Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for The Pale Ones by Bartholomew Bennett with a fascinating guest post entitled: Books are good for us.
My thanks to Anne Cater for the tour invite, Inkandescent and Bartholomew Bennett.
The Pale Ones.
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 2246 KB
- Print Length: 98 pages
- Publisher: Inkandescent (17 Oct. 2018)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07G662R18
- Amazon UK
Pulped fiction just got a whole lot scarier…
Few books are treasured. Most linger in the dusty purgatory of the bookshelf, the attic, the charity shop, their sallow pages filled with superfluous knowledge. And with stories. Darker than ink, paler than paper, something is rustling through their pages.
Harris delights in collecting the unloved. And in helping people. Or so he says. He wonders if you have anything to donate. To his ‘children’. Used books are his game. Neat is sweet; battered is better. Tears, stains, broken spines – ugly doesn’t matter. Not a jot. And if you’ve left a little of yourself between the pages – a receipt or ticket, a mislaid letter, a scrawled note or number — that’s just perfect. He might call back.
Hangover Square meets Naked Lunch through the lens of a classic M. R. James ghost story. To hell and back again (and again) via Whitby, Scarborough and the Yorkshire Moors. Enjoy your Mobius-trip.
Guest Post: Books are good for us.
Everyone knows that, right? And aren’t the good and the great – the Pullmans and the Gaimans, the Matthew Arnolds and the Leavises – always clambering on up into the pulpit to preach the manifold benefits of literacy? Through reading we can learn, find escape, exercise empathy, experience purifying catharsis, find amusement, and purge the darkest of our emotions. The benefits, the reasons, for reading seem nigh on endless.
I don’t propose to take exception with that idea. Or at least not completely. But might not there exist also a flipside to all of this positivity and uplift? What might we find on the underbelly of this commonplace if, like a curious child lifting a rock, we examine what lies beneath, wriggling pale and unsighted in the dank, sunless soil?
For isn’t there here also another story: one that dates, at the very latest, to the first great flourishing of modern horror and science fiction? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, makes this particular idea plain – the notion that knowledge, pure and simple, might not be an altogether unalloyed good. I don’t need here to unpack or explain the legacy of this – the mad scientists, the post-apocalyptic landscapes, the dystopian futures – are all inextricably woven into our common culture.
Likewise in fiction, the ‘book’ as an object or symbol is far from a universal good. Examples abound to make this plain – think of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, or The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows in Perez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club (filmed as The Ninth Gate). Clearly, in contrast to what some would have us believe, there is a darker side to the conception of books as simple beneficence.
Pondering all of this, I began to wonder: what if there was another way in which the idea of books as objects that benignly give – books understood as conduits of knowledge and virtue – might be subverted?
That idea – or something like it – was the seed idea for my novella, The Pale Ones. Generally, we conceive of books as resources, something from which we imbibe – whether simple entertainment, experience, or learning.
But what if the boundary between reader and book were more porous than that?
What if the conduit of knowledge was not a simple one-way path?
What if, while drinking knowledge from these books, the books were also leaching something from us – an imprint of our secret selves? Something hidden that might be used against us? To think that way, reading becomes an act of exposure. It begins to constitute something like a risk…
The Pale Ones describes the journey of youngish man, caught up in his own half baked scheme of making a living from the book trade. Much like the narrator of my story, I’ve spent a certain amount of time selling used books. And although I make no claim for especial expertise in the field of antiquarian literature, what I do know about is the minutiae of cleaning up the books, readying them for sale.
The ideal book, from that point of view, is clean, unread, un-inscribed.
Untouched, or near as…
Yet of course, second-hand books for the most part, fall short of this ideal. Some trace of the previous owner is usually present in one way or another. Just on a practical, physical level, there are the reminders left inside the page – the bookmarks, the receipts, the shopping lists. Travel tickets are a perennial favourite – train and bus, airline boarding cards, even ferry permits. Then there are the less usual items, the unexpected – the paper money, the pressed flowers, the club membership. I even found once an expired credit card (Access, if anyone remembers that). But another, even more personal category of abandoned bookmarks exists: the personal – letters and photographs, drawings and doodles. The materials of the books themselves are also potential repositories. Pages are frequently stained – the great triumvirate of sweat, blood and tears.
The more of these leavings I discovered, the more macabre my ruminations became.
What if —
What if someone collected all of these left-behinds? If they drew power from the things found between the pages of old books, in the manner of a modern day shaman. There were clear examples, I thought – certain famed real world artists who had at times conjured great power from ‘found’ objects. Joseph Beuys, came to mind as an example.
But what if that someone who found the left-behind detritus of our lives turned out to be a more sinister figure? What if the parts of us left behind in books could be used in some arcane conjuration – or in the construction of an occult trap?
Thus was born Harris.
A mentor of sorts to my hapless narrator.
A bookdealer with an unhealthy interest in the tanned and damaged, the dog-earred and the tobacco-infused.
A collector of the unloved and unwanted: books and people both.
And although in the end Harris slipped some way beyond my initial conception, still more than a trace of those untrustworthy books, porous and thirsty, remains in the peculiar, papery alchemy which he practices.
Very occasionally, I am asked to sign a copy of my little book. And in that rare circumstance, pace Harris, I have a little formula of my own to follow:
I sign always with the left hand.
I use a pen loaded with ink of a gorgeous coppery-red.
And I write a single message:
Don’t be tempted to use a bookmark.
In writing the above, focusing as I have on physical, paper books, I’ve rather neglected the matter of digital content, e-readers and the like. All I will say here is that if the prospect of a sinister, pernicious force gleaning intimate, private details from the media you consume seems too much of a stretch, then possibly you haven’t been paying overmuch attention to the news. But that perhaps is a different kind of story…
About Bartholomew Bennett.
Bartholomew Bennett was born in Leicester to an American father and English mother. Since childhood, he has been a dedicated reader of all manner of books, but especially tales of the “horror”.He has a First Class Honours degree in Literature from the University of East Anglia and is a long-standing member of Leather Lane Writers Group. He has had various jobs: primarily software developer, but also tutor, nanny, data-entry clerk, call-centre rep, decorator and handy-man. He has also been known to dabble in online bookselling. Currently, he lives in southeast London with his wife and two children. And in fact, some of the paper-packed rooms that feature in The Pale Ones bear a remarkable resemblance to locales in his own abode…
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