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Once in a while, I get an email or a letter from a reader asking if I have read a particular columnist or author.
A lot of the time I have read that person’s work and gotten inspiration from it. I don’t like to read a lot of humorists anymore because I am afraid I will inadvertently use one of their ideas not remembering where I saw it. I think I have read Andy Rooney since his first collection and there is definitely an influence in my earlier columns.
There was a time when I thought the curmudgeon thing would work for me and sometimes it does, but I don’t want to sound like a low-rent Andy Rooney. Andrew Aitken Rooney was one of a kind. I, folks, am one of many.
I have a number of bookshelves in the house that are overflowing with books. If you look at one shelf, you might think I am a well-read scholar, but if you look at another one, you will see that I like a lot of the books that were once called “beach reads.” You know the type — the “check your brain at the beginning and have a good time” books. Most of them are fast-paced and written quite simply and have lot of lurid stuff in them that threatens to fog my glasses. I have a few of those old “men’s adventure” paperbacks from the ‘60s that are about 150 pages of sex and violence.
I have one bookshelf that is nothing but reference material. I kinda like that stuff. I have since I was a kid. I will read reference books like some people read fiction. I have technical manuals for things you wouldn’t want to read technical manuals for. I mean, really, who wants the technical manuals for MiG fighter planes in Russian? Well, I’m your guy. I don’t speak or read Russian, but they are pretty neat.
I have outdated atlases and almanacs chock full of information that is no longer accurate. I keep them because I may have to reference something that happened long ago for the column and I want information that was accurate for the time I am talking about.
I used to have a lot of old telephone directories, both yellow and white pages. I don’t know why I had them, but if you needed the number for a locksmith in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1975, I could get it for you. I had one of those phone books that had the numbers first and the names and addresses second, so I could research a phone number with no name. Nowadays, you can do that pretty easily online and not use a 10-pound book.
A few years ago, my wife and I were watching an episode of “Law & Order” that cited a certain statute and my wife asked how they knew that was the right one. I grabbed the New York City Criminal Code and Penal Law book from my shelf and confirmed that the statute was in fact correct, making my wife simply shake her head. She asked if I actually read the book and I told her I had read it so many times, I could probably work in the New York City district sttorney’s office.
I used to read a lot of fiction. Once I got past the fact that he would take 10 pages to describe the color of someone’s eyes, I found James Michener entertaining. I have read a few of the larger-scale novels and a lot of his smaller works. I have four copies of “Chesapeake,” including one that rides around in my car in case I ever get stuck somewhere, I always have something to read. I’ve read James Clavell a couple of times. I have read the entire Spenser series of private eye novels so many times, I lost count years ago.
There are a few columnists I read when I find the time. Most of the ones I really liked aren’t around anymore. I have written the column now for five years, and once in a while I come up with a great idea only to realize I had read it somewhere before.
Not wanting to plagiarize anyone, I usually move on past the idea and write something else. It gets a little weird when I realize the columnist who said it originally was me. I suppose you can’t plagiarize yourself.
How does that work legally? I probably should know the answer to that, since I have all those law books. Can I sue myself? I know if I do, I should have a better lawyer than myself because I’m out to win.
This has nothing to do with the rest of the column, but I wanted to put it out there, anyway: Be kind. That’s all. Be kind. There’s a lot of anger and frustration out in the world today. Be kind. We’re all in the same boat. It only goes forward if we all row together.
Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.