Sep 9, 2009

Bifurcating trails

I didn't even stop to see if I used "bifurcating" correctly. It sounds like what I mean, so it will stay. Gosh, I 'm starting to sound like my late father, Vic Knight. We would disagree over the meaning of something at the dinner table, and finally I would resort to the dictionary. "See, Dad, this is what it really means." He'd think a moment, smile, and say slyly, "Well then, the dictionary must be wrong."

All I mean is that the trail of breadcrumbs turns out not to be a single trail but rather one that branches out again and again. In fact, way beyond a trident shape or even a leaf rake, it's starting to look like fractals.

Let's see, there's general fiction. I used to think I read almost all fiction, with an occasional side trip into some other area, but I'm beginning to see how self-delusional that is. It's been all of everything, all the time, right from the start.

Then on the other side, we have science. Philosophy, with a religion subset, with subsets for Christianity, or apologetics, and everything else. Business. Popular culture, with a huge subset for music. Serious aka art music. A very short list of books from non-musical arts, very short but not to be ignored. (Remember Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? "I will not be ignored!" I still get chills. So I won't ignore Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House just because it's so short, or it might rise up and bite me, or kill my pet bunny. It's a wonderful history of architecture, in case you're wondering.)

Wandering back to fiction for a moment. How about science fiction? Murder mysteries? Epics? With a nice subset for trilogies. I've always been a sucker for trilogies. In general, I'll take 600 pages over 300 pages any day, because it keeps me reading longer and I feel like I'm getting my money's worth. By the same token, three thousand-page books in a row (like Neal Stephenson's System of the World trilogy) are, well, simply the best.

Crime fiction. Not exactly the same as mysteries, although related. Maybe two branches from a Tree To Be Named Later. Comic fiction. Ah, now we're getting down to it. Comic fiction came to me with the discovery of P.G. Wodehouse and subsequent jaunty jaunts through Max Shulman and Robert Benchley and so many other wonderful authors.

Comic crime fiction. Now we're really talking. Carl Hiaasen, Laurence Shames, and my new best bud, Tim Dorsey.

But what about biography? Aha! Thought you'd slip through the cracks and slink off undetected, did you? Well, think again, my well-thumbed friend.

I wondered how I ever came to my first biography and have a memory, clear as day, of browsing the school library in 3rd or 4th grade. In those days I naturally went to the books marked "F" for fiction, but couldn't help noticing the books with Dewey Decimal numbers, and wondering what they might be all about. I think I found some books with both a number (800s?) and the letter "B," which turned out to be for biography, so I took one home.

Could have been George Gershwin, or a robber baron like Carnegie or Rockefeller. Even then I guess I was drawn to music and business. I remember one of the earliest ones I read was on Edward Bok, the founder of Ladies' Home Journal, an immigrant who made so good he has a clock tower named after him here in Florida.

But my gosh, there've been an awful lot of musical biographies I've devoured over the years, more Quincy Jones and Eric Clapton than Bach or Beethoven. I found one on Harold Arlen (he wrote Over the Rainbow) at Bookwise, a wonderful used book shop in Boca Raton. Autobiographies? I can recommend Stone Alone by Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones bassist) and the first one from David Crosby, Long Time Gone, the sequel less so. And an autobiography from a man too unusual to let his story fit neatly anywhere, a life that included hit records as well as a successful advertising career, Stan Freberg.

But enough of this for now. The breadcrumb trail of ideas is squiggly enough for the moment. And one of the things about fractals is that no matter how far down you untangle a thread, it still looks like more fractals.

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