":never tell a word about your life/ in any book / if you can help it" -- Miyo Vestrini
Of the many terrible things about books, one is that anyone can open them. Books sit around, inert and vulnerable, have no form of resistance to whoever wants to put their hands on them. Books don't struggle out of a person's grasp. Their pages aren't usually poisonous. For the most part they are not too heavy or too whatever (rough, hot, cold, slippery, prickly) to hold. Books are, in fact, nearly universally inviting, and although I have no evidence that this came about intentionally, it seems as if printed books are generally designed to be the size of an average human meal so that we will be tempted to carry them around and sometimes devour them.
The unguardedness and portability of books is a real disadvantage: it makes them prone to ending up in the wrong hands. Anyone who knows how to read a book can just pick up a book and read it, even if that book is the entirely incorrect one for them, even if it is in fact the case that the book was written to spite whoever is now reading it, or written as a behind the back insult of that particular reader which now is unfortunately an insult in their face, or written in hopes of for whatever reason finding any other person to read it except for the person who happens to be reading it right now.
That just anyone can read a book has always been top of my list of the reasons to never write one. Every time I fail to not write a book, or do what is much worse, which is fail to not publish one, I punish myself with the thought that the book will end up in the wrong person's hands. (In that I decided to make my life writing and publishing books I will just go ahead and confess to being that specific sort of failure that is a failed not-writer. Now I barely even fail to resist.) What if, for example, something I have made brings comfort to the enemies of all that is good? What if something I have written delights a Silicon Valley tech-lord or a cruel and boorish person or a narrow, suspicious, puritanical adherent to self-improvement or someone who believes that literature is for some elite class of people to whom they themselves belong?
It is ridiculous, also, to spill out one's secrets about oneself, to compulsively offer one's thoughts up to an unvouched for anyone, ridiculous, too, to have left a record behind of having lived so that even death itself will not relieve you of the burden of exposure. Is there ever an instance in which a permanent record has been good for the person on whom it is kept? That's what employers, schools, data-miners, and governments do to us. Spies do this, too, and to write a book is as if to just go ahead and offer to spy on oneself. I would much rather be a mysterious person, but instead, I am a writer.
My favorite books tend announce from the start who shouldn't read them. Rousseau's Julie: The New Heloise is a hilarious novel for intellectuals and women that mostly argues that no one should read novels, particularly not intellectuals and women. It promises that a book like itself can only have a terrible effect and that readers should bail out while they can. Stendhal's book On Love is, I think, the best book ever written, not for the least of reasons that Stendhal writes this in one of his prefaces:
"I beg not to open this book every man who has not been unhappy for imaginary reasons"
Along with those who have never been unhappy for imaginary reasons, Stendhal also does not want the book read by positive thinkers or rich business people or people who are his era’s equivalents of grad students, and he admits that only four of one hundred people who have read Corinne (another good book, even if he is having a little fun at its expense) will understand the one he has written. As Rousseau so often does in his books, too, Stendhal then goes on to address his own book’s many flaws.
Francophone writers know to lead with repulsion, which is why I love to read them. And perhaps French readers know, too, that to read any further in a book that warns you of itself is your own fault. I want all my books to be such warnings against themselves, not just in their beginnings but completely all the way through, like an airplane made only of emergency exits. But the trick is I also want them to be seductions, because it is not the case that no one at all should read them, just not the wrong people. I want them to be adored by and vital to whoever is supposed to read them and imperceptible or at least offensive to all the rest.
Stendhal states who it is that should be reading his book after he lists who shouldn't:
To blush suddenly at the thought of certain youthful doings; to have committed follies through sensibility [and to suffer for them, not because you cut a silly figure in the eyes of the salon, but in the eyes of a certain person in the salon; to be in love at the age of twenty-six in good earnest with a woman who loves another, or even (but the case is so rare that I scarcely dare write it, for fear of sinking again into the unintelligible, as in the first edition)—or even to enter the salon where the woman is whom you fancy that you love, and to think only of reading in her eyes her opinion of you at the moment, without any idea of putting on a love-lorn expression yourself—these are the antecedents I shall ask of my reader.
If only every reader were required to provide evidence that they blush when recollecting certain youthful doings, books would be a lot safer. As it is, however, they remain as vulnerable as ever, open to any harm that could come to them, capable, too, of causing it, and yet we read and write them anyway, allowing even unblushing tech lords to pick them up.