The junior high school book report assignment, that necessary but onerous rite of passage, once inspired me to fabricate a book title and author, along with characters, plot, and relevant themes. Rather than read and describe an actual book — something I’m sure I could have done without too much difficulty — I plagiarized from my own imagination, and, though I’m sure this will meet the definition of what the Internet calls a humblebrag, received an A. (If you’re Nedra Segall of Stillwater, Oklahoma and now reading this, I’m sorry). The book was called Fast, Free Delivery by Nicholas Kleeger. In the spirit of Kleeger’s brilliant send-up of consumerist culture, I offer now an explanation of how a better writer might have conducted research in advance of writing my own (actual and true) first book of stories, Remarkable, now available from BOA Editions:
All day I spent reading important short stories from mostly the twentieth and twenty-first century, but also the nineteenth. I listened to a symphony/jazz combo/new group from Omaha you’ve never heard of. I did not use Google because that would be wrong, cheating somehow, though I appreciate the efforts of hardworking librarians everywhere to digitize their collections. Speaking of hardworking librarians, I urgently need to visit more of them in faraway states and am now seeking future funding opportunities. I did not receive The Word of the Day from dictionary.com, but instead made a point to read from my battered print copy of The American Heritage approximately every hour on the hour, in between thinking and writing and adjusting the volume on my stereo. I interviewed some Oklahoma farmers and took photos as they swept the dust from their front porches. I went to the old campus firehouse — the one across from the pizza place that’s been there since 1957 — and asked the fire marshal how long it would take a single match to burn down an abandoned furniture store. I read accounts of the 1968 Miss America pageant protest. I asked people what it was like to be gay in Oklahoma, and most of them replied with one of two possible one-word answers: “sucks” or “fine.” At work, I Leaned In and back out again. In both cases, I fell down, but did not file a workmen’s compensation report. I lay on my sofa, cold cloth pressed to my forehead, and dreamt of the years gone by. I attempted to pry into the personal lives of old friends and acquaintances. I luxuriated in the richness of my own wonderful mind, and tried once again to write another word, another sentence, another story or book, one that would equal or surpass those of the finest intellects of American literature, maybe most especially my mentor and muse, the great Nicholas Kleeger.