hello, my name is jenny.

>> May 21, 2009

in high school, i spent two and a half hours every friday morning scanning, sorting, cleaning, and reshelving books at the parkland community library. the library is actually an old ranch-style house in which all of the front rooms have been converted into a big open space, the rest used for offices for the librarians and a kitchen area. i overexaggerated my duties. on a good day, twelve people will come into the library. seven of those twelve people will be under the age of six and illiterate for all intents and purposes, completely undermining the reason for going to check out books. as such, i actually spent most of my time sorting out dried-up markers and deformed paper clips from the "summer reading club" desk drawer, occasionally pausing to stamp a little kid's reading log and hand him a coupon for a free kid-sized rita's, which i took two of as payment at the end of each shift.

one of my favorite ways to pass the time, especially when it rained, was to "spot check." i'd wind my way through all of the shelves, checking to see that the books were in the right location (by subject and type) and then all in alphabetical or dewey-decimal order. you would have thought i'd have gotten really stellar at the dd system and, obviously by the age of sixteen i should know my alphabet, but every four seconds i'd repeat the alphabet song in my head or look down at the dd cheat-sheet i'd printed off one of the ancient computers in the backroom. these pauses allowed me ample time to study the titles and covers, two things you are NOT supposed to use in judging books. my dad will open a book to a random middle page and start reading. after a few pages, he'll either keep it for check out or move on. this baffles me. not only do i think that a few pages hardly does the book justice, i also can't fathom ruining a potential winner by reading the middle before it's time. it's like biting into a tootsie pop. you can't do that. you can't get to the chocolate center without at least making an effort at the outside. if i just wanted the middle, i'd have saved the trouble and opened a tootsie roll. i want all of it.

so while the old adage exists, i don't see how you can judge a book any other way than its cover or title without reading the entire thing, which can only be done if the title or cover is particularly interesting. and that is how i came to discover the never-ending world of editorial non-fiction and memoirs. during one rather boring morning at the library, i had made my way to the biography section of the library and stumbled upon a title out of place: another bullshit night in suck city by nicholas flynn, who i later found out is a poet or writer or something like that. excuse me? a library is a quiet place for contemplation and education, not expletives and anger. as this was before the first of two very painful high school break-ups (the same kid teice, i may add), i had not yet developed my angry vocabulary and was still mocked for saying things like "darn it" and "what the heck?" this book stood out, and with no prior notions of anything between its artfully titled, dark green with yellow printed covers, i checked it out (myself, a perk of being a volunteer) and headed home.

and thus my obsession was born. i had a brief haitus with some dan-brown-esque fiction involving hidden codes in books and whatnot (read the rule of four and the secret of the rose) followed by a stint in economic-based nonfiction, but i've always returned to the memoir, biography, or autobiography. i'm a sucker for nostalgia, and reading about other peoples' memories, struggles, and far more interesting experiences fuels that need. i also find it's much easier to get connected to the characters and the story when i know they're mostly real (yes, harry potter does exist, so clearly my obsession with the boy wizard series is not an exception to this rule).

in the past year, i've devoured all of michael ruhlman's books, become very close with barbara walters and alan greenspan (who dated, btw), sat down at molly wizenberg's table, and am currently embarking on a journey into the world of julia child with julie powell. david leibowitz is on deck, probably to be started tomorrow because i can't put julie and julia down.

all of these stories have started to stir the ambitious journalist/writer lion that i've been habitually pelting with tranquilizers since middle school. he's yawning, stretching his legs, and itching to get out. my blog, thus far, hasn't really been a good outlet for him. it's not very editorial, mostly because i've been lazy and unwilling to let it all out. it's been a slow trickle up until now. but i've gotten hung up on a line on page 96 of J&J: "What I think is that Sam Pepys wrote down all of the details of his life for nine years because the very act of writing them down made them important, or at least singular." it mysteriously echos a line from amy tan's saving fish from drowning (side note: i keep a small journal in my nightstand that is filled with lines from books that i can't get past. sometimes all it takes is one sentence to get me hooked. i read this journal when i need to be inspired), something i've taken to heart recently.

now after that very lengthy, verbose, and seemingly unrelated anecdote about the library and all that jazz, i introduce my new chapter. chapter one. it will still be peanut butter & jenny, meaning that food will inevitably be a large part (the peanut butter) because it is a large part of my life, but i'll be adding in much larger quantities of jenny. i keep it jenny, not only because it fits better in place of "jelly," but also because that's my essence. i've only been "jenn" since i got an attitude in high school and felt the need to "grow up" my name. but my family, neighbors, and childhood friends still know me as "jenny," and i'd like for everyone else to know her, too.


Chicagolandia May 22, 2009 at 4:52 PM  

I love your writing style - it just hooks you in and keeps you glued to your proverbial seat. Keep up the great work!

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