What's that? Chicks dig scars, not books?
The library geek can only mentally grope the women of fiction for so long. Eventually, the book nerd craves human interaction. Someone to discuss George Orwell's use of symbolism in Animal Farm, or at least a person willing to role-play scenes from The Marquis De Sade: A Life. But let's face it. Reading isn't sexy. The romance aisle at Barnes & Noble may be a good place to pick up lonely housewives, but most public libraries will give you dysentery before they get you a date.
But that doesn't stop them from frantically trying to lure somebody -- anybody -- to browse their musty shelves. And if libraries have learned anything from Joe Camel, it's the importance of targeting kids. Hook 'em when they're young, and they'll be habitual readers for life, the kind of people who take "reading breaks" at work and ask strangers if they can bum A Light in the Attic. Before long, they'll be smoking through two or three books a week.
I know. I'm a book nerd. Or at least I would be if I weren't having so much sex. Bookstores are my crack houses. I can't pronounce Dostoyevsky, yet I own two copies of Notes From the Underground, neither of which I will ever read. I want my dead, bloated carcass to be buried in the discount bin at Powell's City of Books. (That's in Portland, Oregon, for those of you unfamiliar with the greatest bookstore on the planet.)
And I love libraries, if only because checking out a documentary on home dentistry for free from the library is better than paying five bucks for 50 First Dates at Blockbuster. But even I am not susceptible to the lame, half-assed "Reading is Fun-damental" ploys.
At least I wasn't until last Wednesday.
That's when local blues legend D.C. Bellamy and his band lent their services to the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library for an installment of the library's "Books 'N' Bands -- Free Summer Jams!" series. It seemed a dubious enterprise, using a blues band to promote literacy in a city with a downtown that resembles a Soviet Bloc industrial wasteland, circa 1958. But I had nothing better to do on a Wednesday afternoon.
And as soon as the gregarious Bellamy launched into "The Thrill Is Gone," it became clear that the thrill had just arrived on its lunch break from Memphis or New Orleans or wherever the hell the thrill spends its summers. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the courtyard in front of the library was crowded with onlookers as Bellamy and his band strutted through "Chain of Fools" from their perch on a makeshift stage in front of the library's entrance.
Cubicle types sat on benches, gnawing their lunches and bobbing their heads awkwardly with the music. Small children danced. Others sat in the shade and tapped their feet. Somebody dressed as R.U. Reading, the library's freakish lizard mascot, made the rounds in a large, green costume until heat stroke undoubtedly began to set in. A light breeze carried away the barbecue smoke billowing from the bratwursts and polish sausages sputtering on the grill of the silver Boss Dogg's hot dog cart parked next to the stage.
"This is too early in the morning for a musician to be up," Bellamy told the crowd. "I don't think I went to bed until I heard the rooster crow."
Bellamy shrugged, laughed and smiled. He joked playfully with the crowd, chattering in perpetual rhyme about unfaithful women ("If Mr. Right, don't do it, let Mr. Wrong get to it") and ungrateful men ("Men are rough and tough and runnin'. But without a woman, we're nothin'"), when he wasn't chiding the security guards or coaxing a jubilant wail from his guitar.
It's not likely that the spectacle provoked anybody to stride into the library and check out the collected works of Eudora Welty, but for an hour, that courtyard and that library felt alive. Reading was fun, at least through osmosis.
And as the band boogied toward the end of its set, one pasty, nervous-looking book nerd hurried busily past the tumultuous scene, clutching a small stack of books to his chest. Then he paused for a second outside the main entrance, looked at Bellamy and cracked a smile as the blues singer crooned "Let the Good Times Roll."