Recommended Reading: “Brimstone P.I.”

Here I am, whiling away the time as the last several students in this section of English 101 finish their final exam essay.  In another hour, the semester will be over for me, nothing left of it but to wrap up grading the last few items and turn in my paperwork tomorrow. 

As a few of the students come by the desk to shake my hand on the way out, I look up from the book I just started this evening: Reading the OED, by Ammon Shea.  It caught my eye on the new release shelf as I was checking out a DVD of Oedipus Rex for my English II class.  So far, it’s pretty good: clearly modeled on A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All (where Shea’s book chronicles his year-long study of the entire Oxford English Dictionary, Jacobs’s similarly humorous memoir covered his year-long reading of the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica), it’s clever, accessible, and yet still just obscure enough to be nerdy fun. 

Something in the first chapter reminded me of a great experience I had a couple of years ago.  I was sitting in a chair at United Blood Services, giving blood and passing the time with the new issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I came upon a story called “Brimstone P.I.“, by Beverle Graves Myers.  Within the first paragraph, it was apparent that this was no typical procedural.  The very novelty of it sucked me in.

It’s about a dead detective–in hell–who’s called upon by the devil to find out who’s been decorating the place with greeting cards and air fresheners.  One joke especially, where an imp makes a casual reference to the Starbucks down the street, actually made me laugh out loud right there in the blood bank, needle sticking out of my arm and everything, and caused everyone else in the room to stare at me. 

I skipped my planned lesson for school the next day and instead read the story to my Modern Lit class.  They loved it. 

If you didn’t catch the link before, here it is again.  Isn’t it great?

By the way, four students have recently asked what I’ll be teaching next semester.  Sadly, I don’t know yet.  Their tone suggests that it’s a compliment, that they want to know when they can take a class from me again.  But part of me wonders if they’re just trying to make sure that they don’t accidentally sign up for another of my classes…


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