[Originally published Jun. 11, 2016.]
He asked if the books were for class. I told him they weren’t. He asked if I was selling them. I told him I wasn’t. He asked why I had so many.
“Because I’m reading them.”
“All of them?”
“Why carry them all? Why not just get a Nook or a Kindle?”
A trap, Yahdon! Don’t answer that!
His premise is flawed. The logic is pat.
Resist the urge to justify;
Instead, reply with Bartleby,
“I would prefer not to.”
Turn the tables, flip the script,
No, flip the tables, scatter wide
the coins of realm, and thus equipped
with self-respect, retort with pride,
“What sort of man are you?”
Why truckle like a serf to please
the monarchs of our modern age?
Convenience and Efficiency
still lock their subjects in a cage
with no aesthetic view.
Why trickle like a stream pursuing
least resistance to the sea?
One of us should be reviewing
options, but it isn’t me.
I read Israel’s essay several days ago, but not much of it stayed with me. Like so many other near-identical essays praising the book-as-object, I agree with the sentiment, but I found myself harboring a vague thought in the back of my mind: wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, if someone just presented an attitude of haughty disdain, rather than feeling forced to justify themselves? What if someone were to simply say, “Because go to hell, I don’t want a Kindle, that’s why, and what’s wrong with you that you even think like that?” I felt a little Nietzschean rage against all those Socratic interlocutors who demand that we justify our passions rationally, that we genuflect at the altar of utilitarian functionalism. It’s simply assumed that technological progress is an unquestionable good, that faster, smaller, sleeker, easier is a moral imperative. Well, no. We should already know that books are a Good Thing. A full bookcase is a thing of beauty. You should be forced to defend your thoughtless assumption that even the tiniest extra effort that can be avoided should be.
And for who knows what reason, I had the impulse to express all this in verse instead of prose.
As for the poem itself, I clearly didn’t trouble myself greatly over rules of form, and I hope you won’t either. Originally, I thought I might aim for a classic sonnet, but the first two standalone lines forced their way in, and no matter how I pleaded with them to leave, no matter how I begged them to consider reshaping themselves, they insisted that this is how they were meant to be, and this is where they were meant to be. Eventually, I gave up and just built the rest of the poem around their recalcitrance. I obviously never bothered to stick to a clear rhyme scheme either. Frankly, I just choose to focus on the positives, such as the fact that I managed to keep it in iambic tetrameter while telling a coherent story.