People are Books!

And this time I’m not actually referencing the cartoon in Writers’ Digest many years ago.  This is not a matter of “there is a book in you, and it will have to come out.”

When I say “there are many books in me” right now, I’m not talking about the multitudinous confusion of voices that keep me awake in the night going “I’m only eighty thousand words.  A slim volume.  You could type me in three days.”    (And don’t get me started on the fights between my pen names.  In the same way it’s not madness if you’re rich enough, it’s merely eccentricity, it’s not schizophrenia if you get paid for it.  It’s merely being “driven” and “prolific” – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

What I’m talking about, instead is about he stories that go to making up all of us.  Stories are an amazing thing.  See, we’re finding that false memories are very easy to implant, and though I can’t prove it, I suspect we’re more susceptible to a well written book than a movie when it comes to remembering it vividly as though it had happened to us.  Though this might depend on your type of intelligence.  I’m more verbal than visual and that might make a difference to me.  I don’t know if more visual people experience movies int hat way.  I don’t.  To me the books are more “real” because I get to know what people are feeling from inside their heads.  It’s a way to experience things that don’t happen to me – to live someone else’s life for a while.

I think this might be one of the reasons that biography is often found inadequate to explain historical figures, in way or another, and that to get the full rounded picture of someone, you need to know what they read – particularly what they read over and over until it became a part of them.

You could probably explain a lot about me, by knowing I was raised on Enid Blyton’s adventure series (pre-modernization) which means I absorbed a lot of British concepts of fair play and manners from the early twentieth century.  Into that fell Mark Twain, the adventures of Captain Morgan (with original color lithographs, showing every beheading and sword-wound in loving detail), then a lot of very odd books – including the complete work of Thomas Mann – and then Clifford Simak, and a lot of Heinlein.  Somewhere with that were a lot of WWII memoirs and fictionalized biographies.

With those books in me, how could I not feel more comfortable in an anglo-saxon culture.  What is otherwise inexplicable, becomes inevitable when viewed that way.

At the same time I was reading a lot of non fiction and philosophical works, which informed me, but did not mold my personality.  However, to this day, I remember growing up in England and having adventures with my cousins (and Tim, the dog) off the coast, during summer hols.  I remember fighting for Luna’s freedom alongside Wyo and Manny.  I ran the Way Station with Enoch.  I was a slave in an alien planet, sold to an old beggar-man who was really an intergalactic spy.  Oh, yeah, and I went riding with the musketeers on that long hail-Mary pass to retrieve the Queen’s jewels from Buckingham.  I remember the horses dying under me, and perfidious inn keeper laying a trap for us.

Those experiences have become part of my soul in such a way, that should there be a weighing of the heart after death, I’ll have to explain why we chose to let Mike harass the Warden.

Yes, of course, I was also there, at the end, when the Earth got bombed, and I became a smuggler to hide the books that civilization might rise again, maybe that will count in my favor.

I am as much a child of those books and those authors as I am of the relatives who raised me, of the landscape I grew up in.  Sometimes, I think I am more so.

This is both good and bad:

It is good because for many of us, it gives us a chance to have children we never had – to touch generations yet unborn.

It is bad, because it gives us a chance to touch generations yet unborn.  How are we touching them?  Whose influences are coming through our writing?  Is this what we want the people reading us to become?  Do we even know?  How much control do we have?

Just like with having children, when you find out that you didn’t just reproduce yourself, but ancestors you never even met, your literary children will go on paths you can’t predict, and forget new ways of seeing things, give people experiences for good and ill that you can’t imagine.

Embrace it, own it.  Be proud of it.  Imperfect you might be.  Not the equal of the giants who formed you.  You might struggle and hem through word.

But in the world of tomorrow, a world past your death, that book will be part of someone.  It will make someone act the way they remember your characters acting.

And just like with sending your DNA forward, you’ll be alive and present in that moment, in the heart of humanity yet to be.

28 responses to “People are Books!

  1. Martin L. Shoemaker

    People are books.

    Soylent Green is people.

    Ergo books are Soylent Green.

    Either that, or I’ve had too little sleep.

  2. ppaulshoward

    Had some thoughts but haven’t had enough coffee yet.

  3. Lot’s of thoughts, no false memories though. It’s obvious you haves some though, I bought the Rudbeck boy, not a girl :)

  4. A steady diet of the dark depressing, critical, defeatist gray goo literature leads the readers where? And what kind of future would that create?

    All the more reason to promote Human Wave SF/F.

  5. (I think of The Daughter’s reading habits and shiver.)

  6. I’m not sure how to view the difference I have from what you described. Sometimes I am jealous of people who do that sort of thing, and sometimes I’m happy that I don’t have many false memories. My memory is terrible, but what I do remember is pretty accurate.

    But I never got into the stories like you describe, I was always watching from outside. I still got interested, and even excited, but I never really put myself there. Then again, I never played make-believe, either. It just didn’t seem right to me.

  7. The world exists in our imaginations. Or our memories, but memories are just things we imagine we’ve experienced.

    Sure, that is the fundamental conceit (or so I’ve been told” of The Matrix, but it is also a fundamental precept of Sociology (or Psychology … or maybe it is Social Anthropology — I remember taking coursework in all three at the same time a long long time ago and I imagined them but different approaches to the same subject.) The reality of any social situation is the sum of what each participant believes it to be. I remember being worldly, suave and witty at the party t’other day; you recall me as pompous, oafish and a bore. According to rumour as a youngster I was aloof and stand-offish; according to memory I was elsewhere (Barsoom, the gold mines of Opar, the Lesser Magelleanic Cloud, Valeron) and lacking any idea how to discuss those places with others.

    America existed as a land in the imagination quite as much as it did in any reality inhabited by man. She transformed those coming to her shores because it is in our imaginations that we are who we are, and in imaginary lands we are freed to be that person. In the Old World we were constantly reminded that we were [Your Term Here] , that our parents had been [Your Term Here] , our ancestors had been [Your Term Here] and that our descendants would always be [Your Term Here] . In America we were not anchored to the Past and were free to reinvent ourselves (weekly, for some of us, daily for our politicians) and to invent a future. Imagine that!

  8. I never absorbed books to the point that those journeys became my own memories, but I certainly have vivid memories of reading them (over and over) until they because part of my soul – and yes, the old books had ethics in their bones in a way I don’t see in many modern books, at least not without being smarmy about it. We could use some of that idea of fair play today. (When did being a Boy Scout become something to be derided?)

    There is a downside, or I think there is. I see people getting their thoughts and ideas from print or the movies, when just a good look around them would show them that what they’ve been told is nonsense. And, as you say, what attitudes are being kept alive that we might want to lose?

    Though I really begin to think now that a lot of people have always disagreed, but were afraid they were the only one and don’t dare speak out – social isolation was death until pretty recently. I think a lot of bad old ideas hung on far longer than they would have otherwise. The internet has been the most amazing tool to let people communicate and realize that they’re not alone.

    • Yes. There was, because of the uniformity in publishing/news/non fiction/academics, the impression of a consensus reality. I remember when I started having my doubts about it — such things as “society is what causes people to commit crimes — I thought I was doing insane. Why, all the BEST people thought so. Turns out it wasn’t true. We just each thought we were nuts. And kept quiet. This is why the internet threatens the establishment so much.

  9. Oh yes – I was the slave bought by the intergalatic spy – that book is still part of my personal mythology. Also, I am more aural than visual so books were a greater impact on my life.

    That particular story helped me through some very difficult times as a teenager.

    Very interesting post – Cyn

  10. Citizen of the Galaxy. — I didn’t read “Kim” until much later, but I knew the memory game, and practiced it and practiced it…

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — which taught me that when people make governments they always keep going way past any need, and not to trust them.

    and Oz. The first four Oz books in particular. I lived more in Oz than I did in Kansas my first 10 or 12 years. Oz taught me the heroism of everyday people. Oz taught me that you can work through problems that you don’t understand. Oz taught me that it’s not always fair. Oz taught me that bunkum for the greater good is still bunkum, and Oz taught me that home, is where the people that I love are, whomever, and wherever they might be.

  11. I don’t know that I ever created actual false memories out of what I read in books (or saw in movies). I’m much more likely to create false memories out of dreams I had. (Like the time I woke up convinced I’d learned to hover about a foot off the ground – but only in doorways. I’d learned I could sort of slingshot myself out of doorways and glide for a few feet too, so I figured it was only a matter of time before I could learn to fly… It seemed fairly reasonable that it’d have such limited scope at first and I spent much longer trying to figure the trick out again in the waking world than I’d like to admit. I was a child at the time, but perhaps older than I’d like to admit to.)

    But though I don’t think I ever quite lost that grip on reality that would have allowed me to be confused as to whether or not it actually happened IRL, I can say that I lived very vicariously through what I read. Still live that way, perhaps. Characters in beloved books have become vicarious beloveds (whether that be romantic or good friends or family) – or perhaps vicarious enemies. I have grown up reading P&P and starting out younger than every character except maybe Lydia until I’ve grown older than all the Bennet sisters – and in such, have understood so much more about each character by the time I reached another age landmark.

    And the places I’ve gone vicariously! I can close my eyes now and stand on the deck of the Dawn Treader – or wander through the halls of Hogwarts – or take a turn down the lane somewhere near Rosings. I’ll smell the salt air and the pitch, or the old smell of a castle, or the sun-warmed grass in the wind. I’ll feel that sort of gritty nip to sea wind, or the cool, almost slimy feeling of a dank area of a castle, or that patch of sun right on the top of your head that never really reaches the rest of your body (it’s spring, after all). It’s wonderful.

    It’s a wonder that all the books I’ve read never gave me a distaste for corseting, though. So many of the fantasy novels and romance books I’ve read turn up their nose at them. I’ve vicariously felt them squeeze the life out of me, creak, make me short of breath, pinch, stifle my movements, and so forth. But the actual experience for me is a very safe sort of feeling, provided I’m not trying to do something crazy wearing one and it’s not laced up tightly enough to start displacing organs (such a strange feeling when they slip back into place). But, yes – I’ve vicariously experienced wearing armor, or space suits, or battle suits.

    Reading about people has made me more open to closer friendships than I think I was before. I may have had more friends when I was younger, but the friendships I make more and more are the ones that give me the same close feeling I have from my “book friends”.

    Reading about fantastic places makes me more open to trips, provided the location is interesting/exotic. (Trip to the mall? Eh. Trip to the mountains? Now we’re talking.)

    Reading about strange costumes has made me turn to cosplay and steampunk fashions. If I lived in a bigger city, no doubt I’d wear at least casual-steam daily.

    I’ll stop rambling. I just needed to express a sort of, “Yes – I feel a very close experience to this and reading this made me agree wholeheartedly on behalf of my own experiences. And feel humbled at even the suggestion that I might pay that experience forward to generations of the future.”

    • LOL. You know I’ve had the same sort of thing you had with the dream “I can hover, but only in doorways.” My persistent dream of the kind, from 5 to my twenties was what I’ll call “the shortened path” — I’d be walking somewhere like my garden then take a path or a gate I’d never seen, and I’d be visiting my uncle in Brazil. It’s such a “logical” thing in the dream that I keep thinking — STILL — that there must be a way to do it. Yes, I know I can’t. But it FEELS right.

      • As far as our alternate-universe super-powers go, I think yours wins hands down. xD I’d love to be able to teleport, even if the scope were fairly limited!

      • As a child I clearly recall sitting in my window seat watching myself in bed. When I tried to figure out how I got to the window seat I realized that this part of me could swim through the air like a dolphin. And I swam. It was a marvelous free feeling, which I have often wished I could recapture.

        It was far too clear a memory for a dream, and I have always written it off to an illusion had while suffering from a high fever.

  12. There’s a notion for an epitaph: “Here Lies CF — He Touched Future Generations Inappropriately”….