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










This must never not happen again:

"Excuse me, I didn't mean to interrupt your long and boring train ride, but are you reading "Liberty or Love!," by Robert Desnos?"

"Why, yes I am. Not only is it the best that French surrealist prose gets, but it is also charged with erotic symbolism that both bewilders and titillates me."

"I knew it. I was actually in the next car over, and I saw the bright pink and purple cover in the reflection of the window between us. I thought I might never see that ghastly portrait of Mr. Desnos without his eyes again, ever since I had to sell my copy for antibiotics several years ago. There I was staring off into space, wondering if I should hang myself, when I saw the book and remembered a time when I was happy and believed the world held possibility. I pushed between cars to stand here. I broke the law to say hello."

"You should not hang yourself."

"That is very good advice. You must be a very good person who enjoys charming tales and anecdotes. But our current culture dictates that you can only connect with a stranger who has recorded a seventeen volume rack of CDs that offer "Personal Power," and which each feature the same picture of a man wearing a business suit and smiling as if receiving oral sex from a half-starved Labrador retriever?

"I do not believe in personal power."


"And I might consider listening to your charming tales and anecdotes. Although, if I were receiving oral sex from such an animal as you have described, I would probably frown with deep concentration instead of smiling."

"So there are differences between us in addition to commonalities. Have you reached the part in the book wherein the Semen Taster's Club is introduced? I have always wondered if such a thing exists. Imagine! A whole club dedicated to the aesthetic appreciation of chilled sputum, denuded of its sexual frisson for unexplained purposes."

"I have indeed read that part and considered the implications. In fact, this is not my first time to enjoy this text."

"Truly? To strike a similar chord, I am also fond of the essays of Desnos' comptemporary Georges Bataille. I like his muscular criticism of culture and his sly, gunslinging manner."

"I know what you mean. Together, they took on the fascism of the artist Breton, and history has redeemed them both, despite their ejection from the society of dreamers as a result of their refusal to engage in politics."

"As soon as you become a Communist, you work stops mattering, don't you think?"

"Well. Except for Brecht."

"Oh, of course. Except for Brecht."

"My stop is coming up, I'm afraid. This is where we shall have to part company."

"I have an idea. Instead of being party to such an obvious atrocity as never seeing each other again, why don't we plan a six-month love affair that will tear us both apart?"


"We might never recover. When our faculties decay with age, our senile ramblings will be filled with conflicted descriptions of this time; this place."


"I am not wearing any underwear."


"I am not wearing any underwear, I shall say to my hospice provider."

"Oh, I see."

"Have you ever traveled the streets of a desolate city late at night, wearing nothing but a fur coat and attracting a legion of devoted followers, and then lured them back to your quiet apartment in order to mate with them serially and in tandem, and then â€" while they have begged and slavered -- committed foul murder after foul murder on these willing lovers in order to make their pleasure permanent?"

"I have not."

"It is a good thing to be young, literate, hot, and cold."


"Anyway, here is my phone number. I shall write it on the last page of this book so that you shall remember me."

"Yes, that will be satisfactory. I shall telephone at the ending of the week."

"It is good that we have met one another."

"It is impossible that we have met one another. Perhaps we have always been fictional. And yet."

"And yet?"



"Think up something creative for us to do on our first date. Dinner is not creative. In fact, if we spend any money at all during our date, we will have failed."

"I already have several thick notebooks filled with ideas that we will both like."


Reading in public is very similar to praying in public. You are engaging with invisible beings who do not exist, and you must have ulterior motives. It is so much more comfortable to read alone in your closet, surrounded by candles, chocolate cherries, and organ music.

We read in public for the same reason that we pray in public: to show off and to tell people our secret needs. While it is a matter of convenience to commune with the invisible while traveling, while waiting for fabric to dry, or while screening out the voices of children, we SELECT books to consume in public that say something about us and that invite conversation.

Who has not had the experience of choosing a deliberately provocative book from the prison cart that will raise the eyebrows of the guards or that will attract the right kind of attention from that elite new gang that always performs the finest rapes? Alternately, who has not left that thick paperback copy of "The Mill on the Floss" home -- time and again -- for fear of attracting the "wrong kind of person?"

People who love books don't just love books. They also love other people who love books. And to find other people who love books, they must carry their private passion out into public and hope they will meet kindred spirits, or at least curious ones.

Every once in awhile you see those couples who do not share literacy between them:

"She loves to read. I love to chop wood and have my shirt tucked in."

But more often, a successful match requires that both partners have an equivalent capacity to appreciate fiction, and who find the same narratives compelling. After all, a couple writes a narrative together, and they must have influences.

For this reason, an ebook must display the cover of the book it is simulating to the world. This must be the default setting. You should be able to glance at a person reading an ebook from a distance and see what they are reading. If they want you to see. And they will.

Oh sure; you ought to be able to turn this setting off and enjoy privacy in comfort. And surely the system will be cheated so that everyone can look as if they are always reading something deep and important -- something by Ian McEwan, maybe, instead of by Frank Herbert. But if it appears as if no one in the world is ever reading fiction -- as if the whole world is tapping into their palms and checking stock prices -- then we are going to lose that spark when two readers meet over a novel that compels them both.

No one will ever buy an ebook that takes their reading genitals and ties them up in a canvas sack and stuffs them in an abandoned well. If you are doing the work of fighting against the entropic drag of a culture that seems to want to destroy all opportunities for subtle thought and imagination in favor of dance beats and tacos, you damn well want people to know it, and you damn well don't deserve to feel alone.

Posted by miracle on Fri, 12 Sep 2008 06:38:24 -0400 -- permanent link

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