IF BOOKS WERE LIKE PAINTINGS
Bidders frothing at their bits to own the texts
would dominate the social pages. Writers would
have openings, chardonnayed patrons backing
away from masterpieces of punctuation, sighing
about the price. Copies would seem such dim
simulacra that all attempts at duplication
would be sneered as marginal, unless simply
by students copying down words to learn style.
Secular scriptoria would spring from venture
capital to satisfy the litho market, but
bourgeois pride in owning such epidermal
postcards void of meaning would be hollow.
Long-awaited novels like Richter’s Candle
would make auction catalog covers. Well-researched
histories would have the whiff of Tintoretto.
A Pulitzer triples value overnight. A Nobel?
You’d better have bought very very early—before
it was written. Owning the ideas would grumble
what’s left of the Left, as when The Mapplethorpe
Foundation buys the world supply of Oscar Wildes.
Books would be snatched, the hunts for them daring
and international. Of course security would sprout
its tendrilled apparati, fisheyed and wide-angled,
in pursuit of the purloined. Bookshelves framed
in gold and filigreed, vitrines encrusted with UV-
coated shatterfree plex, low-heat bulbs on remote
dimmers, standard: every book a Gutenberg under lock
and cozy key. Aura would be all-powerful, essential
as a factor in valuation. A busy after-market
in aura would emerge, mature, and be deconstructed
(at a profit) by the experts, who’d not need
to read they’d have read so much. Forgeries
would make the papers. Not A Real Virginia
Woolf, claims the white-coated team of conservators
who had a go at the manuscript. Not True Gore
Vidal Writing Mailer’s Fiction All These Years:
X-Ray Spectrography Proves Beyond All Doubt,
squelching rumors planted in The New York Post.
There’d be fractional gifts of ideas and promised
loans of concepts. A metaphor might name a wing
of a museum in Texas. Young collectors would settle
for the books of small-press poets. The richest man
would always try to own the wisest book. Insurance
would be awesome, but that’s the price you’d pay.