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About Richard Shapiro
Tobacco Brown Interviews the Author
Tobacco Brown: Well look here, seems I been assigned--by you, I expect, that's the joke here, ain't it--to ask you some questions. Well just on account of I been thought up by you don't mean that you get to be anythin but straight ahead with me, you take my meanin?
Richard Shapiro: I do. That's why I picked you for the task.
T.B.: Okay, then, let's get about it. You wrote this book an you named it after me, but it's mainly about Barney Kadesh and how he had this hallucination that was me an how he went on to jerry-rig this Arian church an tell his ecclesia about all my adventures that he made up an such. An how he fell in love with this girl, Pilgrim. An it's about this for Chris's sake talking dog. But what's it about betwixt the lines, that's what your readers really gonna want to know, what's the message of it?
R.S.: It has no message. I have no intention of convincing anyone of anything. Tobacco Brown stands on its own, it's a novel, a work of fiction; take from it what you like.
T.B.: Why are you already startin to jerk me around, Dickela...
R.S.: Don't call me that. Nobody calls me that. Any more.
T.B: Then you answer me straight like you said you would. Why do you say you don't have a message when you been shootin off your mouth bout stuff for five hundred and eighty-eight pages? What are you anyways, a philosopher?
R.S.: You know what Christof Koch said about philosophers.
T.B.: Yeah, he said they wasn't hardly worth a piss in a snow hole.
R.S.: Well, he did give them credit for raising a lot of questions. But only science can answer them.
T.B.: Which means philosophy is dead as flat-earthism an you might as well read The Almanac as Plato or Hume or Kant.
R.S.: Koch does give philosophers some credit; he says they do, now and again, come up with questions that need answering. But only scientists can work out the answers. And if you're a reductionist--which I am--you believe that, at last, the only philosophy is physics.
T.B. So are you one of them, a scientist, a physicist?
R.S. Me? I only wish. No, I'm just an English major with delusions of cosmology. UCLA, class of... never mind that. Point is, I don't count myself an expert on anything. Except maybe the use of the comma; I am a pretty fair hand at that.
T.B.: But you ain't such a whiz-banger when it comes to the semi-colon, are you.
R.S.: Yes, I know. I even composed a poem on the subject; kind of an apologia. Would you like to hear it?
T.B.: No, not particular.
R.S.: It goes like this:
The semi-colon is my friend
It doesn't mind how I bruise or bend
The rules that stipulate its use
They are obtuse.
It doesn't matter how I use it
Or if I textually abuse it
Beat it into hardened comma
Causing a syntactic trauma
It forgives me in the end
The semi-colon is my friend.