“Empire Of Illusion,” A Book I Haven’t Read Yet


One of the great things about the bookstore business is you get to be the first to see what’s new. And when you work for a small, used bookstore, the buyers are pretty picky about what they want to carry, so usually the new books are pretty damn good. I mean, besides the Twilight books. But hey, we’re still a business and those books sell. So does Oscar Wao, so does Netherland and so does Three Cups Of Tea.

Chris Hedges, war correspondent, former seminarian, columnist at truthdig, and author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning has a new book out: Empire Of Illusion: The End Of Literacy And The Triumph Of Spectacle. (A pretty eloquent synopsis of his thesis here.)

My first thought when I read the title and before I inquired further, was that this was one of those books that would sit on the shelves for a long, long time, another tiring installment in an ongoing and often fully-justified litany of denouncement and finale: the end of food, the end of childhood, the end of male dominance, the end of politics, the end of feminism, the end of friendship, the end of sex, the end of books and the so-called end of literacy.

Nobody, I was convinced, wants to be told that so much is ending, even if what’s ending might be bad. And, furthermore, how is another book about another mini-apocalypse going to change things for people?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy reading these books, or at least reading excerpts from them, because I like being reappraised about just how skewed, warped and illusory everything is, so I can take comfort in the fact that I’m spending my Friday night at home reading John Berger, listening to Kronos Quartet, sipping cheap wine and watching my girlfriend take experimental photographs of our pet snail. Generally speaking, I like it when highly-literate people justify my own misanthropic tendencies.

All these searing denunciations of how we live, all the catastrophic predictions of what will come to be and what is, in fact already happening, don’t make me want to run off to Burning Man, strip naked and take K bumps with a pansexual clown in a crotchless beekeeper suit, it just makes me want to stay home and read.

But I don’t think I’m like everyone who comes into a bookstore. (Nor like everyone who goes to Burning Man.) So I was delighted when, a week after it came in, a man dressed like a priest bought the book and we had a brief, but spirited conversation about just how interesting Hedge’s vision is, especially when he talks about pornography and Obama. I admitted I hadn’t read the book yet, only blurbs about it.

“Yeah man,” the man dressed like a priest said, “he says that pornography transforms women into corpses! That in fact, it’s the equivalent of necrophilia. And Obama, in his opinion, is just another brand-name, a placebo to keep us blissed-out and blind.”

“Wow,” I muttered as I handed him his change.

The next time the book comes in, I’m definitely going to read it. In the meantime, I challenge you, some brave soul, to read this book, review it here at The Rumpus, so that the desire for me to read it will be stoked even more.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →