Confessional: Google is a Godsend
Last weekend I was staring out the window of my parents’ house in New Rochelle for probably the last time. It was sad. They were moving from a place they could no longer afford and I was helping them every weekend, packing boxes, dragging and carrying boxes, loading boxes, watching my parents debate what to do with this item and that item and this piece of furniture and whether or not they would really need that second bathroom in the other house.
For weeks I was moving stuff that had accumulated for twenty-seven years in the attic, the garage, the basement, and the spare bedrooms. I still have broken nails. I still have scratches on my legs and pains in my arms I have never felt before. And then there was the emotional pain. The memories of that house and the thought of the years of work my parents put into it. I was emotional and stressed out. I stress myself out. And I think it’s my parents’ fault too. They stress me out. They had so much stuff, and they wanted to part with none of it.
The books alone will take up so much space.
My mom still believed she wanted to keep all of them because one day she would read them. Sure, I thought, standing there with yet another Italian-to-English dictionary, she’d read a couple pages, get stuck on one page, fold that page, and pass out with her glasses half stuck to her face. Going through all those books was a nightmare. She had dozens of cookbooks and books on mysticism.
Not all the books were total wastes of paper, though. There were some gems. I now have four copies of Brave New World! I’ll admit that I’m probably worse than my mom.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve donated books she didn’t want to keep, sold whatever someone wanted to buy, and boxed the rest. And, yet, there were more: Yes, It’s Illustrated and It’s the Bible. No thank you. Eat Fat and Look Thin! Nope. You’re the Problem: Ten Effective Ways to Get That Job and Be Happy. Nope. To Kill a Mockingbird. Read it. I took it, though. One can never have too many copies of a classic, right? Crime and Punishment. I’m reading this right now! I thought. I took another copy, because, again: Why not?
And then, in my fifth hour of bending and complaining to myself, the cream: The Lilac. By Jonathan Bobbins.
How far did she get? Page thirty. Perfectly folded.
How has my mom heard of and read (until page thirty) Bobbins and I haven’t?
I looked around and saw that my parents were arguing outside over some lawn chairs. I took the book to the bathroom (where I took my mom’s Cosmo mags as a kid . . .) and started reading. It started with a long description of a prairie; then a guy entered. Maybe he was old? I couldn’t tell, but I loved it.
Or did I? Was it prosaic, formulaic, Midwestern bullshit? I agreed with everybody, yet I thought they were all wrong. I wanted to know everything for myself.
I heard my mom come into the office. “Domenick! Are you almost done?!”
“In a minute, Ma!” I snuck into the office and opened my father’s dusty old Dell laptop. Luckily, they still had their Wi-Fi hooked in.
I googled “Jonathan Bobbins The Lilac” and saw the stream of responses: book reviews, excerpts and stories, essays about him, but, they were right, no interviews. And then, on the third page, I saw an article called “It’s Still a Brooklyn Thing: The Jonathans and the Art of the Novel,” and it said that Bobbins worked at Ozzie’s in Park Slope. The Ozzie’s. How they could’ve missed this is beyond me. I mean, really now. I’ll bet he was there that night or at least earlier that day and we just missed him or maybe he was incognito.
Now, when I first read this I’d thought he worked there, as in made the freaking coffee and ate day-old bagels, but no, he works there. He sits at a table in the back and sometimes he’ll just stare, getting himself “back through that portal into this or that world on which I am working and in which my characters are growing, changing, crying, living.” In the article he admits having a hard time getting anything done save for “eating, sleeping, and defecating” at home and so he normally screams something in French, takes his laptop, stuffs it into his backpack, and heads over to Starbucks or Ozzie’s or some other coffee shop and starts to work.
It’s weird. I tell my students, those who take pictures of the notes on the board with their iPhones or think libraries are some weird monuments housing the dead, that Google is a good start, particularly when they are stuck writing about something they have no idea about or interest in (which is anything I talk about in class), but it’s never something anyone wants to use in a serious bibliography because Google is too wide and generous and the crap it suggests is often just a waste of time and, besides all that, no serious scholar would rely on it.
Sure, I have poopooed Google all these years, but on that cold, clear September afternoon, Google was a Godsend.