Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Why You Should All Write Short Books (And Why I'll Kill You If You Don't)

The pyramids are beautiful things, transcendent against the sky.

But the labour of them... think of yourself down there, under the scorch of the sun, hauling, hauling, hauling. Hauling what? A big piece of rock. Squared off and symmetrical, yes, but still a big rock. Heavy. Obdurate. So painfully unwilling. And your task is to haul this heathen rock to a pyramid and stack it wearily into a sacred object of grace. An almost divine transformation...

But on the ground, heaving the stones... the grace seems far away. There's just the heat, the sweat vaporizing off the skin, the faltering muscle and bone. The sand absorbs half of your strength, sucking energy from each step. Dust puffs around you, whitening the soon-to-be-holy stone. You have banged against the hard stone. You are bruised, bleeding. You push on against the wilful disregard of the stone.

Your breath grows haggard in your chest. Your joints hurt. Your fingers ache terribly, the pain running up to your elbows and beyond. Your knees and ankles burn, as if the bright sun above had spawned cruel children inside them. Shoulders and back tighten and grow heavy, thick, as if the skin is swelling to burst.

And always the stone resists. Its ally, gravity, mocks your struggles. The pyramid is tall... how can you haul the stone so high?

But you do. It is the only option. You haul the stone up, regardless of weight and wilfulness, and mark its holy place with a little more of your sweat and blood.

But the stone is as nothing to the pyramid. It is a speck, a mere piece, a fraction of something much larger, almost lost in the vastness of the whole. And you are being called, by word and whip, to come down. To come haul another stone. And another.

Some have fallen on the way. It is too hard, and death is easier. They fall by the wayside to lie idly in the sand, a windstrewn corpse already forming small drifts, nascent dunes. You go on. You go on to die each night, hauling stone, only to be reborn the next day as yourself, reborn to continue the endless task.

But lo, the great square blocks are no longer cut from hard stone, but rather they are crafted from cardboard. You breathe a sigh of relief. Cardboard you can carry! But what's this? These terrible blocks are not merely soft cardboard and softer air, but heavy things filled with books, terrible weighty books heavier than any sun-baked brick. Look at them all, look at all that forms the sacred pyramid: Thomas Hardy, you villain, and Stephen King. Galsworthy and Trollope! How could you? Rowling, you started so fine, and then, and then...

All must feed the pyramid. All must be hauled, each printed word a little heavier than the last. You come to hate Robert Jordan. L. Ron Hubbard is despised, at least until you find money in one of those terrible blocks of words and allow your opinion of scientology to rise upward accordingly, bribe or not. Marcel Proust you confine to the most withering reaches of Hell, genius or no. Finnegan's Wake seems more cruel by the step.

Oh, but Agatha Christie you love, that sexy old dame. Mass market paperbacks, so thin, so bearable, so close to air that you almost weep for the joy of it. Oh, the Harlequins, lined up so neat and trim, torn bodices hidden behind the shoulders of neighbors.

Such laudable writers, the harlequinites! So concerned with brevity... You become passionate about the minimalists, and with them you mock Thomas Wolfe. Look Homeward, Angel, and here's your hat. And Tom Wolfe, too, for that matter. I'll give you a different sort of bonfire for your vanity...

And yet you must admit that you were once a sinner, that once (well, twice) you wrote a first draft whose wordcount started with the number three, that most awful of all numbers (excepting, of course, four, and five... and six we will not speak of, no, let us not speak of it). But no more! No, you will never sin so surely and lengthily again. Not now, or ever.

You will write short novels, tight with pace and flowing like a newborn river from a high mountaintop, brisk and keen with glacial melt. Slender things, these will you write. Books whose spines will almost be lost on the shelf, available only to the most curious and questing of fingers.

You will write short books, light books, and take pity on the poor haulers keeling over in the dust, the poor crafters of the holy depositories (those little temples filled with sacred rows and discount prices). Pity the weak and foolish booksellers. Pity them and write short books, for such is the mercy of all good writers.

8 comments:

Charlie said...

Growing up, we had a dictionary that was about six inches thick. I recently asked my mother about it and she told me she “got rid of that thing.” I loved that book. I remember looking up antidisestablishmentarianism in it.

Ms Kitty said...

Poor Ink!

I've had as many as 8 shelves of books to move. You had what? 30,000 books? my mind boggles.

I get the pyramid analogy.

Ink said...

50,000...

Bookworm1605 said...

50K? C'mon, are you kidding? Wow! I hate moving. The books are the worst part. I've got a lot but nowhere near 50K. Not even in the same universe.

Moving 50K books. It would almost be easier to build a super-collider in your old shop. You could accelerate particles and crash them together, creating a wormhole directly to your knew shop. Then just slide all your books right through that sucker.

Give that some thought, man. Easier on the back.

Ms Kitty said...

Hey, did you hear the one about the public library that encouraged their patrons to check out as many books as possible?

They were moving and asked the books be returned to the new location.

That wouldn't have worked for you - but wasn't it a brilliant idea?

Ink said...

Hey, I reached a point where I was pretty much ready to start giving books away rather than having to move them...

Ink said...

Super-collider... Hmmm. Beats the postal service, too...

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

My friends love it when I move. All of a sudden I become The Book Fairy. Handing out stories left and right (especially the big ones). I Indian give the great ones. Once I'm settled in at my new place, I make sure to recover them. :)