I know absolutely nothing about anything financial. 401K. Four hundred and one thousand dollars of savings that goes into your bank account every year? Maybe. That’s my guess. I know that money helps. I know enough to spew off a few generic statements about how money helps your life but doesn’t provide ultimate happiness yadda yadda blah blah blah. I know for a fact that you always have a choice about what to spend your money on.
Books. I’ve never made a bad investment on a book. It sounds weird for me to say something like that. I’m a guy who failed English two different times in high school yet still tried to major in English in college (I ended up majoring in Film). I’ve always loved irony, and it makes sense now that I think about what I just wrote. But I digress. Books are the best investment.
I prefer the bookstores that are slightly disorganized. The ones where they play music that you know you’ve always liked but you didn’t know who made it and then you ask the very unassuming guy at the cash register who it is and he says it’s Thelonious Monk or something like that. There will always be a girl who doesn’t like you for being in the fiction section. If you showered that day you’ll probably think it’s because the potent scent of Dove For Men is wafting out of your pores more liberally than you originally thought; or, if you didn’t shower you’ll think it’s because you smell like sweat and dirt. The girl will most likely have a stripe of turquoise hair. You’ve been to these bookstores. They are the best.
The last few books I purchased were at a local bookstore in Echo Park in Los Angeles. The first of these purchases happened when I had to be out of my apartment for a few hours to kill time. Daylight savings had just started. It was weird energy, and I went in and bought a $17 copy of Inherent Vice. I never finished it, but I still consider it a great purchase. Sometimes I pick it up just to read a few sentences of prose, which I can’t necessarily identify to the storyline. It’s like hot lemon water down your sore throat. A simple remedy to ease the pain of depression and the mind-fuck of society.
The second most recent book was more of a pamphlet. The only words I could read on it were “James Joyce.” Joyce is one of those guys who they tell you in English class is instrumental in modern prose and fiction, and they’re usually correct — he never disappoints. The cashier told me that she had to put it on hold because it had an heir about it that made it seem like it was a hidden gem. She called me a week later saying it was mine for the taking. The pamphlet — which was actually a french magazine featuring James Joyce — was falling apart, cost $6, and now half of it decorates the walls of our apartment.
Most recently added to the quiver of books stacked against the wall in our apartment was Dreams From Bunker Hill by John Fante. I had a day off from work, and I went into the bookstore. I scrolled through the fiction section, and the girl with the turquoise stripe had changed the stripe to magenta. She didn’t glance up at all. I snagged one of the three copies, paid $15 dollars, went to the park down the street and read the first 20 pages. I finished that book in a week and think about it often. I also think about the times when I wonder what to do with the extra $10 in my bank account. Sometimes I spend too much on food. Sometimes I go to a fancy bar and pay $8 dollars for a beer when I know I’d rather just have six PBR’s for that price. But sometimes I invest in a book and it’s worth it. Eventually I hope to invest in four-hundred and one books. The grand total of the $39 I spent in those three trips to the bookstore is a fraction of what I actually earned from the visits — not to mention the knowledge that I am now aware of how strong my body wash is. What I’m saying is, go to bookstores and invest in stories and poems and musings. I promise it’s worth it. —Jeff Alper