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










There you are on an airplane bound for South America. Inside the satchel at your feet is a ziplock bag full of cash -- a hundred thousand dollars, all in hundred dollar bills. You are going to meet a man at the airport in Caracas and then you are promptly going to get on another plane bound back for the USA.

The man is going to give you a suitcase full of pills, and you are going to sell them to young city-dwellers who are learning how to run the world -- gleaning their wisdoms on world management from the independent music scene in your town and so dedicated to this pursuit that they have mustaches as gnarly as armpit hair, armpit hair as gnarly as mustaches, and legs so smooth and white that -- crossed -- they could be the linking latticework of barstools, seats for their identical pals (you can stack them like Dixie cups!).

You know your clients well: your clients often spend whole Sunday afternoons scouring your neighborhood for new vegan vibrator stores. They love your pills, and they love your affable non-confrontational snake-laugh. But even though you are a smooth pill dealer at home, you are nervous on this airplane.

The people on the airplane are all watching your every move -- baffled by your hypercolor t-shirt and the tattoos of cartoon characters on your forearms.

You are no sailor or dockworker. Are you a terrorist?

While you were in the airport, a man from airport security was following you and writing things down on a clipboard. So you ducked into one of the hutches that sells candy and paperbacks and you bought a book -- something you never do. You didn't even look at the title on the cover (something called "Fried Green Tomatoes.")

But now, on this airplane where you can no longer trust yourself to speak without screaming: "I AM A DRUG SMUGGLER TODAY AND TODAY I AM BREAKING THE LAW," you pick up this book you bought, and you open it.

People grimace at you and turn away -- suddenly disinterested, now adjusting the flows of air-conditioning into their faces from the nipple-flanged spouts, now leafing through the in-flight safety brochures over and over again until the FAA warnings become chewed, faded, and frayed.

Now they see. YOU aren't a threat. YOU aren't interesting. You are a reader, and you live behind a wall they would rather not look behind.

Never mind that you are actually a pill dealer whose favorite thing to do in life is to watch "The Price the Right" while receiving oral sex from your junkie harem, calling out the correct prices for Caribbean vacations at the top of your lungs with a vintage handgun in each paw. TODAY YOU ARE A READER, AND NO ONE SHALL BOTHER YOU.


The wall of the open book is a dividing line that has become higher and higher since the permanent victory of the image over narrative during the Second World War. An open book is a hostile message to everyone around you that says two things:

1) I am reading a book and do not wish to be bothered by anyone.
2) I am the sort of person who enjoys reading books, and therefore -- unless you are also such a person -- we won't have much to talk about. I do not care about bands made of people with haircuts and I do not care about enumerated lists of ways to please people with my body. I do not care about what happened last night inside your television or inside your Congress. I am ensnared -- volitionally -- in a world of abstraction, and I actually prefer it that way.

The book-as-a-wall has allowed reluctant witnesses to say before juries "I didn't see anything. "I was READING." It has kept people from being romantically accosted by other people with flesh diseases. It has kept people from joining unpleasant religions that involve aliens or Morma, and it has caused criminals to choose other victims, thinking: "that guy is probably more dangerous than me. With such an intense expression frozen into her face, I bet she would know how to flip me into the treads of a tank."

By building your WALL OF BOOK in a public place, you instantly reveal your canted values and show that you are a dues-paying citizen of a terrifying alternate universe. You can't be trusted, because your ways are unknowable -- even to other readers. You may be the sort of person who would give everything in their pockets to a homeless person and then help them stumble to a soup shelter, but you may also be the sort of person who would cut the pinky from an insensate transient as a trophy or as fishing bait. Who can know? Behind your wall of ink and paper, you are occluded and safe, and all that can be said about you is that your eyes scan, and that you are not made of flames or lightning, like an elemental summoned by a sorcerer for battle.

Nowadays, with the invasive proliferation of personal technological devices into the public sphere, the choice to read is also a strong expression of discord with the modern age. Not only are you saying: "I have no wish to speak with you, fellow traveler," now you are also saying "I do not find the joys of the modern world satisfying, and I wish to establish a link through crystallized language with the minds of those who are distant or dead, because I find them superior to you and your easy smile -- your blank eyes -- your clean clothing."

Or, perhaps you are saying, "I am poor, and this book was the most entertaining abstraction I could afford. It was free. I found it in the trashcan of a bass player, next to a crate full of exercise equipment, a paper sack containing a machine that makes bread, and the corpse of a person of young years drained free of blood, innocence, hope, and their trust fund."


Bookbinders: take note. An ebook must extend to cover up your face. You must be able to raise it up in front of you to hide your eyes and block out your entire field of vision. The electronic book itself may be so collapsible and compact that you can stick it up your nose, but when you are reading it, you need to be able to unfold it like the full sail of a mighty seagoing vessel. Readers like to hide behind their wall, and they like to seal themselves away from the world they are evading. Your sleek, handheld implement that scrolls, and warms, and purrs in the palm is not satisfying to a reader, and (horrors!) actually draws attention to the glowing face above it more than it shields a visage from searching eyes.

Sure, you can crouch behind a laptop and soak up the sick penumbra of its jaundiced flicker. But a laptop is not dainty nor cheap, and it gives your genitals hot cankers during long train rides. You can't stick a laptop in your back pocket or lean up against a phone booth and use it while smoking, laughing, and lewdly popping your fingers in your mouth at the people who pass by. You can't swat a fly with a laptop. You can't stick a laptop under an uneven table to keep it from wobbling.

Build me a wall, bookbinders. Build me a wall made of glowing text so that no one shall bother me and I shall be free to do my crimes.

Posted by miracle on Sun, 22 Jun 2008 08:07:30 -0400 -- permanent link

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