Tafelmusik

An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Literary: Anything waxing literary and Classical goes here. Occasionally I’ll put up a post which is entirely or largely a poem. Those go in Poetry. I even sometimes (though I would be the first to tell you that “literary criticism is bunk”) post some critique.

Tafel :: literary :: critique

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson

The most mind-altering thing about this book is its catalogue record. At least, it's the first thing I noticed when looking for The Men Who Stare at Goats after having it recommended to me.

After talking with a friend, I was told, "If you like all those crazy Cold War spy novels, you'll love it!" Never one to turn down a book recommendation from a fellow addict, I wrote it down and forgot about it. Next time I was at the library, I pulled out The List, re-noticed it, and looked it up.

As I said, the first think I noticed about it was its catalogue record. Specifically, the line that said, "355.3RON; 1 copy; Fiction Book; in Fiction books".

As an astute student, no doubt, of the Dewey Decimal System, you'll probably note an inconsistency right away. See, the 300s are Social Sciences, not Fiction (800s). 355.3, specifically, concerns the "Organization and personnel of military forces".

Of course, even though they'd given it the wrong call number, at least it was part of the fiction collection, so I should be able to find it by last name in the stacks.

No luck.

On a lark, I decided to see if they'd mishelved it amongst the militaria anyway (which would've been immensely amusing — if you know anything about the book, you know it's about "telekinetic special ops" and "psychic spies"); and of course (since you know I did eventually find it) they did. I discussed my amusement about this shelving mistake with the librarian as I checked out.

See, before I go on, you should know that military fiction is a genre with a fastidious readership: their particularity for authenticity and realism is really surpassed only by the "serious historical fiction" and the "hard science fiction" readers. No author knowing the "reality" demands of the military-fiction audience would write anything as crazy as Uri Geller being hired as a psychic spy for a top-secret project inspired by hippies. No author wanting to sell his books to the savvy and shrewd military-history buffs consuming his particular subgenre would dare go so far as to expect his reader to swallow the training of special-ops in Zen-like meditation practices so they could stare at, and will to death, the eponymous goats. And a general who believed he just needed to concentrate a little harder to walk through his office wall would be a character for a comedy author — not a well-researched and serious military-fictioneer. Such an author would be accused roundly of not doing his research, writing sci-fi under the guise of military fiction, and making a mockery of the genre.

So the only way this book got written was by being true.

The mind-altering thing about its catalog record? The call number is correct.

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