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Confessions of a Self-Check-Out Addict

Self Check

By Laura Hutelmyer

Intrigued by an article that appeared in the October 2008 Rolling Stone Magazine by David Lipsky about the life of the novelist David Foster Wallace, I decided to check out one of Wallace’s books. I was looking forward to having some extra reading time over the long Thanksgiving weekend, and Lipsky’s description of Wallace’s life, works and early death were enticing.

I was late leaving work that Tuesday night but made a quick trip to Falvey’s fourth floor to retrieve Wallace’s The Broom of the System (PS3573 .A425635 B7) and, on a whim, Girl with Curious Hair (PS3573 .A425635 G5).  I was especially interested in reading The Broom of the System (named after a saying from Wallace’s grandmother about the benefits of eating an apple) because Wallace had written it in 1984 to fulfill a thesis requirement for graduation from Amherst College, and it was good enough to be published as a novel in 1987. I also knew Wallace had written this following a period of depression that had caused him to withdraw from school to be institutionalized for a while.

I took the books to the first floor circulation counter, hoping not to have to wait since I was already late for a scheduled appointment. There were seven people ahead of me, doing things like checking out laptops, requesting study rooms, asking for help with microfilm and even checking out books needed to complete assignments over the long holiday weekend. I almost put my books on the counter, prepared to leave empty handed, when I spotted the Self-Check machine. Wildcard in hand, I proceeded to the machine to see if I could save some time.

One quick swipe of my Wildcard identified me as an authorized borrower. Following the instructions, I opened the back cover of each book and ran the barcode under the red light.

Presto! My books were checked out and the security strips desensitized.

I pressed the button on the touch screen and a receipt immediately printed. I was hooked on this machine! In an instant I was out the door, books in hand, with just enough time to make my appointment.

As it turns out, I read the first chapter of The Broom of the System and totally connected with the characters. Lenore Beadsman, the main character, and the rest of the girls from Mt. Holyoke brought me into their dorm room and included me as one of them. I was sure that I had found a writer who would keep me reading for a long time, but, for some reason, I couldn’t get past the next several chapters. As it turns out, there is an underlying sadness in Wallace’s writing, a sadness that comes from seeing how difficult people can be, that made it hard for me to continue.

I returned the Wallace books and turned my attention to Paul Auster, checking out the Book of Illusions (PS3551 .U77 B66) and City of Glass (PN6727 .K275 P38) — at the Self-Check out kiosk, of course.

(This article is being reprinted with permission of the author. During renovations, the Self-Check station had to be moved and can now be found across from the main circulation desk on the first floor.)



  1. Comment by David — February 2, 2009 @ 12:30 PM

    Please try the essays in “A Supposedly Fun Thing” — especially the title essay, and the one about the State Fair — and in “Consider the Lobster.” Wallace, as I understand it, didn’t have a great deal of affection for Broom himself.

  2. Comment by Judith Olsen — February 17, 2009 @ 6:51 PM

    Great to have admirers of Wallace reading our blogs and sending suggestions. I enjoyed “Consider the Lobster” and would recommend it too. Thank you!

  3. Comment by Lobster Queen — July 30, 2009 @ 12:13 PM

    Wallace is a good writer, but there are some serious holes in his Consider the Lobster piece. Consider the pig, chicken, duck and cow. Unless you’re vegetarian, it’s a bit hypocritical. Of course people are squeamish about lobster because it’s the only animcal we actually see being killed. Nonetheless, it’s worth knowing how to cook a lobster humanely.

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Last Modified: March 30, 2012

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