Wednesday, May 20, 2009


As far as I can remember, I always felt the bookshop to be a most uplifting and fascinating place. The long bookshelves weighed down by books seem to endure such exertion that could only be explained by the invisible treasures nested in those volumes. On the contrary, I found half-empty shelves as a rather desolate sight.
It must have started from a very early age, one of these times secluded from remembrance. I recall, however, as a young child, being taken and having great enjoyment to go to the small bookshop of the neighborhood (when such place still existed everywhere in France).

Then came the time when I could genuinely explore the nature of these riches, when I could break open the treasure-troves and see beyond the shine of covers and images. There may have been some disillusionment, but nothing radical. Books were more than a texture and a smell, there was more in their pages than the crisp sound of rubbing them against each others; there was lives and worlds within them, at least as potentialities, and as their reader, I could make them real.
We often heard that people who read "too much" lives away from the "true reality" of everyday life, I heard it again a few days ago. Assiduous readers would somehow spend their life in an "ivory tower". I feel a mixture of sadness and pity for these people, they clearly never read a proper book in their life, or they did not understand it, which amounts to the same. The lives told in Flaubert, Stendhal, Dostoyevsky, DH Lawrence or Lu Xun are unarguably more intense and enlightening than the ones we can perceive in most of our mundane existence, with the exception of being genuinely in love (which may be the last authenticity left in our consumerist societies, and many don't even have an idea of what being in love means). Everyday life is mostly made of social codes, affected attitudes and deceptive postures; none of these provide with an actual knowledge of what life fundamentally is; rather, it prevents any such inquiry about the cogency of these forms of human relationships, by positing them as necessary for social interactions.

Bookshops have changed however. And I changed with them. My enjoyment of these places have evolved and I still feel elated whenever I go to those modern book-malls: Barnes&Nobles, FNAC, Kinokuniya,....
Small bookshops still exist, sometimes as touristic landmarks: 'Shakespeare and Company' and the bookshops around St Michel in Paris, those in the Kanda-Jimbosho area in Tokyo, those in India,...etc. In the case of large book-malls however, more and more often, the first transports get quickly chidden and are replaced by a mixture of irritation and disgust, as if a beautiful sanctuary had been defiled and infected with an irreconcilable faith: Entire sections (and they keep expanding as a contagious disease) are now covered with self-help books, finance books, management books,...etc.
I am not suggesting here that nothing interesting can be written about management, finance or self-help, some of these books are actually good, it's just the proportion of the good to the bad ones that I find alarming. Bad books have always existed, there are bad novels, bad philosophy books, bad history books,...etc, but when we consider any of the three above-cited category, we found that 90% (if not more) of the books are just very very bad, and even in the case of the good ones, most of the time, the truly interesting part could have been written, without any loss (and actually a great gain of time and intensity), in the fifth or even the tenth of the length of the actual book. In addition, those books are often written in a dreadfully poor style, which makes their reading a painful experience.
The causes for this intellectual plague are multiple: While a small bookshop owner was individually responsible for the choice of the books he proposed to his customers, today's book-malls are flooded with any trash, amoral, and therefore irresponsible, editors may find opportune to propose to the public.
And this public, indeed, often consists in a bunch of schizoid individuals, conditioned from an early age to avoid any constructive introspection, and who grew so alienated to their very own emotional self, that they have to rely on an external guidance to know that it's only by considering others point of view that you can achieve an harmonious social life (this principle already covers most of what all self-help books have ever said, in one way or another), that's otherwise called empathy, and is a fundamental trait of human beings.

But, so is our world that economic structures are now determining the mental framework of human existence. We may however be reaching an extremum of this trend. Schizophrenia is ultimately destructive, at an individual or at a social level. The redefinition of human nature as being essentially selfish, so popular in contemporary thought, is clearly absurd: If it was so, human beings would simply have never evolved into civilizations. At some point of time, this fallacious idea would have to be exposed and rejected. We are not selfish individuals and should not leave our social organization to utilitarian considerations, this is the primary condition for us to create a more harmonious and livable society. And it will save all the trees wasted to publish volumes full of useless advices, which reduce the infinite diversity of human emotions to simplistic analytical categories.

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