A book is the closest we’ve gotten to telepathy. That’s what a book is: take the thoughts in one brain and put them in another. Doesn’t work all the time, and not for some thoughts. For example: “You’re about to walk into a door,” is a thought poorly handled by literature, as the process is too slow; that thought should be yelled out loud.
And they’re not a user-friendly technology, not compared to–say–refrigerators. Open door, insert perishable, close door; open door, remove perishable, close door; clean semi-regularly. And, sure, it takes children a while to fully grasp the “close door” part, but by and large a fridge is an intuitive device.
Not a book. That’s why you have to ease a human into them: first, they get read to you; and then big and colorful picture books to teach you that thoughts go from left to right; and then chapter books and the wild journey of the narrative; and then you lie about reading Tolstoy; and then you notice that Barnes & Noble is selling adult coloring books and you set fire to the mall. The circle of literary life.
It takes years of training just to learn to read, and decades after that to make any real sense of the suckers. Most books assume you’ve read other books, and some require that you have. There are several volumes in Fillmore South’s library that are completely incomprehensible unless you have a second book to explain the one you’re reading. (And what is a bibliography but a genealogy? Just a list of books that the book in your hands has been made out of.)
And they bounce off each other, sometimes, if you make them.
I just finished two books–this is not a review; don’t worry about that, though I recommend them both–Sinatra: The Voice & The Chairman by James Kaplan and The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (The Sinatra book is two volumes; I liked the second one better, when Frank was rich and crazy and could only communicate through punching, fucking, or singing.) And, you know: one’s better than the other. Let’s not fuck around with equivalences.
They’re both stories about a guy who leaves home. Other than that, they’re different.
Dry recitation of fact sticks in the craw, gets loogied out when no one’s looking, so from now on when we’re trying to explain the 20th Century to the Younger Enthusiasts, we should just give ’em these two books; take away their phones and lock the door. They can have a smoothie every three hours; teens love smoothies, because teens are too lazy to chew.
That was the 20th Century: the Lubyanka vs. Las Vegas. And these two stories–both about a guy who leaves home; other than that, they’re different–sum it up like no textbook could, or at least like no textbook did for me when I was a terrible student.
But the 20th Century died this year–it had hung around like a bruise–and now we have a new century, and there will be two stories written about it.
I wonder which story we will be in.