Ode to bound books – the thrill is not gone

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff

David Ossman reads Jack Kerouac,while guitarist David Gregor plays the blues at Ott & Murphy Wines and Tasting Room in Langley.
(Patricia Duff, Instagram photos)

Duff ’n Stuff, Dec. 11, 2012

I have been thinking a lot lately about books and the literary world.

My conversations have been hovering near disappointment with the quick infusion of technology in all of our lives and what that means for … well for everything really, but particularly for the lovely, sturdy, familiar, treasured and sometimes dog-eared-because-we-keep-reaching-for-them books.

The American novelist Philip Roth recently retired from 55 years of writing novels.

“To tell you the truth, I’m done,” he said to a reporter at the New York Times in November. “Nemesis” is his 26th and final book. I got the impression that he no longer wanted to battle the demons of his muse for a world that was changing its mind about literature. The timing of Roth’s announcement is symbolic to me. He’s not particularly my favorite writer, but the story of his retirement struck me as a harbinger; an effect perhaps of these non-literary, bookstore-closing times. The word about Roth’s giving up the pen came around the same time that Isaiah Sheffer had died. Sheffer was the founding artistic director of “Selected Shorts,” a public radio show on which some of the best short stories are read aloud. So, forgive my overly dramatic insinuations, but it was kind of a double whammy for literature that month, and as I said, books have been on my mind.

For those of us in all aspects of publishing, it gives some pause. Indeed, for those of us who are writers, readers, parents, educators or just people who give a damn and who have dreamed of pushing the world toward one that values ideas, art and stories, there is a brace against such an upheaval. Just the idea that the work of the poets and the authors is being slowly transmuted into a world without the printed word; a world where words will not be bound with a spine, but instead stuck, trapped, never handled behind the glare of the screen, is, for me, heart-achingly sad. Technology makes me a little dizzy anyway, as opposed to the tactile bend of a book and its simple, papery comfort. And the Coupeville Library (and all libraries for that matter) continues to be one of my favorite places to visit.

With all these thoughts somewhat stuck for months in the back haze of my mind (the forefront of which must deal daily with the insidious insistence of tech tools) I considered myself lucky to be welcomed into the new, extended venue at Ott & Murphy’s Tasting Room in Langley. David Ossman was giving a reading, and guitarist David Gregor played interludes of the blues.

David Ossman’s books on the stage at the Ott & Murphy Tasting Room.

There, in the dim light of a festive Christmas flicker, Ossman read to us Jack Kerouac’s “San Francisco Blues” and Carl Sandburg poems from “Breathing Tokens” and Kenneth Rexroth from his “100 More Japanese Poems,” joking that it was “100 more,” as if any of us could imagine translating even the first 100. In his deep, eloquent and always animated voice, Ossman read from the pile of dog-eared copies at his feet and told us about having discovered the tagged poems in his wife’s copy of the “New American Poetry,” which brought back memories of his younger self having owned the same book, and from which he read a stunning poem of LeRoi Jones.

We all sang “Happy Birthday To You” because it had been Ossman’s birthday that week and he told us stories of his brushes with the Beat poets from back in the heydays in California and read Gregory Corso’s “Marriage” and a fabulous poem of his own from an unpublished collection titled, “American Parts.” He “oracled” a poem the way Joni Takanikos does by choosing random poems by blindly opening a book to a fluttered page and he did that with “Five T’ang Poets” and brought us poems by Li Po and Tu Fu and into the moonlight of ancient China. He picked up “The Writings and Drawings of Bob Dylan” and read “Maggie’s Farm” and “She Belongs To Me,” which is an entirely different experience to hear songs read than it is to hear them sung.

And Gregor kept adding to the mood with the blues and played “The Thrill is Gone” among other bluesy stalwarts and the books that clearly had been held by many hands were strewn at Ossman’s feet and, in that couple of hours I knew that poetry and literature and songs and books were alive and well, and that everyone in the room had soaked it all up into some part of their souls.

My faith had been revived by the light that comes from the pages.

From the heart,
Patricia Duff


Ott & Murphy Wines and Tasting Room in Langley is a culinary arts member of Whidbey Life Magazine. Check them out here


“Maggie’s Farm” by Bob Dylan

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I aint gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I aint gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother more.

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I aint gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more.

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, when she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more.

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
I aint gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.


Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist for the past several years in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association contest.

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