Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

An Evening in New York City

“Wow! are you really reading that book, or is it just for show?”

I blinked and looked hard at a woman who, like me, was sitting at the bar. She sat several bar stools away, and was looking quizzically at my copy of Catch-22. This book had recently arrived in the mail, thanks to a devoted reader of mine who decided I needed to read it.

“No, it’s not for show, I am really reading it,” I replied uncertainly, wondering if she was making fun of me somehow.

The man sitting next to me looked interested in the book and asked me what I thought of it. I told him that I had just started the book, I was only about 50 pages into it, but it reminded me of a cross between Kurt Vonnegut and the TV series, M*A*S*H, and that Yossarian especially reminded me of Corporal Klinger. Sam, the man sitting next to me, said he had started Catch-22 several times in the past but had never managed to get very far into it.

Then somehow, two strangers in a bar in one of the biggest cities in the world, then spent several hours talking about books, of all things. We talked about all the great literature we had read, and about other books that weren’t great literature that we had also read, and then I told him that I thought that many great children’s books were often meant for adults as well as children.

Upon learning that Sam had also not read Lord of the Flies, I immediately recommended it to him. I told him that I had devoured that book in one evening, that that particular book was so well-written that it was a complete joy to read, a breath of fresh air, and it made me love great literature all the more intensely, knowing that there were still such literary gems out there, waiting for me to discover them.

So he is going to pick up that book, he said, and he is also going to give Catch-22 another try.

Anyway, there is no real point to this story, I just wanted to let you all know that unlikely things, such as talking with strangers about great literature while sitting in a bar, do happen in NYC, just like everywhere else. I also intended this little story as a “thank you” to my devoted reader (who can reveal himself if he so chooses) who sends me so many wonderful books to read, books that keep my mind busy with thoughts of literature and writing and the human condition, and truly, what better gift in the world is there than the gift of a good book?


  1. #1 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 26, 2007

    Great story. And the flow on effect continues… must get hold of Catch-22!

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    May 27, 2007

    I found the dry style of Catch 22 a struggle at times, but it’s worth it for the ending.

    I’ve just finished reading a book on political philosophy, and I’m wondering what to start next. Hmm, difficult.


  3. #3 Chris' Wills
    May 27, 2007

    ..I’ve just finished reading a book on political philosophy, and I’m wondering what to start next. Hmm, difficult.
    Posted by: Bob O’H | May 27

    Bob, You’ve probably read it already but, the shorter summa by Aquinas (I wouldn’t recommend the full beast, except perhaps to the RC Pope & Cardinals) is interesting if rather archaic in its language and style.

    If you like SciFi, then have you read Cordwainer Smith’s books. Not great science but an interesting take on govermental control and some ethical issues.

  4. #4 Diane in Ohio
    May 27, 2007

    Good for you!! Anytime spent away from your nest with pleasent conversation is ALLLL GOOOOOD! You should do more of that and make a few friends to invite over,show off your birds, or play cards,or talk about books which also u can show off. Self esteem and confidance building are a good way to use your network of acquaintances. The weather if co-operating will now give u a chance to get out more,even if only to sit and read somewhere. I worry about you,as well as others, and interactions with nature or humans is alllll goooooood!! :o)

  5. #5 Valuethinker
    May 27, 2007

    Reading books is not uncommon, even in bars, in other countries.

    Amongst Americans, New Yorkers are a bookish lot in my experience. Indeed the New York Review of Books is without peer as a magazine of serious writing about books and subjects of general interest.

    So are Americans in college towns, and in places like Boston (Cambridge Mass especially of course).

    I actually find New Yorkers to be amongst the most engaging of all Americans, speaking as a foreign tourist.

    As a Brooklyn city official said about the borough’s invasion of Argentine parrots:

    ‘They are adaptable in terms of living quarters. They like many different kinds of cuisine. They talk loudly and are opinionated. They are just like other Brooklyinites’ ;-).

  6. #6 Bob O'H
    May 28, 2007

    Thanks for those suggestions, Chris. I haven’t read either (well, I’ve probably read a Cordwainer Smith short at some point). I seem to have drifted away from SF in recent years, probably due to an overdose of Asimov as a kid (although you’ll be glad to hear that I do indulge in some Iain M.Banks).

    In the end I decided I wanted something light, so I’m reading some Father Brown short stories.


  7. #7 Chris' Wills
    May 28, 2007

    …..In the end I decided I wanted something light, so I’m reading some Father Brown short stories.

    I cheated on Father Brown; I watched the DVDs but haven’t read the books.

    Odd to relate, Iain M Banks I like Iain Banks I don’t; yes I know they’re the same bloke :o)

    Have a nice bank holiday.

  8. #8 Sunny
    May 28, 2007

    I’m hoping to read “Letters from Denmark” this summer…if I can track down a copy,

  9. #9 Chris' Wills
    May 28, 2007

    I’m hoping to read “Letters from Denmark” this summer…if I can track down a copy,
    Posted by: Sunny | May 28

    Is this, Letter from Denmark: our energy future–today.(View From NRDC): An article from: OnEarth by Frances Beinecke, what you are looking for?

    If it is you can download it from
    If not, do you know the authors name?

    I have found books using when I can’t find them elsewhere.

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