influences — Dave Barry and David Sedaris. Somehow I figured that the wine we were consuming would give me some necessary props to do so. Or would it make me more intimidated? Like George Gobel and his brown shoes, I am occasionally intimidated by the company in which I find myself.

I went to college at a predominately working class school whose students for the most part commuted from home and worked either part-time or full-time jobs to pay for their education. All things being equal, it was a comforting environment for me. While the humanities were partially required and encouraged, I instead followed the academic path of least resistance: taking basic freshman and sophomore requirements of core English and literature courses and then quickly moved away from them.

It seemed safer to pursue a more “meat and potatoes” approach to my studies and try to avoid all them fancy words of ancient European authors. Or as my roommate actually pointed out at the time, “You know, some of those professors are smart, man. They assign a lot of books that don’t have a CliffsNotes version.” Oh, how right he was.

Sources: The Miami Herald and David Sedaris Books
My literary heroes: Dave Barry and David Sedaris
Sources: The Miami Herald and
David Sedaris Books

Except for a wonderful trashy murder mystery which kept me on the edge of my seat for three entire days, all of the books that I’ve read in the last 12 months have been completely non-fiction. I’ve read biographies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Gore Vidal, and Vince Lombardi; an account of the Vatican’s curia; a financial guide on retirement; and Patrick Kennedy’s part-memoir and part-advocacy on mental health and addiction. All were either fascinating or informative, and they certainly gave me many hours of enjoyment.

But my dinner companions preferred to discuss fiction only. I absolutely love fiction, but as I suspected, my own taste for it runs down a slightly more pedestrian avenue than theirs. As French names began being tossed around the table in uninhibited abandon (I quickly glanced at the wine list to make sure the conversation was still about books), I began to devise a way to sneak a peek at Google to find the latest New York Times best seller list. Surely there must be a recognizable name there for me. Amy Schumer’s latest bound essays count as fiction, doesn’t it?

No? Dammit.

As I was mentally running from door to door, earnestly clutching sets of mismatched keys in a sorry-ass attempt to regain access to the table discussion, serendipitous good fortune fell my way. The philosophy professor husband remarked how much he missed writers who serialized different eras for comparative purposes. I believe Tolstoy’s early autobiographical novels were mentioned. Hurrah! A door opened.

I responded by mentioning John Updike’s “Rabbit” series, which I think are wonderful, exaggerated portrayals of changes in American society from each decade of the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Of course, one does have to overlook the rampant misogyny and sexual imagery in each story first. But once that’s done, one can begin to appreciate the episodic landscape of the eras.

On a roll, I pointed out that these stories apparently have legs. If you’re looking for a modern-day version of Rabbit Angstrom, look no further than Donald Trump. He’s very much Rabbit personified. Updike would probably be amused.

Come November we collectively might not be so amused, but that’s a post for another time.


For my efforts, I received a smile of approval from Big Sis. Updike is certainly not classic literature, but why split hairs? As I mentioned earlier, the wine was flowing.

We moved on from books, back to politics, and finally to stories about my late brother-in-law, Elliott, in whose honor we made several end-of-meal toasts. But just as we paid the bill and were about to get up from the table, Elliot’s sister took me aside and asked if I was familiar with the English writer Anthony Trollope. I said no. But she insisted that I absolutely must read his classic “The Way We Live Now.” Again, the wine had been generously flowing.

In a grand gesture, I whipped out my cell phone and tapped out a note to myself, making a point of letting her know that I’d contact her when I finished it.

Now, dear readers, you are probably more aware of this than me, but Anthony Trollope lived in the 1800’s and wrote about Victorian English society. I know this now because I later looked him up in Wikipedia, as any trained law librarian would obviously do. My second-hand copy of The Way We Live Now, which by accident was actually shipped from England via my rushed and clumsy Amazon purchase, is 776 pages.

I do sometimes wonder about diabolical schemes that take place in the minds of friends and foes alike. One likes to think he’s probably immune to such shenanigans, but smiles and winks can so often be deceiving. Even the kindest of gestures just might have a different intention than how it appears, no?

I am reminded of a tale a good friend often liked to tell about the time he traveled alone to Paris and found himself completely dumbfounded by the menu at an out-of-the-way bistro quite far from his hotel. After several go-rounds with waiter on the exact makeup of a specific entrée, and absolutely certain that he was ordering a braised beef stew, my friend soon learned that in fact his waiter had good-naturedly recommended something completely different. Instead of beef stew he was served braised… calf brains.

Not wishing to give his waiter the satisfaction of knowing that he had been duped, and watching this man with his cheshire cat grin from across the room alongside his dining staff colleagues, my friend dug in and ate his meal in silent disgust. It’s rather gauche to ask for ketchup in a French restaurant, you know.

Bon appétit! Cervelle de veau au beurre noir Source: The Washington City Paper
Bon appétit! Cervelle de veau au beurre noir (veal brains in black butter)
Source: The Washington City Paper

I really, really, really have no interest in reading Mr. Trollope’s novel. But I nonetheless feel as if I’ve been suckered into a dare. I’m currently on page 34. Don’t call me until at least Thanksgiving. I’ll be busy. Pass the ketchup, please.

Until next time…

16 thoughts on “Truth or Dare

  1. Have you checked to see if there are Cliff Notes for The Way We Live Now? I agree with you that it sounds tedious. I’m always amused how different certain books are reviewed by members of our book club. What I love some hate. What I can’t get into fascinates someone else. The Daves are two of my favorites also. I heard Dave Barry being interviewed on NPR the other day about a new book he has written about the crazy residents of Florida (which, of course, he is one). I love anything by Sedaris, especially if he reads it. His voice and intonations make me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For a laugh, I actually did check if there was a CliffsNotes, but alas no. I thought it would have been great as a graphic in the post. 🙂 I admire you folk who are in book clubs — I can be painfully slow about finishing books, and I’m afraid I’d never be able to keep up with the others. A good friend of mine who I know reads these comments (Hi, Sue!) actually saw David Sedaris at a reading once. I hate her for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d dump Trollope and his 774 page and trade them in for Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full (published in 1998) and has sold more than 750,000 copies. Plus the bonus is that A Man in Full offers a small savings of 10 fewer pages.

    But the rel difference is that Tom Wolfe is a contemporary, and you’ll have a much better feel for the times he’s writing about than whatever Trollope had to say about his times.

    Are you sure your brother-in-law’s sister is not peeved at you about something?

    I got a kick out of that story of your friend and his misadventures of dining in Paris. I made it my business (as I don’t speak French) to always search for a restaurant with an English translation of the entrees.

    Or as an alternate choice – I’d find a Chinese restaurant.


    1. You know it’s funny you mention that book by Tom Wolfe because it’s one I’ve never read, and just two weeks ago I added it to my Amazon wish list. I loved Bonfires of the Vanities (I still cringe at what they did to it for the film) and I can’t recall why I never read this one. I probably was just too busy at the time.

      I’m not completely sure of the machinations with the sister-in-law. I choose to believe she was inspired by my excitement for John Updike, but there is that lingering thought that there could be a kind of view towards my more provincial learnings compared to her own? Perhaps it’s best to let the mystery be.

      Your foreign restaurant strategy is a good one!


  3. It sounds like the curse of the overly-educated to me. I hate trudging through a book that doesn’t interest me. I usually hang in there hoping for redemption but it takes me FOREVER to get through it. Judaica-oriented literature seems very specific! It’s not like science fiction or romance.

    Sedaris is on tour. I’m seeing him in October. Have you ever heard him read? A very peculiar voice. I was in a writing workshop once many years ago. A nice guy. I don’t get Dave Barry. I’ve tried but he’s hit and miss for me.


    1. That curse sound like a pretty good way of looking at it. This is a post I’ll probably end up deleting at some future point to protect the innocent (namely my sister!).

      I’ve never seen Sedaris in person and would jump at the chance. I remember when his appearances on Letterman, especially one in which he read a faux review of an elementary school play. Hilarious! Holidays on Ice is my favorite of his.


  4. Well … having just finished “Moby-Dick, Or the Whale” for a second time and finding its author much funnier than I did 25 years ago, I am tempted to join you in this venture. I was going to read “Hillbilly Elegy” on my upcoming three week trip to D.C., WV and the Land of OH (No!) with the California Zephyr whisking me back to the Bay Area at the end. But now I am tempted to offer you a two-person book club and read the Trollope along with you. Interested?


  5. How interesting! I saw J.D. Vance (author of “Hillbilly Elegy” interviewed on TV a few weeks ago, and I immediately thought of you. Given the election and your own time growing up in the region of the country he describes, that would be a perfect book for you to read. So your offer is wonderful, but I’d hate to see you pass up the opportunity to read a timely book.

    I’ll tell you what — I’m such a slow reader that you most likely will finish Hillbilly Elegy way before I’m even halfway through Trollope. If you’re still interested in a two-person reading club, I’ll be happy to join!

    BTW, you must really like train travel after all. I thought after your last, it would be your last for a long while.


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