SOLDIER BOY - "I'm still laughing my ass off ... classic!"
A One-Year Journal of
Reading, Reflecting & Remembering
As a member of perhaps the last generation of truly devoted readers, Tim Bazzett uses a lifelong love affair with books as a springboard to recalling an eventful life marked by unexpected twists and turns that took him and his family from Michigan to California to Europe and back, during his various stints as student, teacher, and recycled soldier. He reflects thoughtfully too on his 21 years as a Russian linguist with the National Security Agency, noting the sacrifices required by a career cloaked in secrecy and the toll it can take on a marriage. In the end, however, Booklover is most of all a love story, a nakedly candid and affectionate look back by Bazzett at more than forty years of living and raising a family, all with the same brown-eyed girl he met on a Michigan college campus in 1967. If you are a booklover, you will love this book.
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Booklover: A One-Year Journal of Reading, Reflecting & Remembering
May 5, 2009
Man, have I been lazy! But all those books waiting on my bookcase shelves and in small piles all over the house – waiting to be read. So I’ve been busy reading them. The best one recently was This Stubborn Soil, a memoir of growing up dirt poor in the sandy hill country of east Texas, by William A. Owens, born 1905, died 1990.
But I should try to finish what I started last month, our trip to Paris more than thirty years ago, and a night at the famous Les Folies Bergeres. The Follies were probably about the closest thing Paris had to the showgirl extravaganzas of Las Vegas. Hell, maybe they still are; I don’t really know. It’s been a long time, but here’s what I remember. We had seats in the balcony on the right side of the stage, so we were looking down at the show from up above. Lemme see now, would that be “stage right” or “stage left”? How did old Snagglepuss put it in those Saturday morning cartoons? “Exit stage left.”
But no matter.
The thing is when the chorus line came out we were looking down on a long line of about forty tits. (I can’t actually remember for sure, but it had to have been an even number.) No kidding! There they were, all lined up across the stage below us. At least that was how they appeared. The truth is I’m pretty sure they were actually wearing some kind of transparent mesh body stockings, but from our vantage point … Well, you get the idea. And they were all jiggling and bouncing away as the girls did their synchronized kicks and other classy choreography. It was all very high class, you understand, tits and all. And I might have long forgotten our night at the Follies, except for what Treve did.
No sooner had the chorus line started into their routine when she reached over and snatched my glasses right off my face. Well, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this previously, but I am very nearly blind without my glasses, so this was probably just about the most awful thing she could have done to me at that moment. I was shocked and probably more than a little bit angry when she did this, and I let her know it too, demanding in an irritated whisper that she “give me back my glasses, dammit!” Which she did, after a few moments, muttering most ungraciously about how I didn’t need to watch all these “naked women.” Of course, that’s what the Follies are all about – naked women, I mean. Or, perhaps more accurately, “simulated nudity.” And I tried, none too delicately, to explain this to her, still whispering, of course. But Treve wasn’t having any of it. She all but accused me of bringing her to this place under false pretenses. I think I’d probably told her that the Follies was one of the most famous shows – and tourist attractions – in all of Paris. Which was true.
“You never said anything about naked women though,” she hissed furiously.
“They’re not really naked,” I protested. “And anyway, why the hell do you think it’s so famous?!” Still whispering, since we were surrounded by other theatergoers who were beginning to shoot unpleasant glances in our direction.
After this Treve lapsed into a stony silence which she pretty much maintained through the rest of the show. I had my glasses back, so I watched. And I’ll admit it really was something for an ol’ boy from Reed City to see all those tits in one place. But the initial enjoyment was somewhat diluted. Having an angry spouse sitting next to you while you watch something like this, kinda spoils things, ya know?
But the worst part of our evening in Paris was that when we returned to our tiny hotel room that night, she was still mad at me. We were in Paris for cripesakes, and there was no sex. You’d think just being in the city would have made it all special, but nope. I’d looked – well, probably gaped, actually – at all those other women’s tits, so the shop was closed for the night.
We were reminiscing not long ago about all the places we’d been and things we’d seen when we lived in Europe, and Treve said she can barely remember being in Paris, but we did both remember that night at the Follies, and she still insists that I got just what I deserved. Hmm…
The fact is she claims that’s really about all she remembers of Paris. I dug through a box of old photos and found a picture of her with the Eiffel Tower in the background. She looked closely at it and then said she can’t remember that day at all.
Memories of Paris. Shit. But at least we got there.
One of the books I read in the past few weeks was a novel consisting of interrelated short stories called Olive Kitteredge, by Elizabeth Strout. The week after I read it, I learned it had just won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I was not surprised. The title character, an irascible, mostly thoroughly unpleasant old woman in her sixties, and then seventies as the story progressed, moved me in ways that much nicer fictional characters never have. Strout had lessons to teach – about how people are not always what they seem. This was a book I did not want to end. Widowed and lonely and filled with regret at seventy-two, at the close of the book Olive had met another man, a widower who was just as lonely as she.
What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly … because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered … It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet.
As I read this passage I thought of my own “lumpy, aged, and wrinkled” body; was hyperconscious of it, in fact. And I felt a sudden wash of love for the woman lying next to me in bed, reading her own book. And I was thankful beyond words that we still had each other, that we were still together and had this shared history. I thought of friends and acquaintances we’ve had over the years who have not stayed married; who have separated, divorced and remarried. And I wondered, what happens to that history, to those shared experiences, the memories? Are they like those wedding albums and photos from failed marriages that get packed away on a basement shelf or into an attic closet never to see the light of day again? Or do they get taken out at unexpected, unguarded moments and reexamined?
Hey, Olive Kitteredge is very powerful stuff, lemme tell ya. Good fiction matters, and this Strout woman knows what she’s about, believe me. Pulitzer Prize? Damn straight, man! Way to go, Elizabeth ...
Booklover: A One-Year Journal of Reading, Reflecting & Remembering
"An absolutely authentic and frank account of what it was like to have lived as an adult during the decades that followed the upheavals of the 60s ... Booklover captures the sense of that time when everything was changing and family life was, in a sense, being reinvented; the feeling of restlessness, of trying to get more out of life, of seeking adventure, of being willing to take chances. What's especially good about it, I think, is that it speaks of these things in the context of a marriage and a family, and more or less mainstream values, not in terms of some fringe situation. People in their 50s and 60s will identify with the book, even though the particulars of their lives will have been different; and younger people will find it interesting for the insights it provides about their parents ... A fine and honest book by turns hilarious, poignant, and moving ..."
"Lots of people say that they are going to write a book when they retire. Tim Bazzett has done that in spades, five books in six years. Across these titles he has told the important stories of his time, and place, and community with skill, insight, compassion, and humor. In his newest, Booklover, Tim shares his reflections on a year’s worth of reading set against the memories of a lifetime with books. And once again he gives us an entertaining and thoughtful read."
"Many writers present the reader with a particular 'voice.' Tim Bazzett takes it farther, putting his whole irrepressible self on every page, attending to what interests him and making it interest you. It's all here - confidence, humor and good will."
"I felt I got to know Tim Bazzett ... He had tales galore, told in a conversational voice ... funny ones about children, animal behavior , deafness, even the bickering in older marriages ... Some of the stories are very moving ... [with] serious insights about father-son relationships, male friendships, the connectedness of human beings through reading and friends, the impossibility of communication during crises and the importance of friendship when we are older ... Readers will have much to relate to."
"Introspective and honest ... a duke's mixture of Aesop and Mark Twain."
The Weekly Voice (Cadillac, Michigan)
"Very entertaining and seemingly spontaneous ... [filled with] sage sub rosa advice on coping with change, loss, family and love, all presented in a manner that keeps the reader turning the pages ... A book of celebration [of] a life remembered with reflective satisfaction and joy ... Bazzett is a book lover and has read more books than most ... You'll probably finish this book with a chuckle and a tear - and then place it on your own shelf of books to return to frequently ... Reading this memoir is a must!"
Grady Harp, M.D.
"How can I not mention this latest memoir from Tim Bazzett? On the cover of "Booklover: A One-Year Journal of Reading, Reflecting & Remembering," he stands next to a stack of books he's read and right there, smack at knee level, is my own "An Open Book." Bazzett has been chronicling his life in a series of digressive reminiscences, starting with "Reed City Boy" and "Soldier Boy" ... If you like memoirs, check out this latest installment ..."
"I enjoyed Booklover so much ... it captures perfectly the joy that reading brings ... I identified strongly with Bazzett's feelings about writing (I procrastinate too; I also get totally absorbed) and about dogs and friendship and family ... I continue to read my way through the list of books [he] recommended ..."
"Brave, moving and important ... The sections about [Bazzett's] work at NSA are incredibly poignant and transcend anything about intelligence, but are about men and work ... He has my admiration for his dedication and storytelling."
"Tim Bazzett's latest installment of his memoirs answers the what-happened-next questions that readers of the previous books have asked or wanted to ask. It fills in more details about his past and triggers our own memories, such as those of the young-married years, both hilarious and poignant."
Ruth Doan MacDougall
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