This weekend I stumbled across a feature article published in the most recent Booklist, and just couldn’t resist sharing. Keir Graff writes a fictional account of an apocalypse – but rather than people it with machines or macho headhunters, the author depicts the disintegration of text worldwide, and follows a roaming book reviewer as he searches for other survivors. Graff calls the tale simply, “The Read: A Short Story”.
Evocative book-related metaphors abound. The blast that wipes out most life made “a deep sound like the tearing in half of the telephonebook of the world.” Though his basic survival instincts are intact, the book reviewer wonders why he didn’t learn to do something practical rather than make his living critiquing the original work of others.
Suddenly near extinction, books take on a critical importance for those who seek to distract themselves from the nightmare landscape around them. Books become currency, fuel, even sustenance. The reviews the protagonist recalls verbatim from his brain must sometimes take the place of the original text when the book itself is not available. Questions of the value of the printed page and the resulting despair when no books can be found prod the reader into considering the consequences of the death of the book as a physical object. It’s not pretty.