Sunday, March 21, 2010

Having a hiss-y over reading

I love to read. Maybe love isn't quite the right word. Obsessed might be more like it. Let's just put it this way: they know me by name at the local library ... and other branches of said local library. One branch is OK; more than that makes me feel like a book stalker.

I would be remiss if I let March (National Reading Month) pass without mention. My literary tastes are eclectic. Anything that makes me laugh out loud or leaves me awed by an author's ability to craft words into a magical experience (not a reference to J.K. Rowling, by the way) will find a place on my bookshelf. Christopher Moore. Gillian Flynn. Laura Lippman. Michael Shaara. Michael Connelly. Nelson Demille. Tomi Ungerer. Tomi Ungerer? Never saw the name on the New York Times Best Seller List? I wouldn't doubt it as Tomi Ungerer wrote my favorite, favorite book from childhood (which was a very long time ago and the book was published even before that), Crictor.

Crictor is the "charming tale" of an elderly school teacher and her pet boa constrictor. A. Pet. Boa. Constrictor. The snake was a gift from her son. And if my son ever had a notion to send his mother a snake, I would disown him faster than a real boa could swallow down a cute little furry bunny. You see, I have a fear of snakes. Strike that. Fear isn't the right word. I don't think a word exists yet to describe my feelings towards snakes. Abject horror comes close but that's two words. Let's just put it this way: at the beginning of a zoology class in college, my lab instructor informed us that we would ALL hold a snake before the end of a semester. He would personally see to it that if any of us had a fear of snakes, we would overcome it during his lab. The same guy had 8mm films of snake (cue the music: boom chicka bough-bough) porn; no, I am not making that up -- we had to watch a movie of copper head snakes mating and I still have nightmares. Needless to say, I went to great lengths to prove to him I should never, ever hold a snake, dead or alive. Fortunately for me one of the biology department's snakes met an untimely demise and the powers that taught us felt it was a good learning experience if they dissected it and we could see the innards (tying it in with the snake porn). The lab instructor decided that I would be the one to learn the parts and then share my knowledge with the rest of the lab. It went well until I dropped my dissection probe into the pan with the dead snake. I proceeded to faint almost dead away. After regaining my senses, the instructor told me not to worry about ever holding a snake and he mumbled something about the fact I might want to seek serious professional help.

So how does someone with a phobia about snakes come to adore a book about an old woman and her pet boa? I don't know. I think my childish mind full of mush (that closely resembles my adult mind full of mush) had its first spark of sarcasm, laying the foundation for my personality. Seriously, here's this sweet little school teacher in France. One day she receives this circular package in the mail from her son who was off studying reptiles in the wilds of Africa. Inside the box is not a lovely floral arrangement but a snake. A snake with no identification. The poor woman had to go to the zoo to identify it as a boa. Hello! Son! Could you not have attached a tag that said, "Don't worry if it bites you. Just worry if it starts to coil itself around your neck, MOM!" The old woman takes a shining to her new pet and takes Crictor everywhere with her. Everywhere. That included her schoolroom. I wonder if the children ever noticed what happened to the class hamster. Crictor could form letters. Crictor could be the slide or seesaw during recess. Crictor was such a wonderful addition to the woman's life that she knitted him sweaters (snakes are cold-blooded, after all); had a long bed constructed for his long snake-y body and a pillow for his little snake head; took him for walks; it was love at first hiss. Not once did Crictor size the old woman up and decide that she would be as tasty, if not more, than a rat. Then there was the fateful night the world's original dumbest criminal crept into her apartment (maybe her son should have sent her money for a security system and not a snake!!!!). Crictor coiled around the thief until the police arrived. Sure he did. A stay of execution is something that is not found in the animal kingdom. I bet he squeezed the life right out of that burglar. Crictor was rewarded for his saving the woman's family jewels (which I would not have left to the son if I was her) by having a park named in his honor. The end.

And that was my favorite book from childhood, Crictor. The next favorite book from my wonder years? Stuart Little. But I would never put the two books together on the shelf. That, my friends, would not be pretty. I'm not sure Stuart could drive his little car fast enough before becoming Crictor's catch of the day.