“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” —Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

The sky was blue as an Autobot’s eye, and I felt stupid enough without my real car breaking down. I’d been to Target and Toys ‘R Us a bunch of times just to hold these things in my hands, turning them over to see how the light bounced off the clear plastic shrink-wrapping when I moved them, how enticing the packaging made them look. But I hadn’t even thought about Transformers since I was a kid, even though the show and toy line had undergone several alterations since then, since I thought I’d grown up.

On Wednesday Borders surprised almost no one by filing for bankruptcy. Authors are pissed because the company has not yet paid for the books it sold over the Christmas period. Readers are pissed because another of their local bookstores has bitten the dust.

As a reader it may seem strange that I’ve always had a strong distaste for bookstores. I hate that bookstores have “literature” sections that are a few shelves long, because most of what they sell is not literature. It’s celebrity biographies, books to accompany fad TV shows, and imitations of imitations. For me, they were a necessary evil – a place to visit to sift through the crap and find what you need.

In Dundee, during my university years, we had a handful of bookstores in the town centre, and several littered throughout the West End – the university district. Even by my third year, well before the world economy shat the bed, Dundee’s bookstores were in trouble. They began closing and reopening at smaller premises, with selections more focused on commercial books. The independent stores closed altogether.

“omg. this girl is a wack-a-doo.”

-The Denver Post


Finally. Somebody has noticed my pumpkin. A major newspaper has mocked my belief that the picture on this pumpkin looks like Jesus.

I have sent pictures of the white pumpkin with the natural growth markings that look like a figure to quite a few media outlets now, with nary a word.


Just who the hell do you think you are?

Excuse me?

 

It sort of made sense for you to write those last two books, because you actually know a little bit about the topics. You study language learning and social reasoning in your lab. But pleasure? What makes you think you have anything interesting to say about pleasure? What do you have for us next — a book of poetry? Perhaps a graphic novel?

Well, look, I admit that pleasure looks like a bit of a stretch. But the main idea did grow out of my research on children, on studies that suggest that we are natural-born essentialists, making sense of things and people in terms of the deeper properties they posses, not their superficial appearances. And then I became interested in how this essentialism can influence what we like. So take the example of the pleasure of taste.

Hey, that reminds me. Have you noticed the mistake on page 100? You say that ebay doesn’t allow the sale of food. You know this is mistaken, right? You meant unpreserved food.

Yes (softly).

Well, that must be embarrassing. I’m sure there are many other mistakes that you’ve missed. Such as scientists you forgot to cite. And then there are all the people you should have thanked in the acknowledgments but forgot to. Lots of hurt feelings! Anyhow, go on. You were talking about food.

So, uhm, the idea is that the pleasure of taste is influenced by what we think we are tasting, in the same way that the pleasure of art is influenced by what we think we are looking at, or the pleasure of sex is influenced by –

Oh yes, sex. I bet you get a lot of questions about sex. Do people ever ask you about sexual fetishes? Rubber and women’s shoes and that sort of thing?

Always.

Do you have a good explanation of what’s going with that?

No.

Really? No idea at all?

I’m afraid not.

Well, that’s too bad. Let’s talk about something you might know more about. I wanted to ask you about the pleasures of the imagination, something you spend two chapters on. One idea that you explore is the notion of multiple selves—the idea that a single brain is composed of many different people, often with competing interests. These selves are often at war—one wants to diet; the other wants to eat cake—and they use different strategies to try to take control over the body. But sometimes the generation of alternative selves can be a source of pleasure. We like to become a different person when playing a video game or immersing ourselves into a book, or, for children, when playing with an imaginary friend. Am I getting this right?

Basically, yes.

Well, I was wondering if multiple selves can also be a source of pain. So, for example, one can split into two, with one self asking question and the other answering them—and the questions can be thought up to be particularly unpleasant, picking at exactly what the answerer most dreads. And that would be awful.

Yes.

 

 

Most relationships after a certain age begin with a body or two under the bed.Usually these are ex-lovers, whose legacy manifests tangibly in shoeboxes of old letters and photos, those morbid and sentimental curations that pulse faintly from the closet shelf.Or maybe they are the specters of bad parenting, grade school bullies, criminal records, actual deaths, and surely, in some rare cases, actual cadavers. In my case, it took the form of a garbage bag full of S&M equipment.

I’m not always fond of conceptual art–the self-reference is, for me, often tiresome, and after the first chuckle upon discovery, most pieces quickly succumb to a system of diminishing returns. But artist Caleb Larsen’s “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter” gets pretty much everything right (except maybe the name).

“A Tool” is an object which continually tries to sell itself on ebay. In one simple, elegant movement, then, it challenges notions of ownership, possession, value, trade, self-interest and, of course, capitalism. By purchasing it, one agrees to abide by the rules established not only by the author, but by ebay. Meaning you can’t bid again on it once it’s in your possession. In other words, you can’t keep it. But you can turn a profit. And because the artist gets 15% of each transaction, so can he. The temporary custodian of the piece has an interest, therefor, in bringing the work to people’s attention, and quickly. It is a brilliant, and quite active, statement about art-as-commodity.

It’s one of those rare pieces of art that makes you suspect the artist is laughing at your expense, but is so excellent in its execution that you happily submit to the (s)laughter.