Thursday, May 19, 2005

Another D—d, Thick Square Book!

Well, the thing is, I own a lot of books. Not, mind you, as many as Queen Elizabeth, dash it—but then, unlike her, I don't get a Christmas box of popular lit every year. Me, I have to erasmus my books from the miserable stacks piled in the hot sunlight in front of the Wee Book Inn on Whyte Ave or Jasper Ave, or, worse, squeeze another couple of slim Henning Mankells or a bloody Sabatini out of that flimsy club card Chapters passes around. Ten percent off is really only five percent once you remember the tax, folks. And, really, don't you think that Chapters should offer their bloody Sabatinis at some sort of discount before 7pm?

But what's it all about, you ask yourselves (I ask myself)? Because there is no end in sight, is there? In the early-morning dream-world between sleep and due preparation for work, I have promised myself that Ecclesiastes 12:12 should be the motto of my privately-owned publishing house. Either that, or something completely break-rock different. Whatever. There are too many good books. It once happened that I approached books shyly, wondering if the prose between the attractively decorated covers would be worth the space in the forest. But the literature I read these days, the worthy faces of these new authors. Everyone is fleshing out a masterpiece in prose! Meanwhile, Dickens moulders on the shelves of midwestern universities, Melville is regarded merely as a white elephant, and folks would rather down shandies than Sterne. And who can blame them? The novels out of Canada and India, the comforting fiction from England, fresh permutations of prose from America—surely these are worth our long and studied attention! Zoe Heller and Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy and Alistair MacLeod, to name but one single worthy from each of those countries, nevermind the clouds of excellent authors around them, nevermind the rest of the English-speaking, English-writing world, have produced densely bright fiction. But these, also, will become fodder for university students and scholars of fictions, these also will become dust on a shelf. And where are the snows of yester-year? Timor mortis, conturbat me, etcetera, etcetera. All we have left, finally, are cliches and symbols. Not Dickens, but a boy asking for more porridge; not Melville, but a white whale and maybe shipwreck; not Conan Doyle, but a lean mind and a slender pipe. Is this all that books give us? No, we need more—we need more books to give us more symbols, types, expressions, measurements, oh always more.

For we need new books like we need new music. We need new words like we need new hearts. There is—I will not say salvation, hardly that, but—a certain grace, a certain look in the eyes, which only a steady stream of new and pure truth can bring. Not that we are Browning's demirep, thinking to save our souls in new books and attracted, as it were, by the brightness, the shiny fresh uncontaminated unworldly newness of the thing. Instead, we are looking to be travellers encountering large men and small, foolish things and wise, each new encounter a new view on the world, a further mapping of the personal globe, a little less "Here there be tygers" and a little more "E pluribus unum". Many books means much clarity. New books mean not new truth, but fresh truth for a fresh time. Therefore, we need many books. And, therefore, we need new books. So, stand up, Trollope, Carlyle, Richardson, all you classics! Show your palms, Carol Shields, Jonathan Franzen, Rohinton Mistry! We need more and we need it new.

Reading: The Chessmen of Mars + Edgar Rice Burroughs
Listening: You Are The Quarry + Morrissey

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