Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dead Men Tell No Tales, Or Do They?

Literally, of course they don't. But what about the dead men (and women) who've written so many of the books that sit on your bookshelf at this very moment?
    The books that one reads can say a lot about a person. I, for example, might come off like a nihilistic maniac cook with what's on the bookshelf I'm looking at right now. I have several bookshelves, but this particular one contains almost exclusively books written by Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, and over a year's worth of Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazines. It also includes Orwell's 1984, also a nonfiction book about a 19th century serial killer from the Chicago World's Fair, some Dostoevsky, and a couple other nonfiction books and novels.
    I can't imagine anyone could really call me a maniac just for having so many Stephen King books. It's not like I've marked them up with devious little notes and furious scribbling. I suppose I just prefer getting a scare from a book than from a movie most of the time. And as for the Leonard books, I don't think there are too many people in this country who don't enjoy crime dramas, though they may get it on television instead of from a book with shows like NCIS, CSI, Law and Order, Detroit 187, Psych! (a comedy, but still a crime-related program), among myriad others. However, not to leave anyone out, many people do get their hankering for crime drama from a book, like those by James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and James Ellroy, to name a few.

The $64,000 question is, then, is it permissible, and more importantly, is it accurate
to judge a person by the books on their bookshelves?

What if I were to say that I had Jane Austen and all the Adventures of the Bailey School Kids books as well as Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto? Would that make me a communist? Or a racist? Or just peculiar, for still having books I read when I was eight?
    If we take Morgan Freeman's character (in the movie Se7en), to have given us a fact, we would have to consider the possibility that the US government tracks what books are checked out of the library for these kinds of suspicions, and according to this assumption, certain books are flagged--like Mein Kampf. Maybe it's movie bullsh*t and maybe it isn't, but if you're doing a paper on dictatorships through history, or even rituals and peculiarities of cults or Druids or something, you could feasibly come across one of these books that's "flagged." And then you get put on a "list." And nobody wants to be on that kind of list.
    While I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone ought to stop reading, or even that people should be more careful of what they read, some stuff is trash, but some stuff is "bad trash" (the way that Stephen King tells us his mother used to refer to certain literature). In other words, some stuff is worth reading, and some isn't.
    In any case, I don't think that what you read gives some deep, psychological insight into you as a person. I know there are plenty of people who do think exactly this--some psychologists, for example. While I don't think psychology is completely irrelevant, sometimes they reach for something that's just not there. Perhaps too much Freud addled their brains and caused them to see everything as a sign of the Oedipus complex or penis envy.
    I think if you read a book, it could be for a class or for enjoyment or plain curiosity.
But when something terrible happens, we want a reason. An answer. It's our nature.

Example: 'But why can't I eat from the tree?' 
'Because I said so.' 

But that's not reason enough. 
    We want something more concrete. And sometimes, we suffer the consequences when we go digging for those answers. But psychologizing everything is not the answer.
    Sometimes, ladies and gentlemen: sh*t happens.
    There are crazy people, and there are mean people, and there are people just trying to get attention. And then there's Maude. Just kidding ;) And then there's the rest of us just plugging along, trying to get from start to finish, without too much fuss in between.
    Since I'm starting to wonder what my point is, I suppose I ought to sum up. My point this: sh*t happens, and coming up with irrational and ridiculous reasons to try to explain it isn't going to make it un-happen. We move on, and we do our best to be aware enough, and brave enough, to see the signs and prevent the sh*t from happening the next time. It is not impossible. But you can't look the other way and pretend it's not there and then say, oh, what a shame, when it happens anyway.
    Participate. Be engaged with the world around you. You never know, you could do something really helpful, worthwhile, and even, perhaps, heroic, the next time the sh*t does go down.
Mindfulness, consideration, and courage, dear friends, courage.

1 comment:

Outnumbered said...

God I hope it's not possible to judge a person by the books on their selves...and if it is I can only hope a stranger would say, "maybe she just likes variety" -- I actually keep some reading material hidden so others don't know I have it, know about it, judge me for it.

Also, shit does happen - sometimes good shit happens though too!

And as far as psychology goes, I think it's all in our heads....hahahahaha get it?

+Constant Writer

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