Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories  March 2011 | issue 423

Six Lost Books

by Sparrow

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Sparrow lives in Phoenicia, New York. One of his hobbies is making lima-bean soup for his ninety-eight-year-old father. His latest book is How to Survive the Coming Collapse of Civilization (And Other Helpful Hints).

October 3

My computer died yesterday, on my birthday. Actually, it died twenty-eight minutes after my birthday ended. The file I was reading froze up, and the screen went blank.

I pushed the reset button, but nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. A third attempt was likewise futile. The screen showed only the eternal blackness of interstellar space. I went to bed.

This morning I awoke and immediately pressed the accursed button. The word dell in large blue letters filled the screen. My heart vibrated with hope. Then the computer went dead again.

Was this the work of a “virus”? Did a Filipino anarchist deliberately destroy my computer in an attack on Western imperialism? If so, I support her (or him). I deserve to suffer for my share in human exploitation.

I wasn’t deeply wounded, though. I scrupulously save my files every day on not one, but two discs. This afternoon I inserted my discs into my Netbook — a small, cheap laptop — and discovered a melancholy truth: all my files from the last two years were missing. Though I save them daily, a glitch had occurred. Perhaps the message that I had received and ignored every day — “Files waiting to be copied onto disc” — was a clue.

I was in the midst of writing at least six books, all of them now utterly vanished. Two were nearly finished — a novel using characters from Archie comics, and a long, digressive attack on humor in the form of a self-help book: The Cure for Humor. Normally I superstitiously avoid speaking of my works in progress, but now I can discuss them, since they no longer exist.


October 4

A writer is in a perpetual struggle with emptiness. He or she awakens each day to the Blank Page and somehow finds words to fill it. But the next day the page returns, just as blank as before. Even a finished book carries traces of emptiness, behind the words and in the corners of the pages. Normally this emptiness is white, but I am confronted with the rarer black variety.

I must confess here that I am a YouTube addict. I’ll innocently search for a Neil Young song at 11:55 p.m., only to tear myself blearily away from a Snoop Dogg video an hour and a half later. Three months ago my computer — or perhaps God — began punishing me for my YouTube excesses: the screen would sometimes become paralyzed, and I would be forced to reboot. Gradually this “bug” spread to my ordinary files. The message seems clear: “Control your YouTube addiction! Go back to reading books!”

I remember some guy in the nineties telling me, “Always make a hard copy of everything you write.” What a grand waste of paper! I thought.

I’m still not sure my books are gone, however. A reputable “techie” could possibly retrieve from the hard drive all my valuable thoughts since February 6, 2008 (the date of my last successful backup), but I am leaving on a trip tomorrow. I may be worrying for nothing. An advanced Zen Buddhist would think: Perhaps I have six books, and perhaps I have none. Either option has its virtues. Apparently an advanced Zen Buddhist is something I am not.


October 5

Today I am in Paris. My parents have brought my wife and me here on vacation. I grew up in Manhattan, and my whole life I have quietly ridiculed Iowan tourists who stand on 57th Street saying, “Holy cow! It’s just like a movie!” But the moment I walked onto a Parisian street, I exclaimed to my wife, Violet, “Holy cow! It’s like we’re in a movie!”

My wife and I are staying at the Hôtel de la Vallée on rue Saint-Denis. Our neighborhood, Les Halles, is full of cheesy clothing stores, tattoo parlors, porn shops, and falafel stands. The stores have names like “Cactus,” “Fresh,” and “El Paso Booty.” In a window I see a t-shirt: noir et fier (“Black and Proud”). I wonder, do they sell any that say: juif et soiopposé; (“Jewish and Conflicted”)?

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