Stephen King must be heartbroken.
I used to go to Borders. I’d leaf through the coffee table books. I’d listen to CDs at the listening stations. I’d sit in a soft chair and read a book. I’d have a cup of coffee. I’d browse magazines.
See, I love to read.
I wouldn’t buy anything. How could such a business afford to support customers like me, I wondered?
It turns out it couldn’t.
Especially not in a world of Google and Amazon.
But worry not.
We have libraries.
Borders has displays of best-sellers, horrible books with movie tie-ins.
Borders tells you what to buy.
Libraries encourage reading by subject, getting to know a particular subject, rather than getting a shallow view of a subject by the latest spin doctor which is put on display.
Hawthorne once lamented the rise of best-selling twaddle for women: books as cheap soap-opera. Books can even perpetuate cretinism: books, in themselves, are not a good, and this is something your average bookworm has trouble understanding.
Reading trash is still a trashy activity, and even worse is the half-educated person who actually thinks they know something.
The mind is just at good at deceiving its owner as bringing it information, and incomplete information is an excellent deceiver, for we don’t know when we have enough information; we don’t know when we are being deceived by information itself.
The only way to avoid being deceived by one’s mind is to use it as little as possible, and instead, embrace the cause and effect immediacy of the physical world: if one practices to cook by cooking, tasting and eating, a book will not fool that cook. But if one learns to cook by consulting a book, how is the student to know if the book is wrong, or not? One can see by this simple example that books are supplements to experience and not a substitute for them. But the bookworm allows books to be a substitute for experience.
Theoretical science is not, as the mere bookworm might suppose, abstract, for to comprehend formulae, the understanding must literally travel through the sequences of the formulae, precisely as a piece of music, written out, to come alive, must be physically manipulated. The partial information provided by a piece of music cannot deceive, as selected facts can, because the information of the musical piece is mathematical, and thus presents itself as an idea that already exists: the rigors of science, music and mathematics are based on re-discovery, and partake of immediate sensual understanding of physical qualites such as perspective, proportion, shape, duration, pitch and beauty.
The reader of mere fiction, who likes to participate in imagined gossip, is performing quite a different operation than the scientist, the mathematician, or the musician—active participants in the world, a world whose beauty is a concrete way into it. No, the mere reader of fiction—and the gossip and half-lies of poorly written biography and history—is instead lost in that realm in which information is only partially given, and thus the fiction reader learns information in the manner that deceives, because the reader has no idea what information is missing.
This misunderstanding of what true knowledge is creates your typical smug, ‘educated’ person, who has no real intellectual curiosity—their mind is built on reading fiction and slanted biography and history, in which missing information is the key element, and thus a true spirit of inquiry actually frightens them, since they are comfortable in their fiction-universe.
Certainly fiction-universes can make us comfortable, and those who condemn religion say it is merely a fiction of false comfort, but it is not for me to question fictions which make us happy; the point of this essay is Borders bookstore, and no one I personally know is a better person because of Borders bookstores; the books sold at Borders would not interest a scientific specialist or a connoisseur. A true lover of knowledge would always prefer a good library, not a bookstore which piles books on display and serves a marketing/publishing empire which tells people what to read.
In their daily conversation, or in their jobs, none of us are helped by anything sold at Borders. The half-knowledge of politics, economics, nutrition and science (which is useless and even harmfully deceptive) must be blamed, in part, on cynically marketed books, and the half-knowledge—unfortunately so often a point of pride—is actually worse than ignorance, and bookstores (like much of our so-called education) produces this insidious state of things.
It may be said that even trivial knowledge is good, because it can bring people together in a common atmosphere, and this is invaluable; let us grant this; but trivia can be found anywhere, not just in books; and a community can just as easily be brought together by trivial facts such as ‘our grocer has red hair’ as ‘the grocer in a book sold by Borders has red hair.’
Defenders of poetry and fiction will finally state that deception is the whole point in the fictive enterprise, and here is where Aristotle and Plato (and the whole world) differ: the good in one philosophy is an evil in the other. But this division aside, to reject Plato’s hard-nosed search for truth, and reduce everything to rhetoric, which either convinces, or does not, and so partakes of power, or does not; power being all, and truth nothing, is a falling off; indeed, but one that unfortunately supports all sorts of abstract, wasteful, superficiality which we usually dare not question, like books, poets, poetry, fiction, schools, and bookstores.
So you may have the person who fancies themselves ‘educated’ who puts down TV, because they get a little superior-feeling thrill by doing so. Oh, those reality shows, they are such trash. I read poetry, instead. These are well-meaning folk, who have a vague idea what it is to affect a certain educated demeanor, but unfortunately their own ignorance is so massive, it over-shadows everything.
The work of the scientist, the musician, and the mathematician are physical necessities—they have no abstract properties. The abstract belongs entirely to fiction—and the half-knowning bookworm.
Everyone likes a comfortable bookstore. I lament the end of that.
But the dragons, vampires, half-baked science and history, the gossipy fiction?
I won’t miss that at all.