Randomised book selection procedure

I have just finished a novel entitled ‘Stoner’ by John Williams. There is a ‘puff’ on the front cover of the Vintage Classics paperback which says: ‘The greatist novel you’ve never read’. I wish it still was. I have not read such an utterly depressing novel for quite some time. I got hold of the book on the basis of a positive recommendation from a friend. So, this got me thinking…

I was in the city this morning, doing a bit of shopping. While I was there I popped into the library to pay off a small fine that I had accrued. I decided to take out a couple of novels to tide me over the next week or two, and I decided that I would pick them from the General Fiction shelves. I was ascending the escalator to the stacks when I recalled the time I read Luke Rhinehart’s The dice man. I was a post-graduate student at the time, and a bunch of my friends and I used to carry dice around with us so that we could randomly determine what to have for lunch, whether to go for a coffee or not, and a host of other quotidian activities.

I did not have any dice with me today, but I figured that I might be able to use the seconds reading on my digital watch timer as a substitute for a random number generator, coin-toss, or throw of the dice. I found a comfortable chair and started to set up the possibilities, jotting down a few notes on the back of my shopping list. In my library, General Fiction is kept by alphabetical order of author’s last name. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. I therefore decided to select the author letter for each of two books. I made a mental note that it would be possible to select the same letter twice.

I decided that I would mentally number the letters of the alphabet sequentially from 01 to 26. I then looked at the setting of my digital watch timer. It was set to reduce from 22 minutes. I think I must have used it for cooking some cod fishcakes and oven chips (French fries to my dear American readers) yesterday. Whatever! I decided that I would start the clock, sing a couple of lines of one of my songs (silently, to myself, in my head) and then press the stop button. If the seconds read-out exceeded 26, that would be null and void; I would simply repeat the process.

The first valid number was 17; Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet.
The second valid number was 22; V is the 22nd letter of the alphabet.

I then moved on to the next phase of my system for randomly selecting novels to read. I went to the shelf that housed all the Q books and counted a total of 18. I then went to the V shelf and counted a total of 41. This was good, since I could use my Fishcake-and-Chips kitchen timer technique for the selection of both books, since neither 18 nor 41 exceeds 59 (the largest number to appear in the seconds counter on my digital watch).

I went to Q and to my surprise my watch gave me #18. Actually, I should not have been surprised, because in my system each number from 01 to 18 has an equal chance of being selected. The fact that #18 is the outlier generates spurious psychological significance for it. No matter. I went to the end of the Q shelf and selected the book: Susanna Quinn Glass Geishas. Well, my dear blogophiles, I can assure you that I would have been far too embarrassed normally to choose a book about the ‘mysterious world of Japanese sex for sale’ (as the back drop of the novel is described on the book jacket). Still the virtual dice had spoken, and I tucked the book under my arm while I walked along to the V shelf. Actually, when I was a boy I lived in a house on a street named Tokyo Road. And this led me to think back to Carl Jung’s notion of a-synchronicity (don’t you just love it when I degenerate into psychobabble mode?)

My watch dictated that I select the 6th book on the V shelf: Fred Vargas An Uncertain Place. The book jacket informs me that it is crime story with an international flavour. It starts with the discovery of a row of shoes outside Highgate Cemetery in London; the shoes contain severed feet! The dust jacket also alludes to the appearance of vampires and vampire hunters within this macabre plot. I have never enjoyed the vampire myth and would almost certainly not have chosen this book of my own free will. Interestingly, Karl Marx was buried at Highgate. And some folks have thought that were one fully to espouse Marxism, that might be the last act of free will one could hope for. Thereafter, one’s actions and intentions would properly be dictated by the framework of Marxist ideology. And here I am, abandoning my free choice to the whim of the virtual dice!

I should make a start. The question arises as to which book to read first? Geishas or vampires? Let me roll the digital dice: an odd number of seconds will mean geishas first, an even number and it will be vampires. The watch says 54 seconds. Therefore I shall start with the Vargas book. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

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