This may be one of those urban myths that gets passed around so often that it seems true, simply because it has been heard again and again. Odd thing this creature, when I was a child I heard the story of a young girl who was water skiing and she fell into the water. As the boat came to pick her up, they discovered she had fallen into “a nest of moccasins” and some of them were still attached to the dead body. As I grew up nearly everyone had heard this story, and nearly every lake of any size had this event happen there, but no one could ever come up with the victim’s name, a date on which it occurred, or even so much as an idea of what year it had happened. But because it was repeated it was believed. The story I refer to is the story of Anne Rice’s novel, “The Interview with A Vampire”. I have heard it sold very poorly at first, but the book was passed around from person to person and simple word of mouth kicked off a worldwide fascination with vampires, once again.
In stark contrast, and in an unusual cohabitation, I grew up with both snake myths and among people who read. My first real stand against one, using the strength of the other, failed, and failed miserably, and I wondered how a society that loved to read could still hate snakes. I still wonder how knowledge is kept in less respect than fable, but considering the success of religion there has to be some genetic source for it.
I had friends who read, and read as if their mind devoured books as a means for survival, and considering the state of rural South Georgia, I will allow this might have been true. Books were hardbound and heavy, but a burden that we bore without complaint, for what was there to be done about it? Libraries were gold mines, they were buffets for the brain, and they were the first and last, and sometimes only, refuge from the world where people believed in Hoop Snakes and talking snakes. We never considered ourselves a network of any sorts but once a book was deemed a good read it would be passed around like a joint, to affect the mind of each person that held it, and inhaled it. To sit down with a new book was like kissing a woman for the first time. I can remember going through every page before the beginning. When was the book copy righted? How many printings? Were there notes? Was there a name on the inside cover? I had a ritual for books that required certain knowledge and investigation before the beginning. It was foreplay of the foreword.
I was a fool. I admit that now, now that it is too late to do anything about it. When computers became ubiquitous I assumed that knowledge would follow. I assumed that given the tools to disseminate information, that we humans would share our thoughts and would share our abilities, and just like my network of readers back when a pocket calculator was a scientific achievement, I thought that we would use this tool to sharpen the mind, not blunt it. What I should have seen was how we were, when given books that told us, very specifically, which snakes were venomous and which were harmless, yet we still blasted away with guns and in terror, that the internet would take its form from superstition and fear rather than that of the intellect.
As a child, when television first became a household item, and color television became a luxury that no one could live without, I saw that it was a bad idea. There was no way to control the content, and there was no way to control the scheduling, and viewers would be held captive by the whims of those who did control these things. Yet even when these obstacles were overcome, television remained, for the most part, an intellectual wasteland. What made a program a success could be guided by an algorithm and each new program became a clone of the last which had finally run out of even the most outlandish, yet trite, ideas.
The internet, I first believed, was different. There, at anyone’s fingertips, was information and knowledge. I did not foresee opinion, opinion screamed at a volume where content is irrelevant, becoming how people were educated, or de-educated as it were, on nearly every topic of conversation. I never thought people would submerge themselves in echo chambers and listen to nothing but the sound of their own thoughts, magnified and blasted back into their brains.
The myth of the Hoop Snake might have foreshadowed all of this, actually, but it is one thing to underestimate simple ignorance, and yet is it downright perilous to underestimate stupidity, and willful ignorance.
I’m not sure how to begin this. I’m not sure it will make a difference, or if this is just my way of being one of the last dinosaurs, shivering and alone, wandering a world I no longer recognize. Yet I still believe in the power, and the magic, and the value, of reading. I may not be able to stem the rising tide of sound bite philosophy and high volume screaming politics, but I can promote the one thing that I think makes the most difference in how a human being thinks and trains to think; reading.
The Mike Firesmith Nomadic Library and Book Exchange, will henceforth begin. I will send books to people and maybe other people will, too. If I can get others to join me we will become The Nest of Moccasins, a group of readers who will send book off to ensnare other human beings into becoming readers. I have no real idea how to begin this, except I have a lot of books, and I have to believe there are other people out there who still read. At some point in our history, there was a person who first shared a book, and the reason was love for reading. If this must begin somewhere then, happily, let it begin again, here, and now, with me.