Serpent Blog

Books. Give me *books*. 
The novel is the only thing that really matters to me. The book. It's the only thing that makes a difference, the only thing that makes a lasting dent. A novel burrows and inhabits. It's a thing I can hold in my hands. Pages. Text printed on paper. To see the whole before it is consumed. That's another thing that sets it apart. To see it. To feel its weight and measure its thicknesses.

Books do things to me. Like nature. Like weather. They surprise me by showing me myself in new but familiar forms. The novel, the right novel already exists in my head before I ever open it. It's just been waiting for me. The books that I read and the books that I hope to write are patiently waiting, Reading them, or writing them, simply reveals the details of what I already seem to know but have not yet articulated.

A novel is a miracle. Born in another time within another human's heart, a stranger's heart , unfolds inside my own, in my present. A single human being enters another. Intimacy without knowing. A faceless form of love. A code exchanged across space and time wakens neurons, fires, neurons, creates images, feelings - good God, the feeling of it, the way a book makes you feel. That subtle tickle in the back of the lower part of your throat, like a contraction, the choking part of 'choking-up', the waves and the vibrations, the rising joys, the shivers of revelation, how your body just hums, sometimes, how it physically reacts to sudden and unexpected understandings, recognitions of something lost and buried being slowly revealed. A film does not do this. Not as personally, not as intimately. A painting does not do this. You have to work harder to see yourself in a painting. But novels seep into all my crevices. A novel is a liquid that fills the empty spaces and conforms to the shape of its container. The container is myself.

In a sense a book is a container and a story is water being poured from one vessel into another. From one body into another. A book is a bottomless vessel. One copy of To Kill a Mockingbird can fill a million little cups across ages. Is a writer then a bartender? A chef? A chemist? No, an alchemist, transmuting souls. Great novels transmute me, transform me, transcend me. There is nothing else like a novel. The only other art form that comes close is the song. Music does this. But I cannot write music so I write words. A paragraph is a song. Great novels sing. They well up like Negro spirituals. I can feel them in my bowels, in my bones. They get inside me because they come from inside me. I am always the focal character. I am Madame Bovary and Holden Caulfield. This is not a simile. I am not like them. I am them. This is what really separates novels from movies, from music. I never feel that I become the person on film. There's always a separation, a wall. I don't see me there and I don't feel me there. I may have empathy and sympathy but I am never them. We never blend. But in a book I am that person, and sometimes many people. This is occurring at a subconscious level. We are contained within the container. We hold ourselves in our own hands. We are connected.

I need to carry my books wherever I go. I want them to get wet and dirty and bent and scuffed. When I am finished I want them to know that they've been read. I like my books like I like my people - beaten and worn. Damaged. There's no such thing as a digital book. Words can be digitized, books cannot. A book is more than words. Books have souls. Even different copies of the same book are unique.

If story does not occupy physical space, if it does not have volume and texture and smell and a sound then I find that it is lacking something vital. A cover; which is a door. A title page; which is a curtain. A typeface; which is a secrete code through which I absorb and discover, a certain paper stock - the emulsified pulp of living things, a tree. A book is a resurrection. There is poetry in this that justifies the death of the tree.

I know trees. Trees will willingly give their lives for great books. It is an honor to them. Whole groves should be grown specifically for this purpose. I see now in my mind's eye, an eye created by 40 years of reading, a father planting an orchard at the birth of his son, who will grow up to write a great novel to be printed on the very paper milled from that grove. I see that boy wandering his orchard, touching his sacrificial trees, speaking to them, whispering to them like a toreador worshiping his bulls. The sound that the wind makes in their branches is a language only he can understand. The power and magic that is contained in real books originates in trees. Trees are the elusive philosopher's stone in this mystery equation. It takes a tree to make a book. For a book to have its power lives must be lost.

Novels grow on paper like fungus grows on the bark of dying oaks. New life is fertilized with corpses. Every book should be a resurrection. And that is what I feel when I hold a real book, a great book, like Shadow of the Wind or Cold Mountain, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Sun Also Rises. Something died to bring those stories to me, and I must feel the weight of those deaths and treasure them, like the mummies of the pharaohs. I must worship them, dust them, keep them clean, open them from time to time to read random passages. Every great book is a funeral and a celebration.

Comments are not available for this entry.