THE DREAM YOU HOLD -- Introduction
Four Metaphors for Books, Offered as Aid to the New Electronic Bookbinders










You wish to replace books with electronics made of clockwork? My first impulse is to throw you out into the alley to join the fishheads and the cat litter -- to toss you into the street with bootmarks cut into your flaccid, jelly assholes. But I am no maniac, and I know you would make these machines anyway, and then I would have missed my opportunity to teach you, to scowl at you, and to share with you my insights and sympathies.

It's not enough to say that books mean a great deal to me. I am in love with books. I am passionately in love with pulp and hardcard in ways that are difficult for me to talk about without feeling foolish and lonely.

Books have steered me through the hard times and distracted me from the rough times and have let me exist in a hundred different perpendicular universes when my own has been crappy, unsatisfying, or dull. A stack of books lets me know that I could leap away in an instant: that consensus reality is only a resting place between chuteless angel-jumps into the abyss of the imagination.

I have spent years worth of my life in libraries. I have worked inside libraries; I have worked for libraries; I have vainly lusted after librarians; I have slept in libraries when I have been without a home. I have belonged to both public and private libraries, and I have been all alone in the fiction sections of libraries so often that I know exactly how many people could truly give a shit about fiction. Yet I still believe fiction is more important to the future of humankind than Jesus, sex, the atom bomb, nanobots, the Internet, music, paintings, and terrorism put together.

Every school day from first grade until third, I spent three hours inside a library against my will. My mother taught junior high, and so the school bus dropped me off at her school instead of at my home. I spent the three hour gap between the end of my day and the end of hers reading everything I could, all alone, silent, nothing but Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Franklin W. Dixon, and John Bellairs to keep me company. The time was not wasted. Here, I began the process of inoculating myself against every pitfall of the modern world: religion, politics, mental illness, infatuation, obedience, destiny.

I'm not as intelligent as I wish I was -- naturally or in action -- but I know how to raise up the dead and grill them and then share what I've found. This gives me an edge, every so often. When I need to, I can beat people to death with the cock of knowledge like a child with a flyswatter as big as his face. This is thanks to the dark magic of books as weapons -- not education, not my own talents.

Whenever I am invited into a person's home -- a lover, a confidante, or just a stranger with alcohol -- I walk their stacks and see what they've got. I run my fingers along the spines of their collection in an intimate and perverted way, trying to get inside their mind, trying to see where they've been, trying to see where they are going and if I want to go there, too.

I have stolen books from people who I decided didn't deserve them. I have spent hours inside stores trying to find the perfect books to give as gifts. I have saved books from trash cans, and I have drawn flip books into the margins of giant first-edition classics -- stick men being crushed by rocks, monkeys trying to fuck each other with bananas.

I cannot take a shit without a book in my hands. I will spend five minutes trying to find the exact right thing to read in order to spend five seconds popping out my business. I'll sit there for another ten minutes choking off blood circulation into my feet, only to get to the end of a chapter.

When bad things happen to me, I generally just laugh and try to see how I can make it sound worse as a story. When bad things happen to my friends and to people that I love, I screw up my face into a sad expression and try not to make too many inappropriate jokes. When bad things happen to people in books, I weep out my guts and curse God. Sometimes I throw these sad, unfair books against the wall and glare at them through my tears. I always pick them up again and put them back where they belong.

What I am saying here is that when it comes to the impending book machines, I know what is at stake, and I am currently inflamed and aghast. Things are moving too haphazardly toward a neutered, backwards paradigm for electronic literature, and unless we make demands, we will keep getting the anemic options we deserve.

Hear me out: I am not enough of a monk to believe that electronic simulation of the world's literature is not a good idea. For a hundred different reasons, our future lies in electronic books; for the environment, for the impoverished, for information access, for stories themselves. But we've got to slow down -- we've got to take a look at the possibilities of ebooks and of ebook readers and we've got to remember what books do beyond conveying information. Otherwise, we are going to destroy whole facets of book culture that are absolutely vital to people who read as a way of life. We will destroy the world that I inhabit just the same as burning it to the ground.

Engineers have a lumpish, willful ignorance of the art of the book, an art form coterminous with human thought itself. Perhaps they feel this way from jealousy; perhaps they feel this way from spite. I have met many people of my generation who are more comfortable with machines than humans and whose faces become bright red clouds of hostility when it is suggested that literature is a higher practice than the construction of mechanical homunculi -- that divergent thought trumps the satisfactions of the middle road of scientific consensus. I realize, however, that by remaining silent I remain powerless to steer this contemptible class of "wired" individuals.

For this reason, I offer here four distinct metaphors for books that must be addressed by anyone who wishes to reach reactionaries like me and convert them to using their book machines. I am open to the idea that what I love can be replaced by something better, but my standards are as high as a stacked set of hardback Dickens, and my demands are finicky and peculiar. However, I know I am not alone. Pay attention if you wish to profit.

Posted by miracle on Fri, 13 Jun 2008 19:27:34 -0400 -- permanent link

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