Years ago I spent a lot of time browsing through record bins looking for the next LP that was going to change my life forever I would pause to admire the cover art on record albums. The titles were another thing to consider. If I liked the cover and/or the title I would frequently purchase those LPs even if I had never heard of the recording artists. This willingness to encounter the unknown sounds hidden within those album jackets often paid off splendidly. I happened upon some amazing recordings by doing so.
Now that I'm older I still have all those old records but I rarely venture into record stores. Over the last 25 years I have shifted my experimentation to books. If I see a book with a great cover or a compelling title I will read it even if I have never heard of the author. When I spotted a copy of "Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions - Dispatches from the Working Class" by J.R. Helton I could not resist it. I had never heard of him but I loved the title so I plunged right in.
Helton writes memoirs. In this one he recalls the period of the 1980's when he did exactly what the title indicates; he had some truly miserable occupations and he made some rather foolhardy decisions. Helton has a pithy and laconic style of writing that is bone dry and often hilarious. At one point he's describing a really awful job that he had. The ogre who was employing him ordered J.R. to try to repair a piece of equipment. The author recounts how the combination of this hazardous job and the foolish choice that he then made in obeying his boss resulted in a terrible accident. The author sustained a gruesome injury. His account of this bloody episode is one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. In this interview I admitted to him that I could not stop laughing about his account of that incident. He seemed to understand and appreciated my admiration for his description of what had happened that day.
J.R. Helton is one of our leading humorists. I'm so pleased that I liked the title of his book and then chose to read it. I love discovering books in the same way that I once found fabulous record albums. Those LPs are works of art. For me, book titles and book cover designs really do make a difference. Boring title? Mediocre cover? Nothing to see here, folks. Catchy title? Eye catching cover? I'm in!
Oh, and in "Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions - Dispatches from the Working Class" J.R. Helton describes one of the enduring heartbreaks of that period of his life; he had an incredible LP collection that he lost during the breakup of a relationship. And I did not laugh about that particular painful recollection. There was no amusement in that tragedy. J.R. your anguish about losing those albums revealed your ability to incite humor at one moment and pain at the next. When you described your loss I could feel the wound. From laughter, to tears. You have a gift, J.R.
The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.