Monday, November 21, 2011

The Mouldy Book

I return once again to my early days at Brock University and to my quest at becoming a cultured intellectual.

The greatest extortion in this land happens every September across university campuses when students are forced to buy textbooks at exorbitant prices. A book that should cost no more than ten bucks can easily go for a couple hundred dollars at the bookstore. When my cousin Jen told me that she had some university textbooks that I could borrow I jumped at the idea. Perfect! I can save big bucks!

She dropped off a box of books the week before school started. “A couple of them might have a little water damage. Okay, bye!” she said. Her car screeched out of the driveway.

Most of the books were in pretty good shape and were the right editions. The book at the very bottom however was a different story.

After I scratched some of the mould off the cover, I discovered that the book was a History of the 20th Century. It smelled bad – real bad. I’m not sure what the book was supposed to look like, but it was now green and furry. I didn’t know they had chia pet textbooks. The pages were sticky and had to be peeled and pried apart.

I tried flipping it open. It didn’t flip open. After working at it a little, I did manage to crack it open. This sent a new wave of rank odour into my face. Everything went black...

When I came to, I was laying on the living room floor. Mom’s flowers had mysteriously wilted and died. The fish in the aquarium were floating.

Later that afternoon, I went online and checked the price of the book and saw that it was around two hundred dollars, and that it was three editions newer. I looked at the book on the screen and then back to the borrowed textbook. Two hundred dollars is a lot, I thought to myself. Maybe I’ll just use this text for a while and see how it goes.

It was my first seminar. I was very nervous too – for one hour, me, ten other students and the professor would sit around a table and discuss what we had read in our textbooks. The professor would mark us based on how intelligent and insightful our comments were.

The professor had given us the reading ahead of time. We were to read the first chapter. As I was to realize much too late, my chapter one was different than the new book’s chapter one.

When we got to the seminar room, everybody pulled out their nice glossy textbooks. My mouth watered at the ‘new book’ smell of their books (you have to be cultured to understand this). Rich snobs, I thought.

I reached into my book bag and pulled out my ‘book’. The students and professor began sniffing and looking around for the source of the smell. “It smells like there is a dead rat in the wall or something!” one girl said. At least my book was a good ice-breaker.

I coughed to cover the sound of me cracking my book open (and due to the fact that I was choking because of the horrid smell).

The student sitting beside me on my right looked at my book and me distastefully. She pulled on her hood and pulled the drawstrings until only her eyes were visible.

The student on my left side was an interesting character. He obviously wasn’t trying to go for the cultured intellectual look judging by all of the metal embedded in his face. He had python tattoos running down his arms to his fingers. He caught a whiff of the book and looked my way. He was a tough looking kind of guy and I didn’t want to get on his bad side. He probably had a python in his backpack. “Cool book dude” he said with an approving nod.

It turned out that the chapter 1 I read was quite different than the chapter 1 the rest of the class read. They all read about the death of Queen Victoria and the dawning of a new age (I was starting to suspect that Queen Victoria was still alive at the time my book had been printed). I had read about the Boer War. It was then that I started to panic – I had nothing to contribute! I had no gem or nugget of knowledge to share with the group! How was I supposed to become a cultural intellectual if I couldn’t even comment on Queen Victoria! I started breathing rapidly, but quickly stopped due to the noxious fumes coming from you know what.

The seminar was nearing an end and I was racking my brain for something to say. My thoughts were broken by the professor. “Greg, you’ve been quiet all seminar. What do you think about the Belle Epoque?”

I froze for a moment like a deer caught in the high beams of a semi. I had two options: I could run out of the room and never come back, or say something about what I had read in my mould encrusted textbook.

“Well,” I said (a very intellectual way to start any profound comment) “I think the real story here is the Boer War.”


The girl to my right peeked through her hoodie and gave me a confused look.

“Very interesting” the professor said after a long pause. “I’ve never thought about how the Boer War nullified the optimism and naivety of the Belle Epoque. Very insightful.”

“I concur” I said, even though I had no idea what he just said or what concur meant.

After class, the Goth to my left looked over with admiration. “Cool comment dude – was that in your retro book? Where can I get a copy?” Well, I thought, put that shiny book of yours in a box and store it in a very damp basement for a couple of years. “It’s one of those rare books” I replied. “One of a kind in fact.”

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