Books that Can’t Wait and Books that are Worth Returning to.

People buy books and don’t read them, and that’s a problem for new authors, this South American press figures, so they made an ink that fades once exposed to light and air.  They used it to print a book called El Libro que No Puede Esperar–The Book That Can’t Wait.  When you’re ready to read the book, you unseal it.  And after two months the “book” part of the book, it’s gone.  It’s just paper bound together.  A notebook.

I’d hate a book like this.  I am still more or less on vacation (which is why I haven’t corrected the typos in the blog yet), and my traveling companion has made fun of me for underlining the books I read, even the fiction, even on vacation.  But I like sharing and coming back to my favorite bits, all the pages I’ve dog-eared and loved.  I like returning, if not to the whole thing, at least to the best bits.  I think I’ve probably had people over to my house for beers fewer than six times this past year, and I think probably three of those times, I’ve gotten drunk and read aloud to those assembled one of my favorite quotes about the city from O Pioneers!  (a quotation that, incomprehensibly, seems to not be online in any of the expected places, like Wikiquote or Good Reads), among other well-loved passages.

A view from East Boston//Flickr user BostonPhotoSphere

But it brings about a question: what good is knowledge or art, selfish and jealously-kept, that is not only unshared but unsharable?  It’s hardly even something I’d recognize art or knowledge then.  Granted, the memory the book can still be shared, and that’s, of course, something (sometimes a memory or a summary can be as good as reading the real book–I have particularly liked hearing Rebecca, Karan, and Rishad talk about books that I’ve never read).  As Eliade argued, we are a species who loves rituals, a species fascinated with origins, a species who longs to return. There’s a sweet mid-to-late-90’s pseudo-indie movie called Next Stop, Wonderland.  Not to spoil the plot of the movie (it’s an solid B+ date movie), but one reoccurring theme is that the protagonist keeps going on awful dates with boring, pompous men (for the movie is set in Boston) who all quote to her, as a critique of her habits or an excuse for their inconsistencies, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” which they proceed to horribly misattribute to various authors and thinkers.  To relate a small spoiler (most of you will never see this movie), when the protagonist eventually meets the right man who has lived a parallel existence for the full movie, he takes her to a gorgeous spot looking out on the ocean in East Boston, and says that he likes comes here whenever he can.  She asks, testing him, “But wouldn’t you say that ‘consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’?” and he looks at her for a pregnant second and responds, “Well, actually, its ‘a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson.  But I don’t think there’s anything foolish about coming back to a place like this again and again, do you?”  (Again, this quotation is incomprehensibly not online in its full and I probably last saw the movie seven to nine years ago, so the actual quotation may be slightly different).

There is consistency and there is foolish consistency, and a book worth reading is very often a book worth rereading.  Overall, this disappearing-ink, while a neat parlor trick, completely obfuscates the actual point of books–misses the forest for the trees, as it were.

One Response to “Books that Can’t Wait and Books that are Worth Returning to.”
  1. Emma says:

    A mean-spirited parlor trick, indeed! As a comment on the increasing obsolescence of books, I’m not sure this accomplishes its purpose, as it only seems to reaffirm the notion that they’re a waste of paper. (Perhaps they were aiming for reverse psychology? In any case, it’s not a very effective protest.) In its mechanics, this trick mirrors what happens when we share articles with each other or post comments online — words dissipate and lose relevance the instant they’re published or shared on the internet. (Your blog, of course, is a different story!)

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