It took me a few years of probing into a character to find out why he doesn’t like books. This is brother Sandoval, the protagonist of my hypertext novel, The Life of . . . .

There’s a conversation that happens with another man in New Mexico and Sandoval goes off on a dramatic dissertation on the problem with books. It’s more complicated than just one reason, but it also has a lot to do with hypertext. Sandoval writes the story but feels that a book wouldn’t be the right way to go about telling “his.” Fortunately, hypertext provides the vehicle, or, better, “the answer.”

The question of method helps uncover Sandoval’s problem, small and trivial as it may seem. Books are built not to be read but to be closed and shelved. For Sandoval, a book is a form of storage technology. The spine of a book doesn’t make sense to him in that it works better closed than open, unlike a hinge, whose angle of pressure never changes, swinging or at rest. A book is a physical and magical mystery: 1) closed, it’s worthless and impossible to uncover 2) opened, it begs to be closed.

13 thoughts on “Books

  1. susan

    Why “opened, it begs to be closed”? Are we looking just at the physical here? The magic being only held within, much as man himself?

  2. Steve Post author

    Sandoval sends this message:

    “Within? The stuff inside a book is over-rated. Inside brings temporary relief, only, and really only to serve the ego of the author and the reader who wants to think that people are better than gerbils. The library and the book store is filled with books that will be forgotten soon after their publication and that no one will read. The content of books is more likely to kill than to save, more likely to be misrepresented than honored.”

    H. Sandoval

  3. susan

    Over-rated? Not so! For everything we were, we are, and what will be become is written down on paper, forged as if in steel for he who seeks to know. Poor Sandoval, a man who’s lost his way among the pages; find then, the answers that you seek along the links.

  4. Steve Post author

    Sandoval responds:

    “Lost my way? Ha. Name a few things that anyone actually learned, internalized, and acted on positively from any book, other than technical manuals. But I think you’re misunderstanding a book’s condition of duality. I disagree with the physical book: I am at war with its spine. The content of books, novels, whatever, is in the eye of the beholder as to the significance. But make no mistake about content: once a book is published you have no way of knowing whether the author changed her mind about the content the day the thing hit the streets: in this way, all books live in a state of doubt. Are you familiar with the thermodynamics of black holes? People who claim that books contain human knowledge are too trusting for my taste.”

  5. George

    Perhaps it is the desire to be closed that frees the reader to make use of the content, and not simply be consumed by it. Moreover, just because the author regrets the utterance doesn’t indicate a loss of meaning. It strikes me that the constant hedging of the hypertext, the unwillingness to let go is the true locus of doubt–and claim of authorial superiority over the reader who is rendered always a witness even (or especially) when they post a reply.

  6. susan

    Fool! Or maybe the fool be me. What of the prospects of philosophy? The paths alone that once put down in words are opened further by the machete of the mind. The writer has as much right as the reader to react and change the thought–editing goes far beyond the printed pages, them serving merely as a fence to outline territory already thus explored, such as in history, biology, the sciences as well as poetry and the arts. New fences built with every book thereafter published. But yes, the book itself however glowing with the magic knowledge, is only meant to inspire instead a sequel in its pattern. Of black holes I know little–except those that I often find myself within. Confined by spines, my sympathies are all of understanding, and hope that Sandoval himself is honored to exist within a time that stretches boundaries–yea, even those of binding, spine and board. Changes now are instantaneous. No need for recall, blue pen nor a fire. The space of writing, teaching, learning, reading is unbounded. The word so spoken heard within a millisecond; can too be lost or changed in just another. Trusting, yes I am. In learning from what has been read in books long since closed to open up new worlds of thought unto infinity.

  7. susan

    And more, for it worries me, this crass disrespect of books. For is not man himself a mere receptacle of knowledge? One up on visual text alone, he holds the benefit of sound. The mind, a book; undergoing constant revision, but storage just the same of knowledge. Each man a different book, some all encompassing–or so ‘twould seem. And yet, this human book is still more limiting, for as the cover closes, and the body melts back into earth or blows as ashes in the wind, the knowledge, that precise knowledge in its exactitude is lost.

  8. Josh

    Perhaps not knowledge, but certainly experience.. which leads to wisdom.

    Each book is a living thing after a work is published. The state of its authour is inconsequential.

    Nothing tangible will last, be it paper or silicon. It matters not how man gains his wisdom. I prefer to get it through “the spine”. Most readers do. How you prefer to have your story told is purely your own choice gained through your own current wisdom. Just be aware of where your audience lies, and your own desire (or lack thereof) to have your story read.

  9. Mike

    Poor Sandoval. He is forever cut off from the history of Man (which, I admit, has had its ups and downs). He is forever cut off from the thoughts and feelings of people greater than he (which I suspect is quite numerous). The wonderful and fascinating story of the growth of civilization is recorded in books, so that we might have some small chance of not having to re-learn everything every generation.

    He weill never know the likes of Tom Sawyer, Aeneas, Cicero, Aristotle, Macbeth, Holden Caulfield, …

    But perhaps I mistake his contempt for the physical form with a contempt for the contents. This reply makes me think it’s not a mistake:

    Ha. Name a few things that anyone actually learned, internalized, and acted on positively from any book, other than technical manuals.

  10. Steve Post author

    Sandoval responds:


    Contempt is a little strong, wouldn’t you say? I don’t mean to leave you with that impression (but I think that your observation about greatness is meant to pinch me as would any ad hominen approach: I’m a man of flesh . . . well, no, much like Caufield I am a fiction). But I’m also a skeptic. I understand greatness as much as the next person. But let’s be reasonable. Your use of “wonderful” and “fascinating” to describe civilization is your own impression of that history, and for anyone to offer disagreement with the qualitative shouldn’t be interpreted as contempt or even ignorance. And remember: only part of that history is in books and I would argue that most of that has been interpretation. Note also that Aristotle, Virgil, and Cicero did not have what we call books, at least as far as my English professor friends at NMSU tell me.

    I find it curious that your list doesn’t include Galileo, Faraday, Volta, Rumford, Newton, Rubin, Maxwell, even Michelson and Morley, and Sponer.

    P.S.: your politicians (as well as those in my storyspace), who have perhaps read lots of books, have certainly learned a lot from the history of civilization.”

  11. Richard Blaubb

    Am I on the air? Oh goody. My cousin recommended this blogue-thing as a good way to express myself and ponder existence.

    Hey Sandoval, you gotta explain this thing about books closing. I like to weigh the edges of my books down with whatever heavy object is lying around and will remind me I have things to do. That way, this doodad or kludge I need to mess with in ten minutes or so perks up in my memory and I remind myself that I’m gonna die someday, and that there’s duty and whatnot. But in the meantime, the book lets me know I’m alive.

    I’m new to the whole hyperspace thing, but how can I weigh it down with a monkey wrench or other bodge that can remind me I got stuff to do? I hear the Benedictine monks keep a skull on their tables for the same kinda reason.

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