DH: I know no one will believe me, but I have to try anyway. Here it is: My book is not my book. Like the beautifully nuanced and parallel paranoias of the classic 50’s and 70’s films, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the book that purports to be mine is really a soulless alien intelligence.
I’d ask you to recall the subtlety of the original nightmare. In the films, a seed pod in the vicinity of a sleeping victim mimics the original person. It models an exact duplicate of the original, then absorbs its identity and becomes alive. But where the original host was a complex organic form, the replacement is just a mannequin since the aliens have no interiors except for a cold calculating intelligence. They can’t fear, or have passions. They can’t love. They’re in marketing.
The original, complex organic form now dies or wastes away. In another feature that makes these films classic, it’s never specified how the original personality is destroyed. But I can tell you how it happens since it’s happening to me.
When I first suspected that the life force was being sucked out of me by marketers, I padded down to my main library at about midnight and turned on the green glass reading light. I wanted to see if my cloth bound volumes were all right. I couldn’t explain it but I was terrified for them.
As I approached the ceiling height bookshelves I was relieved to see that my cloth bound books were safe. They’re in a closed network, just me and the writer. There were about a thousand writers on those shadowed shelves in their beautifully washed-out cloth covers. The writers’ lives extended out over centuries and continents in an complex and unique combination of creative intelligences that only I could have devised. Because of all the libraries in the world, no library looks just like mine, just like no library looks just like yours. And I thought of all the libraries all over the world that night, none of which looked exactly like mine, each with it’s unique take on the human adventure. And I wanted to protect them all.
Still my books looked helpless and vulnerable and subject to soulless promotions. Before I went back upstairs I even checked behind the wing-back chairs for empty alien seed husks. There were none, not for now anyway.
When I got back upstairs, still groggy and anxious like you are when you wake up from a bad dream, I passed the open door to my study which directly adjoins my bedroom. Deep in the middle of the study, I noticed an unearthly glow coming from the middle of the wide, narrow table that serves as my desk.
It was my ereader. Somehow it had turned itself on. In its sick greenish glow, it was busy reporting my reading activities to my etext provider. I’m not sure what the device was reporting about me but I bet it wanted to break apart my reading experience, to interpose an advertising alien between me and the text I was reading.
For sure it was reporting what I was underlining in my own ebook. Shit, is it really my book when it’s reporting on my reading without my consent? Hey people, I’m a blogger and a freelance writer. When I underline in a text or take notes it’s often in preparation for writing myself. It’s part of my admittedly modest creative process.
How dare anyone interpose themselves between me and my book and turn the book that I thought I owned into an alien intelligence that’s dedicated to reporting on me. That’s the invasion of the pod books.
It’s truly obscene. It’s vulgar and low and shabby. Henry James wouldn’t have liked it but he wouldn’t have been surprised. In his great novel, The Ambassadors, a young American boy goes to Paris and forms a friendship with an older woman in order to gain experience. This is a very 19th century form of education.
But the privacy that was assumed to exist in such a relationship was considered inviolate. There is a wonderful scene where he visits her of an afternoon and has to pass through a succession of entryways, halls and other intermediate chambers before he reached her. That’s called civilization. And it’s private.
Three other references from The Ambassadors: It’s the novel where James describes a character as knowing how to enter a box at the opera. I know how to do that. And yes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. It’s also the novel where James says that to do a thing well, you must give your whole soul to it. And it’s the novel where there is an appeal not to drop old friends just because you’ve moved on. That got to me too because we all do that. Maybe if we were truly civilized, we wouldn’t.
I wish we could live in this distillation of 19th century culture but with movies and the Internet. I wish marketers would realize that if I was interested in spying then I would read Le Carre novels. I don’t want to be subjected to it myself.
There are better models for marketing than The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Why can’t advertisers do good by helping us communicate? Help everyone to talk. Use your resources to encourage conversations about books. Conversations where anything can be said and where nothing is monitored. You don’t have to monitor. Just get people to talk and you will sell more. Markets love talk.
Down with the pod books! See BOTH VERSIONS of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and be aware. Don’t fall asleep.