The thought of a large pile of burning books does not fill me with horror, but history aside, some people seem to have a problem with flames licking and curling their way around the published thoughts of another. I can still remember the look on my young cousin’s face when he realised that yes, his author relative was about to use a paperback for kindling on the barbecue.
This morning it was so cold cycling that I envisioned the whole 4km route lined either side with great mounds of burning books. It would have warmed my face and taken the pain away from my fingertips. It would have been wonderful, just wonderful.
This fantasy was in part sparked by a strange source: a census undertaken by Mozilla of its Firefox browser users. To my amazement, I saw that aside from asking whether you were white, lived in Europe, took holidays regularly and drank coffee, they actually asked which house you most associated with out of Harry Potter.
In my mind I calmly cycled another 12km of rural landscape, and the flames were four or five metres high, the sky was black with smoke, the fields were filled with millions and millions of books burning, and it was wonderful.
Storytelling is a curious blend of entertainment and education. When we are young, any story is interesting because it is most likely new. Its novelty is its educational value. As we get older, there is a split for readers into two rough branches: the first continues to go upwards, and learning remains an important part of reading, whereas the second stays at the same level as a child and does not seek learning, but only craves the entertainment element from reading. Currently, by demand, the lower branch is the clear winner and thus there is a massive market for non-challenging works of fiction. You only have to walk into Waterstones (fires burning, fires burning in my mind) to be greeted by this fact in all its colourful, non-threatening, two-for-oneness.
So Griffindor (sp?) won by a large margin in the Mozilla Firefox browser user favourite Harry Potter house census question (fires burning). My son, who has of late been practising the art of the windup, came home from school yesterday to tell me smilingly that a girl had been wearing a Griffindor t-shirt. He watched with some pleasure as the snot of indignation streaked a path from my nose and threatened to land on my outstretched, bacteria-encrusted tongue of disgust. He let me suffer like this for a minute before saying that I was not to worry, he had beaten her at badminton in PE.
‘I saved the family honour,’ he said.
I must say that my love for him in that moment was particularly strong.
And he has taught me a valuable lesson: that there are other means to combating pulp fiction other than burning it.
I discovered that an odour being omitted from one’s compost heap is often a sign of an imbalance between carbon and nitrogen, and one should add more carbon. But where to find a ready carbon source? By god’s hooks! It’s everywhere! Just search on a bookshelf in any modern home and you will find kilos of the stuff, sitting there slowly going yellow, never to be read again, displayed like some sort of adult achievement badge that says Look at me, I was able to switch the television off for a bit and read a book, couldn’t put it down, it had me hooked from start to finish, the story is just amazing, I just had to find out what happened!
(fires burning in my mind, fires burning in my mind)
And what did happen? Can you even remember?
‘Well, there was this woman and she murdered this other woman but made it look like it was this other woman and then this man comes along and he’s the lover of the second woman but not really because the whole thing is actually a diary he has been writing in order to frame the third woman, so that it in fact looks like the first woman was actually writing the diary and doing all the framing in the first place.’
‘Sounds interesting. Quite carboniferous, in fact. Can I borrow it?’
Recently I honoured William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition with a read, which I confess I bought second hand for 2€. Not a bad book. I was mildly entertained. I learned little. Once finished it was up-cycled into a 50/50 split between kindling and composting. I look forward to tasting its slightly above average prescience in next year’s tomatoes.
But I have bought his reputedly excellent Neuromancer, brand new from amazon, and look forward to reading it very much.