Short Talk on Booksellers

Anonymous asked: what is your opinion of booksellers?

Just a little more about literature: It so happens that the earliest Assassins belonged to a small tribe descended from the outskirts of ancient Phoenicia. And that their central doctrine seems to have held that in order to gain entry to Paradise, a member of this tribe had to murder someone from a religion outside his own. The greater the distance of this assassination (we borrow the word from their name), the greater the glory in this world and the next.

It is in this way, Montaigne tells us, that Count Raymond of Tripoli was brutally impaled with a butter knife in the center of town, while waiting in line for a cannoli.

Traces of these practices can still be found today. I’m told, for instance, there is a bookshop in the center of Scotland with a volume that contains nothing but blank pages; and if a reader opens this volume at exactly three o’clock in the afternoon, he will die.

I’m told also that there are ant colonies that willfully court parasites that give off nauseating aromas. Aromas that can drive entire hoards of ants so wild with longing that they will smother one another with their own limbs and antennae-cords, and even sacrifice their own children in the hopes of falling once more under its fragrant spell.  (Just one of the many drawbacks of being born into the most socialized tribe of insect.)

There are more obvious examples, of course. Why else would so many spiders build cobwebs so close to hornet’s nests, on the branches of poison willows, or just outside the bedroom window of a young man who dreams each night of Super Soakers filled with insecticide for the express purposes of entomological holocausts?

It’s true, the manual of death has changed very little since the time of the first Assassins. Although there are a few exceptions. Why else would there be so many full-time readers and writers of novels who plant themselves in the center of coffeehouses or behind rickety podiums of occasional bookshops, where the smell of printer’s ink is enough to ruin the scent of garlic in a home-cooked meal, and where young men can be seen pulling on their beards as they stare off into the middle distance—as if ready to bury their heads in their hands to cry—deluding themselves they’re being noticed, all the while hoping not to be?

This latest change in the Doctrine of Death, the change in the clause-from-within, may well derive from some of the assassination techniques developed in ancient Rome. Surely, Brutus deserves some credit for this, personalizing his betrayal, and brutally stabbing Caesar as he did at the Theater of Pompeii—right in the small of his own backyard.

Still, this historic event is not in fact where we borrow the term ‘assassination’ (despite the traditional line you’ll hear from so many waylaid historians). This is, however, the fated event from which we derived the word ‘brutality’—coinciding as it did with the appearance of the very first bookshops in history, which quietly opened their doors for business that day on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.

And that is all that I have to say on the subject of booksellers. Mahalo.

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