Friday, August 8, 2014

A Real Book

I met a lovely woman at this dance show the other night. She and her husband asked about the translation of my shoulder tattoo, which is in Hebrew and taken from a poem by Stephen Crane, which led to a discussion of The Red Badge of Courage, to what is taught in high school English these days, and about books, and my book. She asked whether she could get my novel at Amazon or in bookstores and when I told her it was distributed by the publisher, she said “Oh, so it’s a real book.”

And I felt this as a blow, even though I’d come out on the sunny side of her assessment, I guess. Immediately, I thought about all of my self-published friends who had to do quite a lot of “real” work, stuff I didn’t have to do—cover design, formatting, etc.—and who invested mass quantities of their own time and money to make their “real” product available. Now, I will note that the discussion had also included this very nice lady telling me about a book her relative had written (doesn’t everyone have a relative with a book??) and so, her assessment about real books vs. not-real books very well could have been deferring to me after talking about her relative’s self-published effort. Honestly, she was very kind.

Still, it got me thinking about those types of comments and especially, about that word: real. When I explain to people that I have my mother, and also my biological mother, whom I met when I was twenty. “Oh, so that’s your real mom.” When people are curious about the fact that our kids are called by their middle names. “Oh, so (first name) is his real name.” And you end up sounding like a curmudgeon if you try to clarify. Someone forces their analysis on you and you are the one in danger of offending.

So yes, my book is a real book. And so is that one, and that one, and that one. And you are a real person. At least, I think you are. And this is a real day, and the next, and the next. To each his own reality, I'd say, but maybe we should keep them to ourselves sometimes.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka