Friday, March 16, 2012

paper and ink

 I was at a bookstore last night flipping through the anthologies of folklore, overhearing a conversation between a clerk who looked like an extra from a Creation Records britpop band and a woman who said the last two books she read were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Da Vinci Code. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I know there's countless others, and maybe that's what does it for some people, the way I devoured Nancy Drews even though they all ran together. Not everyone thinks that Welsh mythology is awesome, and that's ok I guess, as someone else tells their significant other that they can just download that book instead of buying it and that DVD is streaming on Netflix now.

I came out with a pile of CDs and movies and books, filling gaps in the collection, realizing that despite my love of Nirvana, I've never actually owned a copy of Nevermind and that my sister has all the Tolkien that wasn't worn out from much love and reading when we were kids, and The Master and Margarita is just fantastic.

I've been reading bits and pieces of Pamuk's Istanbul, and his Nobel Prize speech keeps coming back to me as I look around my apartment, at the pile on my desk at work, consider the correspondence and conversations I overhear, knowing that everything says people are reading more but that books in themselves are being devalued. My mom took us to the library when we were kids, and I fell in love with the atmosphere so much that half of my life has been spent working at one or another, in part for the access to the wide wealth of text and tunes voraciously indulged. It was a comfort in my introverted childhood, and a source of pleasure in adulthood, when I come home in the winter to wrap up in a blanket with tea and read, and stretch out on the balcony in the summer.

But once we shut ourselves away, we soon discover that we are not as alone as we thought. We are in the company of the words of those who came before us, of other people's stories, other people's books, other people's words, the thing we call tradition. 

One of the losses when things are withdrawn, thrown away, packed off to a depository is that this wealth of knowledge is inaccessible and lost to most. There has been so much good stuff in old bindings that can tell us about the past, to understand the future. I guess the population wants to be happy, and ignorance is bliss, and learning about other places or how other people are might destroy our sense of smugness and superiority.

I believe literature to be the most valuable hoard that humanity has gathered in its quest to understand itself. Societies, tribes, and peoples grow more intelligent, richer, and more advanced as they pay attention to the troubled words of their authors, and, as we all know, the burning of books and the denigration of writers are both signals that dark and improvident times are upon us. 

It's not so much that books are burned, but devalued in an age of everything being downloadable, instant gratificational, and disposable. I went to library school post-English lit because I loved books, and realized quickly that this wasn't true of most of my colleagues, which was profoundly disillusioning, when they debated the minutiae of terminology that no one outside of middle management cares about or what was "relevant" to people who wouldn't be interested in learning anyway or tried to out-liberal each other.

But literature is never just a national concern. The writer who shuts himself up in a room and first goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature's eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people's stories, and to tell other people's stories as if they were his own, for this is what literature is. But we must first travel through other people's stories and books.

A writer talks of things that everyone knows but does not know they know. To explore this knowledge, and to watch it grow, is a pleasurable thing; the reader is visiting a world at once familiar and miraculous

What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity's basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities, and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kind ... Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments, and by the irrational, overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me.

Books aren't burned anymore, but they're disappearing from shelves when they get old and "irrelevant" and most of the libraries seem to look more like Borders with the newest and the brightest and the most easiest to digest as opposed to the repository of knowledge that I remember these places once being. People keep saying that this is the way of the future and that I fetishize the bindings, the paper, and ink and illustrations, that I need to get with the times. It kind of freaks me out that books can vanish from one's Kindle at the behest of a publisher or other entity. Who needs burning when text can just disappear into a digital void?

What happens when there's a blackout, or a power grid goes down, or one doesn't have an Internet connection. There are people who don't, believe it or not. Sure, you can share on a Kindle, but I've loved sharing physical copies of my favorite tomes with others, trading dogeared underlined paperbacks in the mail. Maybe I'm a hopeless romantic in my own weird way, maybe it's some kind of consumerism that feels good to me the way other women buy shoes.

I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life's beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can't quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.

I write because it's the only way to get these thoughts out, hoping that maybe someday there will be something good and enduring.  



    Between ever more crappy selector choices, too much energy spent on pointless rebranding, yeah, it's all ever-narrowing resourcing to fit the specialist requirements of job markets.

    Celebrate everything, dammit.

    Can't wait until the next über-blackout.

  2. dust to dust...