We talk about two features today- one about books that don’t exist but are written about anyway, and another is about the perceived danger of books.
Have you ever wanted to visit an invisible library- a library where books that do not exist are quoted and footnoted? Jaideep Unudurti does. In his essay Reviewing Books that were never were he starts with a book called Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. The book is subtitled ‘The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922’, “purported to be an account of an Arab traveller in the fog-haunted North.”
Of course, the Arab writer and his manuscript was a figment of the writer’s imagination.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is another book that features books in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: “a labyrinth of passage-ways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive, woven with tunnels, steps, platforms and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry”
Arturo Perez-Reverte , Lev Grossman, Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges are all pioneers in creating books in imaginary book land. Which writer wouldn’t appreciate the idea of yet another book?
We think very highly of the reading habit and advise video game obsessed children to read as though reading will fit a halo of wisdom around their little heads. Tara Isabella Burton disagrees with this in her essay Dark Books in Aeon – reading is no ‘kale smoothie for the soul’, she says. The antiquated idea that reading could be dangerous was popular in the nineteenth century.
There was a great deal of suspicion about people who allowed a book to encroach their imagination.
“In his condemnatory tract Popular Amusements (1869), the American clergyman Jonathan Townley Crane cautioned his flock against reading novels: ‘novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities…’ only to find themselves ‘merged in the hero of the story’, losing the sense of who they really are.”
Is there truth in this?
Well, if you look at it that way, the writer is always considered as someone above the flock, an intellectual superman- über-Mensch- who can wield power over the masses with his pen. This almost makes him God-like or more on the dark side, even vampiresque.
I like the idea of vampires but seeing a novel as something with blood letting qualities is new to me. The reader allows himself or herself to believe anything the author says. This can be a problem if the narrators are men as then the women will be secondary narrated beings.
“In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), it might be the punishment of an adulteress; in E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) – to give a recent but telling example of a book that has inspired fierce loyalty on the part of its readers – it is the characters’ return to hetero-normativity, to ‘vanilla’ sex that codes the trilogy as having a ‘happy’ ending satisfactory to its audience.”
This is actually dangerous. Then there’s the problem of the one story, the only story:
“In a 2009 TEDx talk, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie highlighted the dangers of the ‘one story’, explaining how she, as a Nigerian, found her self-understanding dominated by collective narratives – the ‘single story of Africa’ – in a manner not so different from Cordelia’s possession by Johannes.”
It’s a risk therefore to expose yourself to someone’s ideas. But then as consumers, we are continuously exposed to ideas. We are in a world of vampires; the only savior would be to stay on guard and refuse to become the object of a fiery author’s pen, for every dangerous book has the illuminating counterpart, and we can’t afford to miss those, can we?