“‘curiosity killed the cat.’ A very familiar proverb that seems to have been recorded only as far back as the early 1900s. Perhaps it derived somehow from the much older (late 16th century) care killed the cat, but there is no proof of this thus far.” — The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th ed.
I am a mediocre poet who lives in a city of very good poets, some of whom sit next to me at the reference desk on a regular basis. Despite my inability to craft a suitable sonnet or a voluptuous villanelle, I find myself drawn again and again to the poetry section; if I cannot create this particular brand of magic, I can, at least, drown myself in it, hoping I will gain something from repeated dunks. Gills, maybe. A mermaid’s tail.
So, too, I devour David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless. It’s a guidebook for the uninitiated, everybody who fears that s/he’s just not cool enough for poetry. Orr’s essays soothe me, make me snicker; who knew the New York Times‘s poetry critic could be so darned frank and funny? I want to give this book to everyone who has ever felt they weren’t smart enough to read or write poetry, so we can tear down our misconceptions and misgivings together, start all over again.
“As everyone knows, all the best poets eat at Taco Bell,” Orr assures me. I smile, and believe him.
Vampires are sooooo ’97 (by which, of course, I mean 1897). It is, however, hot, and a little fluffy fiction would not be amiss. I pick up By Blood We Live and fall into a plush, posh, well-written collection of short stories culled from masters of the horror genre. Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are here, and rightly so. There are, however, many new-to-me authors, such as Barbara Roden, Nancy Holder, Carrie Vaughn. Gleefully I scribble authors and titles into my to-read notebook, marveling at how one good short story anthology can lead to hours of further entertainment and discovery.
Because I’m usually reading multiple books at once, serendipitous moments frequently pop up. I learn, for example, that both Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City contain tiger symbolism. One is telegraphed, the other covert; both are delightful surprises. It is, however, Obreht’s interweave of medicine and magic, nested as it is in a narrative reminiscent of those cunning Russian dolls-within-dolls, that keeps my attention. As much as I pity Lethem’s tiger, I have far less sympathy for his wealthy, indolent characters, and I cannot wait a few hundred pages for their redemption, no matter how well-written and charming they are.
I parcel out Obreht’s novel slowly, in paragraphs, to make it last longer. The delicious suspense is killing me, but I do not want this book to end. I will probably stay up late to finish it the night before it is due, imagining the impatient toe-tapping of everyone else on the waiting list. “Relax,” I want to tell them. “It’s worth it. You’ll love this.” Like a mother reassuring her children that the long night’s sleep before Santa will, most assuredly, be worth it in the morning.
My best friend and I are getting pedicures; I have never had one, so I’m a little embarrassed about my feet. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are the ugliest feet ever seen in North America, so to hide my embarrassment over what I’m convinced will be inevitable ridicule and banishment from the spa, I turn to the table next to me, grab a random book and hide behind it, mortified.
Said book turns out to be I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks. It’s a how-to-dress guide for those of us who could use a little help, fashion-wise, and unlike other books in this oeuvre I’ve furtively glanced at, the author actually appears to be on my side. Rather than foisting a list of dos and don’ts on the hapless reader, Brooks gently makes suggestions about how you can create your own signature look based on what makes you feel pretty. My reservations about this whole girlie-girl thing lift somewhat.
As I flip through the pages, I read random tidbits to my more stylish friend, who listens indulgently. “Look, minimalism is TOO a style,” I crow, pointing to pictures of the black-clad, no-nonsense Sofia Coppola. An hour later, purple polish drying, I teeter home on flip-flops and verify that I can indeed check this book out of the library. Haute couture, for the win.
Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction, they say, brought that cat back. However, I am still sifting through the murky backwaters of the internet–and kicking up heaps of dust in print resources–trying to find a derivation for this phrase that will satisfy the librarian part of my brain. This chunk of grey matter insists, despite our brave new content-creation world, that there are still certain standards for what is true in any given situation. A bunch of people on the web saying something is true does not necessarily make it so.
[And yet, I have, as of right now, nothing better to go on, and precious little time to devote to what is currently a matter of interest to me and me alone. Then again, if somebody should call the reference department tomorrow and want to know “the truth” about the origin of this phrase, I would have a reason to go on. Hint hint.]
On a grander scale, curiosity is what brings us to the written word, and satisfaction is what brings us back. We read for all sorts of reasons: to lose ourselves, to learn new things, to kill boredom or its variants, which include “time in airports” and “waiting in line at the coffee shop.” We read to satiate our hunger to know, even if it kills us, the things we do not know. We come back, again and again, because the only thing knowledge truly kills is ignorance, and the satisfaction we feel–learning the facts, exploring the new subject, discovering the unfamiliar genre–is more than enough to counterbalance any pain that takes place during the process.
What are you curious about today? What brings you back to the library, again and again?