Most readers, myself included, like to distinguish between trivial and essential books. We often dismiss the former as mere entertainment while elevating the latter to literal sainthood. Who isn’t familiar with the famous “how enlightening” or some other statement to a similar effect after a person finishes a chapter?
Such a classification seems unavoidable. I find it extremely useful as well. But only if you keep in mind that all books lie to an extent, whether trivial or essential. Not necessarily because authors have evil intentions but because they are human beings.
Any text is a construct, even nonfiction. To be more precise, texts are reconstructed from thoughts, memories, or a mixture of both before they are even styled and formatted.
Yet, it is only too easy to slap a book open and imagine yourself reading the author’s mind directly.
That never happens.
What hits your pupils and your synapses instead is closer to a messy amalgamation of the following:
How do I know, you ask? Well, I don’t know for sure. The above, let’s call it a working theory, is still closer to an informed belief than anything else. I formed it by analyzing my diaries written daily over the last decade.
Granted, these are not materials destined for publication, but still: I couldn’t help but notice how useful they were as I reread them while at the same time recognizing clearly that they weren’t fully rendering the person I had been.
It is unreasonable to expect any text to be capable of such a feat. But if you accept that even a diary cannot do justice to its author, how can you ever fully trust a book written by somebody else on an external subject to do so?
Yet, accepting that books are partial lies also makes you understand that they are necessary and beneficial. Wisdom can exist without being a perfect rendering of a person’s mind, but it cannot exist if the people receiving it believe it is.
So, while my flower arrangement diary helps me understand my artistic journey, I must constantly remind myself how different and unknowable my authentic trajectory must have been. Similarly, my journal of tears chronicles only what I understood and could formulate of my inner demons and other holes, but not the hells I must have encountered. And so it is, of course, for my happiness diary, and – I extrapolate – for every other goddamn book you’ll ever open.
Reminiscence and reality seem irreconcilable on a fundamental level. Once the truth is gone, you can only remember it with one or the other spin on it, but the naked thing has forever disappeared in the oceans of all our brains. And that is a great relief because some lies are just necessary for us to keep dreaming about what must have been.