Thursday, October 09, 2003

The Origami Necktie

...Writers usually find some excuse for their books, although why one should excuse oneself for having such a quaint and peaceful occupation I really donít know. Military people never seem to apologize for killing each other yet novelists feel ashamed for writing some nice inert paper book that is not certain to be read by anybody.

ñLeonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet

I think the reason we generally feel as if there should be a reason for writing a book is that we are taught in every literature course from grade school on up, that when we read a book we should be mining it for a greater purpose. Surely the writer must have had some grand thesis in mind when he undertook the writing of this critically acclaimed tome! We are solemnly told by our English teachers. Therefore, it is our duty as studious readers to find the hidden meanings and unearth them, in a book report no longer than a thousand words, due next Tuesday.

This is a deep-rooted neurosis, one that I think is the root cause of most adultsí alliterate view of the world. We spend so much time picking apart the classics, who wants to read for pleasure? That strikes us as a waste of good TV watching time and is kinda weird. Practically perverted! Which is why we bookworms are a squirrelly, myopic lot. I have to shave my palms every fortnight.

Why shouldnít a book simply be a book? Why must every novel be a commentary on growing up a poor southern turnip farmer, or the injustice of the bean merchant in medieval Venice? They donít of course but there are far too few authors who have eschewed the grand operatic thesis in favor of simply crafting a prose poem to life and all its caterwauling and shenanigans. I can only think of a handful of authors who have engaged in the all too rare genre of book-as-artifact. Other than Leonora Carringtonís masterpiece, the Hearing Trumpet, there are the works of Ray Bradbury (which often do verge on high-falutantism, but the more benign, gee walkers brand favored by soft SF and fantasy authors), Vladimir Nabokov, who vehemently disapproved of symbolism as a matter of honor and the undisputed master of writing beautiful books about absolutely nothing, Richard Brautigan.

Iíve read In Watermelon Sugar half a dozen times and still I couldnít tell you what itís about because it isnít about anything in particular and everything I general. The same holds true for Lolita. Sure everyone knows itís about Humbert Humbert, the prototypical Old Letch and his obsession for hot nymph hinny. But if you go reading it looking for steamy, one-handed sex scenes, forget it. You wonít find them. Youíll find everything else though, from a longing for youth to a desire to be free to the lengths we all go to try and fit in to polite society and pretend we arenít all wriggling little Humberts, strapped into tweed suits and bow ties.

And I admit it, I had a thesis in mind when I stated writing my novel. Not just a thesis. I had a grand Uber Point. And to an extent itís still there, somewhere under the poetry and the flights of whimsy and tragic beauty. But the tragic beauty of life really is the point, the reason for getting out of bed, the reason I write.

Now, if I could just find a publisher interested in throwing away money printing up a few thousand copies of my pointless novel, Iíd be all set!


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