Goodreads: OK for you… but for me?

I don’t know how many of you tune into Goodreads online (except you, Nebish). I joined around 2011, back when I started spouting these ruminations – and before Goodreads was absorbed by Amazon, like every other book-related activity online.

It’s a site for folks to paste reviews of books and book-like things, trade literary (even literate!) observations, and convince each other that the world still cares about the written (not broadcast) word.

In a Facebookish way, you can like other people’s reviews and comments, follow them (I picture slavering puppydogs) or become a “friend”: I still don’t understand the difference between follower and friend – ragged beggar vs. dedicated apostle?

I’d get a weekly email linking me to reviews posted by either followers or friends. (Somehow I accidentally cancelled this email and can’t for the life of me find how to revive it.) I’m not sure how I hooked up with half these people – did I choose them or did they choose me?

As usual, I don’t quite fit in. I have no interest it “rating” a book without posting a written review. (My favorite one-star review that I posted: The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran: “Total crap.”) What does it mean to give a lumbering tome 5 stars if you don’t say why you liked it? I take such stuff (too) seriously.

On the other hand, I read slowly and do other things with my time, like splitting firewood or petting the cat, so my postings are sparse, to say the least. One guy I’d somehow joined to has read every single work on the Holocaust ever written, usually expanding his stash by 3-5 more a week and spattering his comments with endless intrusive quotes from the texts. Other commenters are tied into unlimited series of fantasies about alternate universes (yeah, I know, we could use one about now). Then there are the Cthulhu freaks, those champions of gore, stench, adjectives and H.P. Lovecraft.

But this one young woman… I won’t ID her here, since, despite the current universe’s disdain for privacy, I just wouldn’t do that. Probably in her late 20s, I figured when I first read her reviews, she writes gorgeous, unrestrained yet contained prose, reacts to her reading with an innate balance of personal and analytic, uses words as though they were rare objects found in an ancient jar. She both delights and shames me with her exercise of mind.

Then, one day a couple or three years ago, she mentioned she was about to start college. Holy ejaculating christ – a 17 or 18 year old. What limits can this girl have?

I’ve dipped into her non-Goodreads blog and found a gay young woman without either apology or aggression, showing not the least regard for what anyone might think of who or what she is, just explaining her life as if you were standing next to her, looking out the window. An amazing mix of poise, acceptance and stability. She seldom mentions her family (in what I’ve read so far) but it’s clear that she grew up in an atmosphere where she was given the keys to the world as her right, openly encouraged to form her… completeness.

As always, being as self-centered as a channeled drill bit, I started thinking back to my own childhood (a stupid but unavoidable activity of old farts as they slip further into geezerhood). At home, I was mostly alone, frightened, friendless, given no information necessary to realization and expansion. In school, always first in my class and the source of all factual wisdom, I was treated as a minor inhuman deity. Again – I always want to stress this – I’m not blaming anybody, just painting a picture for contrast.

I’ve received comments about my bumbling inabilities as parent and grandparent (with which I heartily agree), and it’s easy as canned pumpkin pie to say, “Yeah, my parents done me wrong and I passed it along.” But… on the other hand, my parents were who they were and I’m damned well who I am, an often terrified individual who has not the slightest right to point the finger at anyone else as cause of my sodden temperament.

This remarkable teen flowing into college was not just supported; she is obviously, by nature, a vital, self-accepting entity. I’m not, could not have been even with the cuddliest of parental teddy bears.

Nature, nurture, and the role of the neuronal dice. 

(What the hell does this have to do with Goodreads? Damned if I know.)

*  *  *

The above was originally written while listening to jazz pianist Johnny D’Amico (who billed himself as “Father” John D’Amico), the most liked kid in my high school class, the best of the best, one of only three from St. Thomas More High School I met again in later life.

I never heard him or any other Jazz pianist live (or any jazz “name” except Herbie Man). I think Johnny played in the same bar on 22nd St. in Philly where William Lashner set part of his Bagmen novel (and which my current novel heroine, Jenny, visited, though for myself, I’ve never set foot in the place).

Like Mike Macchiaroli (the only kid in my class shorter than me, and the second most liked, behind Johnny, and for the same reasons as Johnny), he thought about but didn’t become a priest. Johnny used the “Father” moniker as a nod to things contemplated.

Did anyone from our class actually become a priest? I hope not. Johnny died a few years back on the day he was supposed to be released from a hospital stay. And some people think there’s a god.

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