As part of this fantasy, of course, I would probably need to grow a bigger butt because I find I can never sit as long as I'd like to. Also, my children would have to be magically and benignly spirited away: They have been known to tear books out of my hands. And come to think of it, the rest of the world would need to go away, too, except for Yo Yo Ma and someone to take drink orders.
But here's the part I would never have to worry about: finding something to read. That's the heaven-sent quality of books. You finish one, another rises to take its place. This blessed superfluity is, I think, one of the things that keeps me alive.
That is, until I add my own book to the teeming hordes. Then mortality suddenly enters the picture. Because, in the face of all those other titles, my own seems drastically tiny — and capable at any moment of being swallowed whole.
To switch metaphors... Calvin Trillin once calculated that the shelf life for the average book is somewhere between milk and yogurt. Mine's been out a little more than a week, and already I can smell the cultures growing. Before long, the unsold copies, with their faintly rank odor, will be taken down and returned to the publisher; the shelves will be scrubbed clean with new titles; and I will go back to the quarantine of being merely a writer.
But would I trade those few weeks for anything? No, indeed. And do I look forward to being part of another author's few weeks? Yes, I do. In his preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth said there's an "implied contract between author and reader." It's a contract I hope never to break, whichever end I'm holding up.
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Louis Bayard is the author of the national bestseller The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, a New York Times Notable book. A staff writer for Salon.com, Bayard has written articles and reviews for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Nerve.com, and Preservation, among others. Bayard lives in Washington, D.C.
Books mentioned in this post
Louis Bayard is the author of The Black Tower