Clair McFarland: These Extra Books Are In Case Of Invasion

Clair McFarland writes: "Every town should have a used bookstore, even if it’s just a few shelves in an old chicken coop with an honor-pay tin can wedged between the wind-eaten volumes."  

Clair McFarland

January 12, 20244 min read

Clair and the cat
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Every town should have a used bookstore, even if it’s just a few shelves in an old chicken coop with an honor-pay tin can wedged between the wind-eaten volumes.  

Lucky me, my town has a real used bookstore. It smells like the first love note you ever received; it teems with Ray Bradbury. 

I’ve taken the boys there all their lives, always with strict instructions for them to choose just one book.  

So my firstborn son had two books in his arms. But Middleborn was scouring the sci-fi shelves for James Dashner, who writes dystopian novels about boys who get poisoned by gelatinous robots if they don’t run fast enough.  

Middleborn is a fast runner.  

I checked for Dickens and Nabokov, not because I need any more of their books, but because it comforts me to see them on the shelves. The carpet under my feet was threadbare from a whole town’s literary pivots.  

I wondered who brought each book. A fickle reader, maybe. A voracious one. A dead one whose heir couldn’t care less about a demon white whale.  

My shoulders softened. Bookstores have a relaxing effect on me.  

Too relaxing.  

“Bathroom,” I said as I shuffled past Firstborn, who now clutched three books to his chest.  

When I emerged from the bathroom, Middleborn had a zany little volume called “Two-Minute Mysteries,” about a sleuth who solves crimes from simple but sly inconsistencies in each culprit’s two-page account of each crime.  

Middleborn also cradled a board game in the pale crook of his arm.  

“For Dad,” Middleborn said, thinking he could sneak around the one-item limit that way.  

He had found some Dashner volumes, but they were ones he owned already, Middleborn explained.  

I grabbed Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” because I don’t have enough struggle in my life, apparently.   

Firstborn mulled a fourth book.  

“No,” I said.  

“Ah, Mom,” he pleaded. “I NEED it.”  

It was a 1980s karate manual.  

“For what?” I asked. 

“For the Invasion,” said Firstborn.  

I studied Firstborn for signs of humor.  

He returned my unblinking gaze, stone serious.  

You never know with eighth graders. They stumble upon all kinds of national intelligence while they’re making Minecraft multiverses with their friends.  

“OK. Let’s get it,” I said.  

“Yesss!” Firstborn mock-whispered.  

By then I was eager to leave so we could pick up the twins from an after-school activity, and so I could get home and tell my cat that he is a fat baby, but a very good fat baby.  

I bought my brooding Russian and four books for Firstborn — all to ward off the Invasion — plus Middleborn’s mystery volume and the board game “for Dad.”  

When we picked up the twins at their school, they were outraged at the sight of their brothers’ new books, even though they’d just been to an after-school Legos and video-games retreat.  

“You went with-OUT us?” wailed the big, sweet twin.  

“And on a TUES-day?” added the little, feisty twin.  

“We figured you were having fun,” I said.  

They hesitated. They had been having fun.  

“Well, yeah but –” Big-Sweet began.  

“We still need lots of books. To get ready,” interrupted Little-Feisty. 

I checked his face for signs of humor. He returned my narrow-eyed stare.  

“Get ready for what?” I asked.  

The twins glanced at each other. Big-Sweet nodded. 

“Well,” said Little-Feisty, “for the Apocalypse.” 

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter