When I was small--no, wait. I'm still small. When I was young, like seven or eight years old, my grandmother, who lived next door, would walk me, my brother and our cousin (who also lived next door) to the local candy store some three blocks away, on Chancellor Avenue in Irvington, NJ.
The lure was not candy, although we had no particular prejudice against it. No, the trip was initiated to obtain for each one of us a comic book of our own choosing. There was a well-stocked rack of them at one end of the store--I can picture it to this day--and we'd troop over to make our selections because Grandma was not clued in on the comics scene and couldn't do that for us.
My brother and my cousin would walk up to the rack, take down a title (I honestly don't remember what books they were into) and be back asking for the dime or in rare cases (for a special issue or double issue) quarter to purchase their choices.
I'd stand there for a half an hour trying to decide.
It wasn't that there were so many titles I was desperate to read that I couldn't possibly choose among them. I'm not that kind of a reader. No, the problem here was that I was looking for exactly the right comic book, and would not settle for anything less. Run-of-the-mill issues just weren't worth my time and my grandmother's money, in my opinion. If it wasn't something that was going to engage my imagination and stir some feeling, what was the point?
Usually, I'd light on one title or another (it would be a couple of years before I'd take out subscriptions to Baseball America and Mad Magazine) and dutifully bring it over for approval. But there would be times when nothing would hit the spot and I'd choose to go home empty-handed. My brother and cousin were, at least the first couple of times, astonished and I believe a little bit appalled. A free comic book was offered and I was leaving with nothing? How was that even possible?
But my grandmother understood. I can hear her Yiddish accent to this day: "If you don't see something you want, you don't have to get something." And it was not saving a dime that made her feel that way.
The thing is, that's still how I operate. A few weeks ago I wanted an audiobook to listen to in the car on long drives to Philadelphia every week. So I accessed my wife's Audible account (with her permission) to use a credit. I searched for at least an hour and was unable to find anything new I really wanted to read (hear). I ended up settling for the audio version of a favorite I've read a number of times and am about halfway through it now.
The same thing is true with movies and television. My wife says I "don't want to see anything," but the fact is that I don't want to see something I'm unlikely to find interesting. The older I get, the more I realize our time here is limited. I don't have enough to waste.
I'm not trying to be difficult and I don't think people who read, see and watch everything they can get their hands on are wrong. I'd like to be more like that, but then I'd like to be taller, too. Genes will out.
I don't read much in the way of mysteries or crime fiction. I sometimes tell people that's because I don't want to even subconsciously pick up a plot point or voice, and that's true. But I'm also not all that interested in most of what I see.
To some extent, that's why I write books. It's not because nobody else is writing anything good; many people are doing that and much more. But sometimes I feel like nobody's writing precisely the books I want to read, so I have to do it myself.
Maybe there's someone out there staring at a shelf in a bookstore right now trying to find exactly the right mystery novel. And maybe that person will take a look at one of mine or E.J.'s. And maybe--just maybe--it will be just the book that person wants to read.
My grandmother would be very happy if that were the case.