a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

The best things in life aren’t free

amazon-boxesI was reminded of this when I went over my credit card statements recently.

Mind you, I always knew I had a big Amazon habit. (“Hi, I’m John, and I have a BIG Amazon habit!” “Hiiii, Johnnn!“) Sometimes I think I built one of the wings, and maybe the pool, on Jeff Bezos’ mansion. He could at least invite me over once in a while.

But there’s something about staring all those credit card charges in the face, about actually seeing how rich I made the founder of Amazon last month. This is why I procrastinate when it comes to going over my credit card statements, something that baffles my wife, an accountant, who actually enjoys looking at columns of numbers. Lots of them. *Shudder!*

I do sell items on Amazon as well and so get some of that money back, but not as much as I spend. I collect classical CDs, but more have passed through my collection than have remained. Over the years I’ve bought about three times as many compact discs as I have currently. I’m still searching for really great performance for a lot of pieces. Anyone who can get me to “grok” the Schumann concertos—any of them—gets a special shout-out on my blog.

And yes, I’m aware so much my patronage of Amazon hurts the cute, cozy little bookstores, the kind that always seem to have creaky floors and cats sleeping in the front window. That’s why I make sure I drop money with them too.

And I’ve been upgrading my DVDs to Blu-ray, at least when there are Blu-ray versions available. (It’s amazing the great films that are still not on Blu-ray.) That explains a lot of transactions over the past year or so. You have not lived till you’ve seen Casablanca on Blu-ray.

Still, nothing prepared me for some of my credit card statements. They almost had to be delivered flat. Pages and pages of charges, many from the Big A in Seattle. “Surely this is a mistake,” I think before checking them on my computer.

No mistake. Damn.

So I looked around my house and counted all the books I haven’t yet read. No, I’m not going to tell you the number, because my wife reads this blog.

I’m reminded of the guy who owns a terrific indie video store, Bill. Bill told me he stopped buying DVDs a long while ago and put the rest of his personal inventory in the store because he realized he wouldn’t be alive long enough to watch everything he hadn’t gotten to yet.

Sigh.

So why do I do it? Well, actually I do have at least one very good reason. There have been times I’ve passed on something, only to see it become unavailable or offered second-hand by someone who has jacked the price to the moon. This my wife discovered when she went looking for a Blu-ray copy of her favorite movie, The Third Man. And I’m sure glad I got those CDs of Ernst Levy, a fabulously-underrated Swiss pianist, when they were available.

And some of the credit card charges were gifts to other people. I am a rabid fanatic of Deborah Eisenberg, and will use any excuses to talk about her, and then ship, without being asked, a volume of her collected stories to the person if they appear to show even the slightest interest, meaning they scratched their nose or blinked at some time during the conversation. Deborah Eisenberg should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Still, as I surveyed my living room I realized my shelves are tight enough.

(Once a friend, seeing the shelves for the first time, exclaimed, “They’re sagging!” In college I used to flip through my record collection and remark, “I forgot I had this” to her husband. I think eventually he thought I was doing it just to annoy him, but I really did and do forget. I once ordered the exact same recording three times in a month.)

I have more short story anthologies than I’ve read.

I shouldn’t get another biography of a Revolutionary War hero until I’ve read the seven or eight I still haven’t touched.

I have enough coffeetable art books, thank you. They never capture the experience of looking at the real thing anyway.

—Ditto Beethoven CD cycles.  I don’t need any more recordings of the symphonies. Or piano concertos. (The sonatas and string quartets are a different story; you can never have enough of those.) All conductors and soloists today are too reverential anyway. And forget Brahms. There isn’t one great Brahms interpreter alive.

I’m not getting volume two of David Hare’s plays until I’d read (and reread) everything in the first volume.

That book on chess endgames was a bad idea. I never read books on chess endgames. Nobody does.

I don’t need the complete works of Plato. Okay, yes I do. Bad example.

But I don’t think I’ll be ordering volume 9 of Marston’s Josef Hofmann series. I really don’t get his reputation based on what I have heard, with a few exceptions scattered here and there. (To his credit, though, he did invent the windshield wiper. Every time I’m driving and it rains I think, “I should order more Hofmann.” I wonder if that was the idea.)

The projected new Ernst Levy set, however, is mandatory when it comes out. Mandatory!

And the day Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy appears on a Criterion Blu-ray, well, I’ll be dancing a jig. Ditto The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Still, overall I’m going to be cutting back. Tightening my belt. At least till I make my way through everything I have.

I’m John, and I’m a recovering Amazon addict.

See you at the next meeting.

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4 responses

  1. Lots of interesting points in this post, stuff I’ve also thought a lot about recently. I also have a rather bad Amazon habit, what with all these classical CDs disappearing. Suddenly I’m beginning to feel old as a CD collector who has no interest in going digital. As a diehard believier in small businesses myself, I find Amazon’s rather monopolistic greed shameful, but what can you do? It’s just so convenient. So many smaller stores, and even some of the larger chains, seem to remove products I like from their shelves or not have it at all (where is Liquid Paper whiteout sold elsewhere for example?) Pity that now I see Amazon doesn’t even bring CDs up in the “Music” category. Now they’re listed alongside “Vinyl” in a separate category. Never thought I’d see that day, or perhaps I just can’t face it.

    Anyone who can get me to “grok” the Schumann concertos—any of them— gets a special shout-out on my blog.

    I’ve always loved the Schumann piano concerto. Cortot’s is far and away my favorite, though Lipatti and Myra Hess also aren’t bad.

    This my wife discovered when she went looking for a Blu-ray copy of her
    favorite movie, The Third Man.

    One of my favorites too, definitely in my top 5, maybe only surpassed by Sunrise and Double Indemnity. It appears to have been available on blu-ray for some ttime now, I actually bought it in this format because at the time they didn’t have a regular DVD version, so I take it your wife has probably found a copy by now. I may not be as big a fan of blu-ray for the old stuff as you are, though I did upgrade my versions of the Star Wars, Matrix, and LOTR trilogies. Gotta have some sharp-looking sci-fi :-)

    And forget Brahms. There isn’t one great Brahms interpreter alive.

    Well, as they say . . . never say never :-) I have the feeling that as with films, the reason we’re not hearing much of any great interpreters of any great music, let alone Brahms, is because they’re not getting anywhere and being promoted, what with vapid idiots like Kissin and Uchida out there. Not to be too biased, but I have to say I love the Brahms recordings my Mom made for her degree recital at NEC. Other than those, I don’t really like any Brahms I’ve heard except Backhaus’s, which I know is not fair to bring up since he’s been six feet under for some time now.

    But I don’t think I’ll be ordering volume 9 of Marston’s Josef Hofmann series.
    series. I really don’t get his reputation based on what I have heard, with a
    few exceptions scattered here and there.

    If you’ve listened to the Golden Jubilee concert discs and still hold that opinion, then you probably just don’t like him. But for me, those are some of the great piano recordings ever made. Absolutely priceless recordings of the minute waltz, berceuse, C minor nocturne, butterfly etude. Mendelssohn spinning song, and Beethoven-Rubinstein Turkish march. His 1940s recordings, much of which appears to be on the late Marston series, almost aren’t fair to listen to, since as you probably know he was an inveterate alcoholic who rarely practiced in his later days and his whole mechanism and nervous system had begun to degenerate by that point. Still, I’d rather hear his Rachmaninoff C-sharp minor prelude in a drunken state than I would almost anyone else’s except Rachy himself.

    Like

    June 6, 2014 at 8:40 am

  2. Oops, indenting didn’t work too well for your quotes. Should have used quotation marks. Sorry about that.

    Like

    June 6, 2014 at 8:41 am

  3. I’d like to hear your mom’s Brahms. What does she play?

    BTW, was listening to the Sokolov disc you reviewed on your classical site and I have to agree with everything you say, except for me the Preludes and Etudes were even more bothersome than the Sonata. Don’t know if that’s because I cotton to them more or if it’s just that the Sonata strokes me as able to withstand a more bangy, rubato-drenched handling than the smaller works. Either way, very disappointed.

    And yes, I personally know some artists in all genres who are way better than heavily-hyped “stars.” So much of fame is luck. I think few people who are not performer or creators themselves realize that.

    Third Man looks good on blu-ray, but the biggest stunner of all the catalog films I’ve seen transferred is Persona. Criterion just came out with it a few months ago. Absolutely, jaw-dropping stunner, THE standard for a B/W bluray release. (Their blu-ray of Fanny and Alexander is pretty definitive for color, too.)

    Like

    June 6, 2014 at 9:09 pm

  4. Dana Hatch

    If you read between the lines, the Third Man Blue Ray had to be Criterion, which is why I paid a premium for it. Ladies – beware men who studied film, they need the gingerbread and better picture that a $5 Target clearance disk just doesn’t provide.

    Like

    June 13, 2014 at 8:34 am

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