“Welcome, dear Archibald, please let us retire to my library. It may not be nearly as extensive as I wish it to be, but this modest collection of tomes is still an old man’s comfort and joy. Sit by the fire, make yourself comfortable while I ramble on a bit. Tea, or perhaps cognac, if you prefer, will soon be served. It’ll be cognac for me, I dare say.
“That’s it, Archie, get comfortable, and I’ll tell you about my favorite literary passage concerning a library such as mine.
“No, no, it’s not what you’d call a profundity, and I must warn you, the quote does not come from Johnson, or Shakespeare, or Bacon. No, it comes from a marvelously under-appreciated American author named Ring Lardner.
“What? Yes, it is an odd name. And he’s largely unremembered even in his own country, though he enjoyed quite some popularity during the first half of the twentieth century. Some call him a humorist because he often wrote in that uniquely Yankee style we all attribute to his countryman, that Mark Twain fellow. Lardner, too, was a trained journalist, and seemed to kindle sparks from the embers of Twain’s fire. But this one, Lardner, specialized in writing about those odd sports Americans set so much store by. Especially baseball, of all things. Still and all, he penned some very noteworthy colloquial American fiction.
“Ah, French cognac. Cheers, then. Anyway, Archie, this Lardner fellow wrote a particularly charming story about a rural fellow, a rube actually, who seemed to have an extraordinary knack for that baseball nonsense they ballyhoo over there. But, as adept as this man was at playing the game, he found it necessary to constantly make excuses for why he wasn’t even better. So pronounced was his absurd and unnecessary excuse-making, it proved irksome to his less skilled teammates, who eventually began to refer to him, rather uncharitably, as Alibi Ike. Most amusing, really, this compulsion to fabricate a cornucopia of flimsy and fanciful alibis even when it was common knowledge he was the best baseballer on his or any other team. A textbook low self-esteem, I should think, but Lardner plays it all with a deftly light hand.
“The library? Yes, yes, Archibald, I’m rambling, aren’t I? I’ll get to that part straight away.
“Well, during the course of the story, this bumpkin Alibi Ike character, comes to the attention of a wealthy baseball enthusiast who invites the young athlete to his rather ostentatious home. At this point in his storytelling, Lardner allows us to experience events through the wide eyes of this simple, illiterate baseballer who grew up in the hinterlands without benefit of education, nor even indoor plumbing, I surmise.
“Yes, quite astute, Archie. The old fish out water routine, but charmingly and amusingly executed—reminiscent, as I’ve noted, of Twain. Eventually the wealthy potential benefactor leads this virtually-barefoot bumpkin into his grand library. Well, the poor rube looks around, utterly and overwhelmed by the sheer number of volumes. Later, Alibi Ike recounts the experience in words something like this …
‘… Next, he led me into a huge room in which he kept all his books—of which he had a complete set.’
“Yes, yes, isn’t that just a delight? … where he kept all his books—of which he had a complete set. Simply marvelous.
“No, Archibald, I’m afraid my set is not yet complete. But I do strive, don’t I? More cognac?”
Author’s Notes: I believe creative writing is one of those disciples that requires constant practice. So, I recommend you practice creatively. Loosen up. Write anecdotes. Write in-character. Take chances. In short, entertain yourself if you hope to entertain others.
Ring Lardner (Senior) is indeed an under-appreciated American treasure. I hope you’ll look him up. Alibi Ike is a great place to start.