Two years ago, during the faraway endless Summer of 2019, I started a fling with e-books. It was innocent enough. Riverside Public Library recently purchased a license for cloudLibrary – a smartphone tool for checking out free electronic books. I was home alone, without a good read within reach. Maybe it was the youthful-hip lowercase proper noun logo, and rebellious capital “L” in the middle. Perhaps it reminded me of the younger devil-may-care reader I used to be. Clearly cloudLibrary knows the rules of grammar and knows how to break them.
Before my bookshelf knew what was happening, I was scrolling through genres and swiping right. With thousands of titles available as e-books or audio books (a-books never really caught on), you need a way to narrow the search. CloudLibrary (see, slightly less hip; it’s like your Dad’s digital library) has you covered with dozens of categories, as well as a collection of your search history, and a way to save and hold books. For me, cloudLibrary (chirpier and brighter, right?) became an app to open instead of CNN or Gmail or Facebook.
While I love the sensory playground created by browsing a book for the first time, the diversity of writers and ease of use has turned me from a digital dabbler to a constant cloudReader (not a real thing but if you start the club, I will join). I always keep at least two titles at my fingertips. I’d rather run out of toilet paper than periodicals.
One year ago, during the ever-present endless Spring of 2020, I found myself unable to visit the library or a bookstore. I was cut off from most of my friends and all of the books! The cloudLibrary became a much bigger part of my day. The brighter, more hopeful, and funnier part of my days for the rest of 2020, and up until today. The reason: cloudLibrary introduced me to absurdist writers.
Absurd content also dopplegangs behind the labels of “Satire” or “Magic Realism” or even, “Alternative History”. Tell-tale [heart] signs that you are reading absurdist material: one or more characters searching for meaning through a series of meaningless actions and events. In this way, the absurdist reader plays an active role in helping the protagonist determine the meaning of the story. It’s a form of writing that is left incomplete until read by someone else. The desired result is like the goal of a Zen Buddhist to be aware but not personally attached to any cause or effect.
The integral characteristic of Absurdist fiction? The struggle to find an intrinsic purpose in life, depicted by characters taking meaningless actions in the futile events they experience. If this sounds like a fun read to you, consider these two works to start you in the genre.
Jonus Karlsson’s novella “The Circus” opens with a protagonist searching for a lost friend, Magnus. The friend disappears during a magic trick. Worse, everyone else forgets Magnus ever existed following the abracadabra moment. His search questions the nature of memory and the reason why we make friends in the first place. His journey takes him to diners, to record shops, and to the halls of the middle school where their paths first crossed. What does it mean to be the last person to remember someone else?
My 48-hour binge read of Marc-Hwe Kling’s “Qualityland” rekindled my sense of humor and paranoia. Published in 2015, HBO recently canceled plans to make this into a miniseries. I read this Fall 2020, months after Amazon trucks replaced the commuter car and same-day delivery of our most non-essential goods was as dependable as a line at a Starbuck’s drive-thru.
Watching the fourth delivery driver of the day pose for a selfie on my Ring doorbell, I thought I had a funny and original idea about how to beat Amazon: start a company that selects and ships products to customers before they order it! Kling uses this idea as a key plot point to drive his characters into desperate and hilarious action. His protagonist, Peter Jobless, artfully explores the slippery slope created when we embrace machine learning and a “business knows best” ethos. For a glimpse of what may arrive on your porch in the last years of post-colonial capitalism, click here now.
Your library is open. Now. It will be open tomorrow as well. The cloudLibrary app is just one of many community benefits offered by Riverside Public Library. It has always been free, and it will always provide access to the tools you need to thrive. It would be absurd to not take advantage of all their free stuff and useful services.
This post first appeared in the weekly collaborative column “Inlandia Literary Journeys” in The Press Enterprise