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October 08, 2005

Vending Machines by Guest Blogger Ramona Long

By Guest Blogger Ramona Long

It’s the middle of the night (perhaps a dark and stormy one?), you can’t sleep and you have nothing to read. This is a regular occurrence, both day and night, at my house, which is full of books, but at least once a week someone (usually me) proclaims that they have nothing to read. Which is just another way of saying, we need a run to the library and/or bookstore.

(BTW, anyone who lives in a house full of books but claims they have nothing to read because they’ve read all the books in the house is lying. Or they should be. I lump them with people who choose the dictionary to read when stranded on a desert island. Who wants to be stranded with a dictionary? Who wants to live in a house where you’ve read all the books?)

Anyway, back to the dark and stormy: It’s the wee hours, so no go with the library or bookstore. However, if you live in the right place, you can don your slippers and robe, grab a few bucks from your wallet, and head down to the street corner to purchase a book from a vending machine. You can select a cookbook or a novel or a volume of classic poetry, whichever you desire, and your only problem after that is not running into other middle-of-the-night readers as you walk home with your nose in your nice new book.

But where, you surely wonder, can such a sublime experience happen? Where are books available by vending machines, anytime, day or night?

Narnia? Nirvana? Heaven? Shangri-la?

Close, but not quite. It can happen in Paris.

After reading this story, my first impulse was to stop outlining my novel-in-progress and do a group e-mail to the nincompoops in Washington who voted for Freedom Fries. (Whoops, that’s a lie: my real first impulse was to e-mail Nancy Martin.) After that, I planned to e-mail Congress, but then I realized that anyone nincompoopy enough to harass an innocent deep-fried pomme de terre probably didn’t read news stories. Or fun, provocative blogs like this. Or anything else worthwhile.

The most intriguing part of this story is the invention of the special arm thingee so the books don’t get damaged. I totally get their thinking. A book tumbling down like some old candy bar or chips bag? Mais non! C’est criminel!

As someone taught by nuns that creasing a page corner was a venial (at least) sin, I find it horrifying to picture a book being summarily reverse-screwed off a shelf. Wouldn’t you have to bang on the glass and scream: “Are you crazy? You could bend the cover doing that!”

(Whenever I buy a soda from a vending machine, I cringe as it bounces down the tube because I know it’s going to spew its innards as soon as I pop the top. I hate to think of a volume of Baudelaire spewing at me. If you’ve read Baudelaire, you know that he spews his innards enough as it is, without any mechanical assistance.)

So the French vending folks came up with this arm, which has to be the best thing since the cotton gin (I’m from the South, so the cotton gin is that standard by which all other inventions are measured). Any device devoted to the proper handling of books is a winner to me, and surely more useful than that Segway scooter thing, which just seems downright scary.

The most intriguing line in that story is this:

The Segway HT has no brakes and does a nifty 12 mph.

The French come up with the book-grasping arm, but this renowned American invention that’s supposed to revolutionize how we travel has no brakes?

Mais non! C’est criminel!

Being self-propelled around town without the benefit of brakes is just too disturbing to contemplate, so I’d like to get back to the vending machine. I am very curious about how exactly the arm thingee works and think about it quite a bit, usually when I should be doing something else, like outlining my novel-in-progress.

Is it an arm or more like a claw, a la that scene in the first Toy Story movie with the rubber alien toys? Do all of the books look up and chant, “The claw! The claw!” hoping to be selected and set free?

However, a claw is terribly inelegant, and this is a French invention, so I imagine the arm is more hand-like. Perhaps gloved. Definitely manicured. I picture this specially crafted appendage selecting the volume and lowering it into a velvet-lined receptacle. The hand ever-so-gently deposits the book and then waves goodbye.

Au revoir, petit livre! Bon chance, mon ami!

Wonderful notion, n’est pas?

It gets more intriguing still. This is a blog for mystery readers, right, so here is a mystery. Nowhere in the news story is there a list of the 25 titles available. To show off my investigating skills, I Googled Maxi-Livre (instead of outlining my novel-in-progress) hoping to e-mail Xavier Chambon who, with such a cool name, cannot possibly be a nincompoop. My plan was to list the titles for your perusal, in case you were wondering if there was anything in the vending box you’d don slippers and robe and venture into the night to buy for yourself.

Unfortunately, the website is en Francais, and my Francais is pretty rusty, so my investigation ended as soon as I landed. Guess I’ll have to hone my investigating skills, which I’ll do as soon as I finished honing how to outline. Until then, we’ll just have to know what we know from the news accounts.

Which is, the top sellers are a dictionary, a cookbook and a volume of racy poetry.

Language. Food. Sensuous art.

Trust the French to display the triumvirate of a sophisticated society inside a vending box.

Which makes me question (instead of outlining, or learning how to investigate) if this triumvirate applies on this side of the pond.

Nancy theorizes that most Americans buy one book a year, when stuck in the airport. I was recently stuck in an airport. I went into a bookshop and guess what? I didn’t see any Baudelaire. I saw celebrity biographies and thrillers by the big knowns, some murder mysteries (yes!) and romance novels. Lots of People magazines. Harry Potter and the sequel to Eragon. No poetry, plays or classics. Nothing that could be called a “volume.”

Methinks somebody at the airport needs to invest in vending machines.

If this ever happens and they need someone to choose the stock, I would like to volunteer. Think of the joy—and the responsibility.

As writers, we are advised to read, read, read, all the time, not just what you like or what you’re trying to write, but across the lines of genre and taste and what-not.

One writer who does this is Stephen King. At the back of On Writing, he included a personal reading list. The memoir is great, but that list is worthy of Annie Wilkes’ most demented devotion. Stephen King read everything but a volume of French poetry. I don’t know if he eats Freedom Fries, but if he had his own book vending machine, it would be a treat to see what he stocked inside.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, instead of …you know the rest. I don’t really expect the airport to call me, but I do have my own needs to fill, and I know just where to look for guidance.

Language. Food. Sensuous art.

Covers it all, doesn’t it?

Next time I go book shopping, I’m going to pretend I have an empty vending machine. I will fill it not only with what I like, but with what I want to try. At least one exotic cookbook or a naughty novel that’s been banned. And oh all right, a dictionary of some kind.

First, though, I’m stocking Baudelaire. Who knows, maybe if we all do it, the poor guy will make it out of a French vending machine and into an American airport.

Au revoir. And vive la France.

Ramona Long


P.S. In case you’re wondering what I’ve been reading instead of outlining my novel-in-progress, it’s Joan DeJean’s The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication and Glamour. For those interested in PR, how’s that title for ya?


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I can relate to the sentiment that you have nothing to read. My house is literally stacked with books -- I mean so many books that my wife is about going nuts -- but I often feel I have nothing to read. I look at my collection and I think, this one looks good, that one looks good, but I'm not in the mood right now. I need something NEW.

Which is why, of course, my house if full of books.

Wow! And I thought I was the only one with too many books to read. I went through our tons of books with our 14-year-old daughter last night and was having a hard time finding something for her to read. Came up with: Parallel Lives, Lives and Loves of a She Devil, 1984, The Complete Dorothy Parker, Catch-22, Saint Maybe, Thurber's Dogs and Middlemarch - not one of which I'd want to read right now (except maybe Thurber's Dogs.)It all seemed so pointless.
I think this is why the DaVinci Code sells - lots of little fun facts plus a conspiracy theory. Makes you think you're learning something when you're really not.

Such a trip. Here I am googling hanukkah to get ideas for some of this blended family's gifts. We booksellers are always looking early and often for the google largess.
mary alice

Hi folks, and whoops! The link at "this story" has expired, so try here instead:


Thank you, Fort Wayne)

Must work on those tech skills now (instead of outlining my novel in progress...)


Oh, Sarah--you have a 14-year-old daughter who reads? You are living my dream life...I have boys, who only read rock 'n roll or fantasy, which is really not my thing. (Altho, anybody out there into the Gormenghast books? Big treat.)
As a former librarian who runs a weekly lunchtime book group at the high school because I love YA books (and who suffers from long-term daughter envy), please allow me to recommend: Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty if she's into chick-lit for teens; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith if she's into autobiography (great movie, too); and Jane Eyre, if she's into pain and suffering. (Anybody out there read The Eyre Affair? Hysterical.) I will stop now. I could recommend books for days....What are her favorites?

You've got my curiosity up. How did you happen to stumble across that newspaper? I live in Fort Wayne and I must say my eyes popped out of my head. Thanks for the YA recommendations. I have a 11 year old daughter and I'm always looking for something new for her.


Nancy jumping in to say that Ramona is the best read person I know--and that includes my mother & my aunts. If she suggests a book, I read it!

N, wishing there was a vending machine on my corner....

Hi Kimberly,
It was a wire story that ran in lots of papers a few weeks ago, but Fort Wayne wins the award for keeping the link the longest.

An 11-year-old daughter, huh? Has she tried Catherine, Called Birdy? Family Tree by Kathy Ayres (of Pittsburgh)? The Thief Lord and/or Inkheart by Cornelia Funke?

This a wonderful time for young people's books--so many brave topics taken on and lots of experimentation with style and format. One of the reasons I do the school book group is that the kids are required to read a book a week, so I must, too. Yay! And if you think grown-ups can be brutal in a review, you should listen to a group of teenagers. I never knew "boring" could come out like a cuss word.


Thanks Ramona. Her school does the accelerated reader program so it's nice to get more options for her.


Ah, chere Ramona, you make me miss Paris. Merci beaucoup.

Ok, so my first thought was "Won't that ruin the books?" :)

Renaming them freedom fries was down right stupid. And I'm a Republican.

When looking for books at the airport, were you looking at a newstand or a full bookstore. Because I've seen actual bookstores that have pretty decent mystery sections for an airport. At least people beyond the best sellers.

WOW, my fatcher boght a new computer for me today!

I don't think that the above given description exactly fits the title of the topic. :) http://penisenlargement.pk

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