On being a slow reader, the Founding Fathers, and the real mysteries of the Hardy Boys
Paula Poundstone is sorry that she won't be in Austin long enough to help open the new Twin Oaks Branch Library this weekend. As national spokesperson for the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations, the award-winning humorist and panelist on National Public Radio's quiz-tacular Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! takes a special interest in libraries, which she's called "raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community." But while she can't support the local library with her presence, she'll do so with sales of her book, There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant To Say, donating all proceeds from copies sold at One World Theatre to Friends of the Austin Public Library. From her home in Santa Monica, Calif., Poundstone talked about reading's place in her life.
Paula Poundstone: Raising my kids, the library was an especially great thing. Santa Monica's lucky; we have a new, eco-friendly, very nice library. When they were building the new one, they shut down the main branch and distributed the books to the different smaller branches, and one day my kids and I were in the branch that took most of the children's books, and at a table next to us was an adult teaching another adult to read. It gave me goosebumps. It was a volunteer program at the library, and when we got to the car, I said to my kids: "There's a volunteer that will never have to wonder if what they did had any real significance. You can know that the pebbles that you threw there rippled for a long, long time."
Austin Chronicle: Are any of your kids big readers?
PP: Two of them are. The third hasn't found what they have a taste for yet. But, yeah, two of them are, which is nice. And I personally love reading aloud. I read aloud to them for years and years and years and years. Did it over the phone. When I would go out of town, I would take the book that I was reading them at home and read aloud from the road. Which was, if I do say so myself, sheer genius. 'Cause the truth is, sometimes when we're talking on the phone, there's nothing I have to say that's all that fascinating. You know, like, "Oh, and then I was in an airport," and, "Oh, then I was in a hotel." But it wasn't that we wanted to hang up the phone necessarily. So this was a great way of remaining in connection. Although with the Hardy Boys in particular, after a while, you do catch on to the fact that if Frank and Joe were really dead, who were they writing about in those other 50 books of the series?
AC: I just wanted to know where Bayport really was.
PP: You have to be a real Frank and Joe aficionado to know about Bayport. One of the things that we made note of was the only way Aunt Gertrude ever spoke was "tartly." It was always, "Aunt Gertrude said tartly." Which you'd think if you noticed that around the house, you'd eventually either have a chat with Aunt Gertrude or she'd be on her way out. The Hardys were tolerant people, if nothing else.
AC: So what are you reading now?
PP: I just finished The Children by David Halberstam. I am not a fast reader. I'm a very, very slow reader. Sometimes it takes me so long that I have to restart the book. I read The Children one and a half times, but it was well worth it. I've done the same thing with The Hobbit, which I've gotten halfway through twice now, and with Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I've been reading so long, we've actually evolved further since I began to read that book.
AC: Speaking of evolution, have you been following the textbook battles in Texas' State Board of Education? With conservatives fighting to make sure we have the Founding Fathers talking about God in the history textbooks?
PP: No. You know, in my car, I keep the CD of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and I listen to it over and over, and according to what he says – and I don't know because I wasn't there – but he says that they would be rolling over in their graves if they heard stuff like that. Like Thomas Jefferson wouldn't go in for that sort of thing.
AC: A number of conservatives seem to treat the Founding Fathers the same way they treat the Bible: They pick and choose what to believe in the Bible, and they pick and choose what the Founding Fathers said about religion.
PP: Well, it's tricky when He can speak directly to you.
AC: I wonder how many of them have a direct phone line to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the Great Beyond – indeed, if there even is a Great Beyond for them to be in.
PP: I'm hoping not, because I really want this to be a definitive end. A friend of mine – a very good friend of mine, by the way – is a Jehovah's Witness. And she made the mistake of showing me the pamphlet one day. And the particular pamphlet that she showed me had kind of a Peaceable Kingdom picture on the cover. And she said – with great sincerity – "This is how it's gonna be." So there's lions and tigers and bears, and they're sitting with these people. You know, I have 16 cats, a German shepherd-mix dog, a bearded dragon lizard, a lop-eared bunny, and one ant left from my ant farm. I see a big group of animals, and I think: "Who's gonna clean the waste? It'll be me." That is not a sweet, sweet by-and-by, I gotta tell ya. Where I'm going, there better be no fur.
Paula Poundstone performs Friday, Aug. 20, 7 & 9:30pm, at One World Theatre, 7701 Bee Caves Rd. For more information, call 329-6753 or visit www.oneworldtheatre.org.