Second Short Talk on Booksellers

In the Confessions of St Augustine, the author recalls that one of his greatest lessons came from seeing a man quietly read to himself, in a courtyard in Ostia. Thereby marking the first time in recorded history a man moved his lips to the words on a page, squinting his eyes to a private music, better suiting themselves to the wrinkles of his body.

Long before the proliferation of books, the Greeks and the Romans considered intelligence to be located in the flesh—someplace between the heart and the ‘voice-box’ (the latter-day larynx/larnax, plural larnaxes), rather than in the brain which is silent.

It is by this very same notion that entire breeds of booksellers today are so anti-intellectual that they refuse to fall in love. I happen to have known a great deal of booksellers in my time, so I feel I should say a few words on the subject before nodding off drunk into the angelic night. Listen. Here is the secret about booksellers:

They have lost all faith in their own words.

Take a closer look, and you will notice that the vast majority of booksellers are little more than a walking poesy of other people’s flowers. Walk in any bookshop almost at random and you are sure to be barraged with a leaky timeworn aggregate of other people’s quotations passed down from on high—usually other sager booksellers—which are then used to commit spontaneous acts of education on windblown travelers, unsuspecting patrons of all variety, and whatever other idiot Bedouins happen to find shelter among the shelves of their fated shop on a Sunday afternoon. 

Surely, it doesn’t bode well that in today’s parlance the German ‘Buch händler’ evokes a certain pleasure to the touch—that a ‘Buchnummer des Verkäufers’ can be loosely translated as ‘that swarthy old Austro-Prussian pederast behind the desk who fondles.’ Or that the word for book in French carries the promise of de-live-ry—with all the smarmy anonymity that no doubt accompanies the ‘working’ order of the Franco-European post.

It is no coincidence that in English, too—no thanks to the patois of American film-noir—the term is sooner associated with crime and punishment: To book someone is to toss them in the slammer; to throw the proverbial book at someone’s head is to rebel quietly against the centralized power so many booksellers lord over the rest of us in their collective raid on the inarticulate.

Back in the early days after Gutenberg, more than one owner of a significant private library made it known that no printed book would ever be in it. Today, it is these are the self-same ‘scholars’—captains of industry, bandits manqué—who not only defend threadbare ideas and intellectual properties like blank canvases hanging in a dusty museum but also go on squeezing no doubt from the wrong end on a tube of toothpaste, refusing to write a word if there no straight lines in their notepads, and—just as Augustine knew first-hand—loving one another without any words.

You might find such men hatching revolutions in the basement of the ivory tower, plotting our future out of their own undifferentiated facts (one day praising Mussolini, for instance, for the fact that his trains were always on time, or Castro for the work he did for the people’s health and education—forgiving Stalin the next for teaching the people to read and write in farmhand, Hitler for bringing Weimar out of its economic quagmire).

If you are lucky you will have the chance to observe these conniving booksellers parading about the streets with a goofy grin on their face like a balloon on a string, sporting their customary taffeta headwear or the once-fashionable pair of open-toe sandals blithely kicked up on their mahogany desk in a spirit of defiance—or cultural authority abuse, depending what side of the desk you happen to fall on.

 

Yes, and add all this to the fact that most bookshops today look like war bunkers and smell like luxurious water closets, and it is little wonder booksellers no longer know how to love.

 

For you can trust me when I tell you that such egregious displays of gustatory-olfactory exhibitionism as these are not only designed to rankle genuinely enthusiastic bibliophiles the whole world over. They are meant to mask the fact that most booksellers’ internal chakric machines have long broken down, which accounts for the way those miserable creatures continue to shoot off dagger upon dagger of other people’s words, which only point back in truth to their own flinty little hearts.

In any case, managers beware! There are as many booksellers today as there are wheat-ears in a mummy’s tomb—and there is enough dust in their lungs to be scattered by the four winds of Heaven. I have no clear idea what these last two phrases mean, but it just so happens I stumbled upon them a few moments ago in a rare text about the first booksellers of Rome. Just imagine my delight upon the discovery therein that booksellers once were a sad and meek and underprivileged people—this was the Golden Age in the history of booksellers—who began their ill-fated lives as slaves-cum-scribes, until they eventually worked their way up the ancient (read backward) social ladder (read brownnosers), until they became as precious and indispensable as cooks or scullions.

Which is to say there are far, far too many booksellers.

Which is to say they must be eliminated. Mahalo.

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