I went to a couple of book fairs this weekend because my girlfriend is a teacher, and teachers only ever spend their own time and money buying things for the children they teach, and one of the things they shop for is books.
Apparently the best way to get a child to shut the fuck up and leave you alone is to make them go sit in the corner and hold a Berenstain Bears book in their lap. The child will be relatively quiet, and the Berenstain Bears will get carried away with some idiot thing you’re not supposed to do, like shoving marbles up their noses, and then through their resultant suffering learn not to do that, and the book is called “The Berenstain Bears Shove Marbles Up Their Idiot Noses,” and maybe, just MAYBE the child will not shove marbles up its idiot nose the very next chance it gets, and either way the child will probably not die on you while they’re in the corner. Teachers like books.
My girlfriend looks through every single kid’s book they have at these things.
So at these book fairs I have a lot of time to wander around and look at cheap books and the people who also want to look at cheap books. I have time to sit and think about my life, and about everybody else’s life. Depending on how many kid’s books there are, I might also have time to read David McCullough’s in-depth biography of our second President John Adams, available in both hardcover and paperback.
I like books. I think every human being should have a stack of unread books somewhere, and life should at some level be the story of how much bullshit can distract you from them. Sometimes that story is of how dueling warlords are salting the crops and ripping people’s heads off and there’s no such thing as books. But, you know, in America we have books. I’ve got plenty of them to get through. Too many. I’m not really in the market for additional books right now. So I get bored when I go to a book fair.
There are a lot of books in the world. There are too many. The amount of books there are is out of all proportion with how much any person could or should know. You go to one of these book fairs, and that’s a thing you’re struck by. Is why. Why all these books. Suzanne Somers is the author of two autobiographies. Why. Is one of them just about jiggling your tits on television, and the other one about life lessons learned from jiggling your tits on television? Who is in charge of the apparatus by which Suzanne Somers is even the name of a thing I’m aware of? And she, or somebody else willing to complete the task, has written eight diet books and two biographies? How many trees has Suzanne Somers singlehandedly destroyed?
Of course if you’re going to question the value of something, a book written by “Suzanne Somers” about Suzanne Somers is easy pickings. But even books which contain genuine insights seem worthless when they’re sitting in boxes on the floor of a church. I counted over ten copies of “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s a good book. I read it, I am glad I read it, and I’m glad it exists. It is very definitely an important book from both an historical and artistic perspective. This is the essential truth about the contents of the book.
But as a physical artifact, there are currently more than ten copies of “Middlesex” sitting on the floor of a gray room, sharing equal space and status with ASCII programming guides and Glenn Beck books about the real America and Dean Koontz novels with titles like “Night Murder” and Penguin Classic Collected Works of Euripides paperbacks that have been read by exactly zero high school students. All compiled human knowledge available at a book fair has been reduced to the same status as a physical artifact: we hope there’s a person alive who would pay $2 for this, but we are not holding our breath.
In this way, being at a book fair is like visualizing the internet. It turns out mankind, and the sum total of all the thoughts and ideas we’ve ever had, is relatively worthless to each individual. We all still have to be alive for our whole stupid little lives, and we all have to exist in the short time we’ve been given in the context we’ve appeared in, and none of us will live long enough to know if having such a thing as books, or language, or consciousness, are even going the be a long-term benefit.
We can only hope that some mechanism will one day evolve which will be capable of synthesizing everything and actually telling us what we’re doing right or wrong. I imagine it will tell us not to EVER cut down a tree for the purpose of sharing Suzanne Somer’s opinion about olive oil. This is what book fairs do to me. They make me dizzy with boredom, like recreationally zooming out from Google Earth too quickly. All of a sudden I’m placing my faith in robots because the only time-passing alternative is having a 45 minute internal debate about whether I'm going to be the type of guy who'd pay $2 to own but not read a book about Shamanism for the next however long it would take me to concede the inevitable defeat and get rid of it. Thanks a lot, book fairs.