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Friday, August 27, 2010

Some 'Splainin'--Just a Little

Despite the abundance of available therapies, we are still bewildered in the face of our neuroses and spiritual poverty and may be less well equipped than a fourth-century monk to deal with them. In our desperate seeking after more precise terms to define our condition, we have become like the hapless citizens of Jean-Luc Godard’s savagely comic film Alphaville, who, in a dystopic future, receive new government-issued “Bibles” every day, dictionaries from which words are continually vanishing, because, as one character says, “they are no longer allowed.” She adds, mournfully, that “some words have disappeared that I liked very much....”

- Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life

You see, the first incident occurred on the day of the dog parade. A man waiting for someone else, with no interest in browsing my shelves himself, accosted me across the counter to let me know he’d taken to reading the classics lately. “Oh, what have you read?” I asked innocently. What I thought was a laptop under his arm was suddenly revealed as his e-reader. Eagerly he opened it and showed me the little icons lined up on the representation of a shelf, each icon alike except for the title it bore. These were the “books” he’d read. Then he wanted to show me each one. Can you imagine the heaviness in my heart? I know, I know! There are people who love their e-readers! But must I really have one thrust under my nose in my own bookstore? Must I cheer while the nails are driven in the coffin of my chosen field of work? Enjoy your virtual books somewhere else, please!

Then a few days later, in response to my account of the new Northern Illinois University Press fiction imprint, Switchgrass Books (more on this in a future post), a customer began explaining to me that the University of Michigan Press is taking a very different direction, “digitizing” (“digitalizing”?) their entire collection so that the works will be preserved “forever” and be available to “everyone.” Well, I thought, everyone who has access to the Internet and for as long as--???

So these were the incidents bouncing around my head, clamoring to come out in some form other than argument. Hence the children in the cave. As a story, it’s not much. The characters are undeveloped, the dialogue minimal, nothing given the detail and care I give when seriously working on a short story. The word “spew” is not inappropriate. So if you thought I didn’t know that, put your mind at ease. I know. But once in a while I give myself permission and let ‘er blow. Damn the torpedoes! Know what I mean?

I’ll have to see that Godard film. For now, the sun has set, and the coyotes are warming up for their evening concert. And it really was a beautiful day. And my sister will be here tomorrow!!!

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