Business is Humming

I stared into the box, mouth open. “Not really,” I said to the donor, who wasn’t there. “You didn’t really. Did you do that on purpose, or is it just one of those things?”

The third book out of the box was Joyce Carol Oates’s You Must Remember This. Two books farther down was Roger Ebert’s A Kiss Is Still a Kiss,

“You KNOW what I’m going to be humming for the next two hours,” I told the donor.

People have remarked on the fact that I do not have a radio in the room where I play with the books. I prefer to work this way for several reasons. A. I’ve heard all the auto insurance commercials I really need to hear. B. I don’t want to be distracted while sorting romances written by mystery writers from mysteries written by romance writers by health bulletins telling me Necco wafers cure ingrown toenails. C. The music cuts down on spontaneous singing.

Why should I spend precious time tuning in a radio station when so many song cues come in on the covers of books? I don’t say that I hum every tune I see referred to in a title, because I don’t catch all of them; they’re references to music O haven’t heard. But that’s the bonus of providing my own musical background: it never wastes my time playing songs I don’t know.

The song cues can be obvious: Frank Sinatra’s autobiography My Way, or Jimmy Buffett’s Tales From Margaritaville. Or it can go a bit deeper, as when a copy of Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes comes in, I have to hum “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. Alphabet books may, if I am in a musical mood, provoke a Jackson 5 number (actually letters and numbers, if you recall the song in question.) A Sesame Street book can call up the theme song or any one of a dozen top ten tunes to come from the show. (There is no truth to the rumor that Oscar and I share the personal soundtrack “I Love Trash.”)

Sometimes it gets very esoteric, and I find myself humming a song and trying to backtrack to find out how THAT came up. The old pop country hit “Wolverton Mountain” was rumbling around the room for several days before I realized it was the fault of a Star Trek novel called The Pandora Principle. You would need to be a trivia expert of Five-Day Jeopardy Champion level to make the connection at this point, but we’ll pause while you try to figure it out.

Give up? I would have, too, but I had the book in front of me. The author of the book was somebody named Carolyn Clowes. The villain who lives up on Wolverton Mountain was Clifton Clower. Yes, I know. But if you’re in a musical mood, and have a largely disorganized brain, your mind will jump on little things like that and set you to humming songs you didn’t know you remembered.

Anyhow, I tucked Joyce’s book into Literature and Roger’s into Show Biz. There’s no sense giving in to the temptation to put them out together, because there are people in this sad world who wouldn’t get it. Besides, there are at least two books called Fundamental Things Apply and a dozen called As Time Goes By. I’d never finish.

And if I did finish, there’d still be the problem of Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. (Note to self: section at next year’s book fair called Something Wicked This Way Hums.)

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