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Keith Snyder

Between You, Me, and the Bookshelf
Keith Snyder

The Night MenFor some reason, we're looking at a shelf of the books in my head.

You look up from the one you're holding. "There's nothing in here."

"I haven't written that one yet." I take it from you and flip through the blank pages. "This one isn't even an idea yet."

As I slip it back onto the shelf, you point. "Isn't that your new one?" You pull it out. The uncreased dustjacket depicts a battered pulp detective novel: The Night Men.

"There's a book-within-a-book, so that's how I imagined the cover. The actual cover's much better, so I'm glad I didn't inflict my brilliant concepts on my publisher."

You leaf idly. "What is all this -- pictures?"

Coffin's Got the Dead Guy on the Inside"Pictures, feelings, memories, concepts."

"So it's not really a book."

"It's the book as I imagined it, before I wrote it and knew what it was about."

We both know this makes no sense, but it's also true. I'm grateful when you don't ask what I mean.

"What's this?" From the page: glossy darkness, a sense of mass.

"Just a way of thinking about nighttime. It's probably from how diner windows look from the inside when it's dark out. Here -- turn the page...this goes with it."

This is a memory of feeling adult, staying up all night at Denny's, drinking coffee, sitting lengthwise in the booth.

You browse; I look over your shoulder. You're being polite; I genuinely find me fascinating.

"This?" A series of colored vertical stripes, every second stripe pale green, the others various.

If On  a Winter's Night a Traveller"That's the novel If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. It has a musical form called a rondeaux." I point to a small diagram penciled in the margin. "That's the structure of my last book. It had solos in it."

"Why are these diagrams here?"

"They're just ideas about form. Turn the page. That's the new book."

" it a braid?"

"Sort of. Three storylines can be simultaneous in the reader's mind, but not in the actual book. So my mental image is kind of a braid, but my anal-retentive side won't accept the imperfect analogy, and my lazy streak can't be bothered to come up with a better one." I squint. "I guess it's kind of hard to look at."


I don't like my answer, either. You flip pages; I narrate. "That's a parallel between anti-Semitism and homophobia.

"That's a friend who plays MIDI banjo.

"That's Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker.

"That's GeniusGenius, James Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman. It reminded me to trust myself. I made songs out of parts of it last year.

"That's my imaginary perfect music store.

"That's The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse.

"That's an article by S.J. Rozan on the private-eye hero.

"That's a parallel between independent and chain bookstores, and independent and chain music stores.

"That's Brooklyn...Venice Beach...Sunland...that's North Hollywood...

The Code of the WoostersYou stop flipping. The book rests open at a snapshot of a suburban Californian house with a swastika spray-painted on it. "What's this?"

"Something that happened to me when I was growing up." I flick a hand. "Keep going."

In a moment, you do. "Hey," you say. You sound relieved. "Words."

This page says:

Rules exist only to enrich obey stylistic rules is an elegance only, a pleasure of the spirit; it is no proof of value and does not indicate conviction.

Trouble Comes Back"That's a quote from my favorite composer, Frank Martin. His Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments is one of my favorite pieces of music, and it also combines voices with unique characters, so I can learn something about both music and writing from it. Check out the next page--" you flip "--that's a quote from pianist/critic Paul Badura-Skoda."

Many great works of this century are admired; few have the privilege of being loved. Frank Martin created works which are both admired and loved.

"Huh." You skip ahead a ways and look up. "Reggae?"

"Uprising. Bob Marley. I think he's as good at conciseness and implication as Hemingway. In the music. Not the lyrics."

Neither of us is all that interested anymore, especially you, but as you're closing the book, a vivid impression flashes by.

"Wait--" Leafing from the back, you find it again. A deep, confounding sense of uncertainty bores into us from the page.

I shrug apologetically. "If you started with such a cockeyed collection of jumbled crap, you'd be uncertain, too."

I wish you'd close the book, and eventually you do. I'm hoping you'll buy me lunch.


Keith SnyderKeith Snyder's new book, The Night Men, will be published next month. He has written three other Jason Keltner mysteries, Show Control, Coffin's Got the Dead Guy on the Inside and Trouble Comes Back. He is also a musician and filmmaker. He lives in New York city with his wife, the dramatic soprano Kathleen Haaversen.