My books aren’t my books anymore

My books           

My books sit on my shelf. I watch my books: they increase, flying to the flock by post, in bags. I see the ones that come by day, and I can’t turn them away. I invite them in, welcome them home. Some are slipping into my house at night, I think.

David won’t give books away. And I don’t help the problem. I write.

My books grow, yard by yard, author copies come by the dozen. Quick thrill, quickly sated, write some more.

I give books away to friends, my books, books I have bought, books I have been sent for review. But still they multiply.

I took two shopping bags of books to the charity shop the other day, after the shelves fell down. I still have more books than space.

Would I like the remaindered books? Where would I put a few hundred copies of a book that didn’t sell? In the basement, watch it float. Otherwise, will it burn? I don’t care. I am writing something new.

Non fiction

My books are other. Other amongst others, defined by the absence of fiction. No stories here. But there are stories, real stories. Is truth necessarily a not-fiction? When I write about someone’s experience I fictionalise it, with beginning, middle and end, even when the true story is still ongoing.

What is non fiction? Is it critical writing? A description of something real? Can it be poetry too? How can a whole genre be defined by it’s ‘non’ness, by something it’s not. And is it a genre anyway? There’s a story in there.

Non, no, n … an ancient sound, prefixed to so many words. No, not, lack, sham, from the Latin “not, by no means, not at all, not a,” from Old Latin noenum “not one”, ne oinom, from the Proto Indo European *ne “not” + *oi-no.

Fiction derives from the old French ficcion, something invented. Is writing based on research, invented? Is everything invented in some way? This is then based on the Latin, fictionem, a fashioning or feigning, from fingere, to shape, form, devise, to knead or form out of clay.

I mould words too, shape them, make them perform, change lives, yet my writing is non. Is it not fiction, a lack of fiction, sham fiction? My writing lacks. What does it lack?[1] Is the meaning of what I write as clear as I think? How do you interpret it? What do I lack?

Non academic

By definition, what I write is not academic. It takes what is written by academics, and that which is known by professionals and translates it for consumers. Your words: I consume them like a mother bird, pre-masticating mouthfuls of information, making it easy to digest. Diluting, simplifying. I lie, because nothing is ever as simple as I write.

Not mine             The books I write might not be mine.

From the moment I sign the contract, when I accept the cheque, (publishers still write cheques), when I pay it in, I need to check. Have I ensured that the words are still mine? In print, online? Pennies accrue each time my books are bought, borrowed, photocopied, all according to contract.

If you buy one of my books, it is yours. Do you need to read it for it to be yours? Probably not. It sits on your shelf, clearly one of your possessions, or on your Kindle exerting a lesser demand.

If someone translates what I write, whose words are they then? They are not the words I wrote … or are they?

Can a word ever be mine? How silly: words belong to everyone. What about two words together, or three or a whole sentence? If I create a combination of words that has never been used before … I search on Google, will that tell me ‘never’? … is that sentence mine? What if you say it, write it, photocopy it, paint it, print it? Whose words are they then?

What if I quote myself, or use a phrase I wrote last week, one that won’t stay unwritten, wants to be written again, I repeat? Does reiteration make it more mine? What about another print run, a second edition? No shift in ownership there, but I feel my ownership lessons if a book escapes online.

If I buy your book, it is still yours. Maybe when I run out of shelf space I should release my books into the wild, hoping that they will find their authors. Or are they, like graduates, reluctant to return home, too big, too full of new ideas, once I have read them?

My father read Swallows and Amazons to me as a child, then followed up with eleven more Ransomes. He collected a set of hardbacks for me, a set for my sister. I have those books and they are forever his. Ransome and my father intertwine: his voice, other-his words, my memory. On my shelf, in my house, a piece of myself as a child, and of my father then, and his childhood before, and his brother’s in there too. My books are other people.

My books are my children. I nurture them in early days, then let them go. I help them on their way, then sit back, always interested in their progress. My books are loose in the world, watch out.

When I die, my books will belong to my children, double edged legacy. What would you do with a house full of books, ownership transferring to you on death? They will inherit the words. Perhaps all their own books will be digital by then.

My books have power. They’ve changed my life. Read with caution, in case they do the same for you.


[1] My books are bound in facts. Can I reference creative work too? Is work critical only if referenced? This footnote intended to talk about lack. Please note its absence.

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