Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mugged and Booked

In many ways, a new book represents a danger.

The danger is of the sort that comes with the almost daily emails describing acts of violence or near violence enacted around the campus in Los Angeles where I have been teaching for lo these many years. Thanks to the emails and attendant warnings, I more or less adjust my behavior patterns so that the likelihood of actual physical danger to me is minimal , leaving me with the general sense of being mugged or robbed rather than the cold, frightening details of an actual event and my actual response.

The new book is like the safety precautions I'd take when leaving campus on foot or wandering about the borders of campus alone late at night. Be wary as opposed to being innocent. Be suspicious instead of being naive or trusting or, better yet, being oblivious to the cold, frightening details of an actual event and my actual response.

Being mugged is a trauma. Reading some books can be a trauma because these books may overwhelm previous notions or senses of defense; they have the power to frighten me, bore me, disturb me, entertain me, anger me. They have the power to cause me to, as the warning emails describe the mugging situations, demand property.

I don't know what I'd do when confronted combatively, threateningly with gun or knife or no weapon at all except the stealth and strength of my assailant. I have no advance sense of the weapon or guile or stealth of the author of a book I am about to read, the images he or she will inflict on my psyche.

A number of bookstores and publishing ventures send me catalogs, newsletters, news releases. Publishers Weekly sends me news of new titles to come. And the to of magazines and journals, with their review sections, and my frequent visits to the web pages of Washington Post Book World and the home delivery of The New York Times give me ongoing hints of the mugging and hold-up and outrage awaiting as I go about naive, unsuspicious in spite of the suspicion I have when hefting new books at a book store.

I believe I have worked my way past the point where I think it possible that a single book will transform me to the point where it causes me to be a better writer, editor, teacher, thinker. Alas, I have to learn to do all those things by myself. There is nothing for it but to risk the dangers that await from the challenge.

I can see the incident in a University Incident Report: Victim was approached by book that demanded he turn over attitudes and other properties. When victim refused, book dropped on his toe, inflicting pain.

It is never a good time to be mugged nor to play it safe with books. For that matter, it is never a good time to play it safe with writing, editing, or teaching, much less thinking. The risk of not being vulnerable is that your defenses will keep out any thought that has a chance of helping transform you from what you are now to what you wish to be then, in the future, which is to say that time after you have read and coped with something that was by all accounts a threat to you.

1 comment:

Lee's River/Zlatovyek said...

Some books get in, under or around your natural (or not so natural) defences. Always scary, that. Honesty is often scary. It lands you smack dab in the present and says: deal with it. (And am I thinking of Louise Erdrich as I write this? Yes, sir, I am.)