Twitter is in an uproar after one user posted a picture of several books sliced in half and explained that a colleague had called him a “book murderer.” Books, however, should be whatever you want to make of them—as long as they’re being read.
Yesterday my colleague called me a ‘book murderer’ because I cut long books in half to make them more portable. Does anyone else do this? Is it just me? pic.twitter.com/VQUUdJMpwT
— Alex Christofi (@alex_christofi) January 21, 2020
Now, there’s a couple of things going on in terms of the widespread reaction to Christofi’s Tweet and the fact that David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is trending on Twitter. First off, there’s discourse over the morality and the decision to “murder” a lengthy book by slicing it in half for ease of carrying. Some people treat their tomes as precious objects, and that’s also fine, even if I generally disagree.
Secondly, there’s a sideways conversation occurring over the choice of books Christofi has on display, especially Infinite Jest, which has come to be seen as a sort of shorthand for white male literary posturing—Eau de Guy in Your MFA.
There’s no doubt that many, many folks have had a visceral reaction to seeing those chopped-up books. SparkNotes is sending in a SWAT team:
— SparkNotes (@SparkNotes) January 21, 2020
They were reminded of former tragedies:
Did it once many years ago when travelling with partner and only had one book between us. Still suffering from PTSD.
— Ivan Pope (@ivan007) January 21, 2020
The most common reaction was a mix of disdain and horror.
My head says you can do what you like with your stuff.
My emotional response to this: pic.twitter.com/OblkUFXbLR
— DVdR (@DVDReeck) January 21, 2020
And a helpful alignment chart was made:
What to do if your book’s too big: an alignment chart pic.twitter.com/cYb4PHggPF
— Louis Eon (@QuipThe) January 21, 2020
Call me chaotic evil, I guess, because I’m with this Twitter user:
why are people so precious about the books they buy? crack the spine, spill stuff on it , dog ear pages who cares as long as you’re reading. swear to god people care more about the satisfaction of others seeing books on their shelf than actually having read them.
— just keatn now (no long name or anything) (@ktnfrqhr) January 21, 2020
I love books. Like many writers and ardent readers, I adore and venerate the object. I was raised by a Barnes & Noble. I once ran a bookstore! Certainly, rare books and special editions should be preserved and kept intact—and you should never mess up someone else’s book that’s not your own. But also as a writer and a reader, I don’t see why it’s so troubling to slice up a mass-market paperback, if it means you’re actually going to read the book.
I love nothing more than well-read books with dog-eared pages, pages folded down to mark your favorite parts, spines cracked to show just how much that book has been treasured. When people who keep their books practically frozen in carbonite lend me one, I hate the feeling of having to handle it with kid gloves. It’s a book. It was meant to be read, not kept looking like a new car. Take that baby for a spin.
I’m obviously in the minority here, and I’m okay with that. I think it’s good that humanity, in general, has a kneejerk reaction to the purposeful damaging of books. Too often the destruction of books has been a tactic of censorship and a mark of fascism. But that’s not what’s happening here, so I think we can all take a few deep, calming breaths. And if you like reading actual books, the paper-bound product, but find it difficult to carry, say, all of Les Misérables with you on the subway every day, I’m giving you permission to cut it up. Victor Hugo has already forgiven you.
As for Christofi’s choice of books—well. Add me to the list of people who are unperturbed by seeing Infinite Jest get the shears.
if the book is infinite jest, it’s okay to cut it in half because otherwise it’ll clog up the shredder https://t.co/4uSHyTSSeS
— ʜᴏɢ (@anicacoela) January 21, 2020
I’m so happy Infinite Jest is trending right now. I am always here to drag David Foster Wallace. Always.
Infinite Jest: When you want to justify your misogyny and regressive views on women.
Infinite Jest: When you think carrying around a book is the same as a personality pic.twitter.com/LxiU3rVFX6
— So You Think You Understand Consent (@clear_consent) January 21, 2020
i took infinite jest out to the vermont woods and shot it to pieces with a .22, wheres my checkmark
— 3liza is going to be a guest at NorWesCon (@3liza) January 21, 2020
If the book is Infinite Jest? Fine by me. pic.twitter.com/ijJX521sBg
— andi zeisler (@andizeisler) January 21, 2020
There’s also the fact that Infinite Jest is a slog to read under any circumstances, but makes even less sense without its accompanying footnotes—which renders it a curious choice to be sliced.
Infinite jest….. don’t you need the footnotes and shit in the back of the book to comprehend it……….. ???? https://t.co/0vTdKhkwtj
— dubya (@jadedubya) January 21, 2020
The main issue here is that this makes it impossible to read infinite jest because footnotes 🧐 https://t.co/E6V1I9M4RX
— Jacqueline Kantor (@jhkantor) January 21, 2020
And thus the discourse becomes a mystery. Did Christofi, the book murderer, actually read Infinite Jest, or did he, like so many before him, pretend to read Infinite Jest for some imagined clout understood only by guys in your MFA? If so, does that mean he cut up a bunch of books in order to start a Twitter readers’ war? I have many questions. But even my rejection of Infinite Jest doesn’t mean I’m backing down on my stance that it’s just fine to halve your books if it means that they’ll be read.
I’m very sorry if you’re reading this and you’re a fan of both Infinite Jest and keeping pristine dust-jackets. We would probably not be friends.
(image: Pexels, Twitter)
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