You can read my books any way you like, in any order you like. It would be incredibly conceited and unrealistic of me to think I can tell you which way to read my books. But occasionally I meet a reader who has actually read one of my books and responds with a dazed: “I don’t know what to make of this.” This article is meant to help them.
Now, I am not talking about the people who just hated the book. That can’t be helped, and there’s nothing anybody can do about that. Somebody who really can’t stand a book usually puts it down long before it ends, and that’s perfectly okay. We can’t like every book we attempt to read. Some books are not for us. They are meant for a different audience, and not finishing them is the right thing to do.
But there are these other readers, who might actually be intrigued by one of my books and yet, even after finishing it, they have this feeling that the book was trying to tell them something, but they have no idea what. These are the people who I think might benefit from a little help.
Here is an order in which my books can be read that might incrementally get the reader ready to enter my world and to understand what I am trying to say.
- When Sword Met Bow
- Ping & the Snirkelly People
- The Few Who Count
- Vacuum County
- Theodosia and the Pirates (2 books)
- Our Lady of Kaifeng (2 books)
This is not the order in which I wrote them. It is not an order listing them in terms of their importance. This is an order that might enable a reader to master some basic ideas before seeing them applied in other more complex settings. It’s a developmental approach.
What we experience in an encounter with another person is not what they experience in their encounter with us. There is no mutuality of experience.
When Sword Met Bow is the story of how a little girl reacts to a new baby in her house. Yes, the baby happens to be a chimpanzee, but the story would be the same if he weren’t. What happens is universal. It happens in millions of households every day. What makes this story unique is that I address the issue of the development of consciousness directly, in ways that most do not.
There is a fiction that everyone we meet is a person, and that they must have been a person, in terms of cognition, since their moment of birth, if not before then.
But consciousness develops over time through experience. And different individuals are at different stages of that development when they meet. And in fact, we almost never meet others for the first time at the same time as they meet us. One of us may even perceive the other while the other has yet to grasp that there is such a thing as self and other. This matters immensely!
From this follow some other very important lessons:
- Just because you can see someone, that does not mean he can see you.
- Just because you care for someone, that does not mean he cares for you.
- Just because you have said something to someone, that does not mean that he has heard — much less understood — what you said.
If you do not grasp these lessons, then there is no point in reading any of the other books, because my other books build on these ideas.
When you learn another person’s language and culture, this does not mean they learned yours.
There are many, many interactions that we can have with people that can bring us to a better understanding of others. But it is important to remember that just because we have learned to understand another person better than we did before, that does mean that they understand us any better. It can be very lonely to experience this realization for the first time.
For some reason, the recurring fallacy among most people is that these “getting to know you” events are mutual. They are not.
When Ping acquires Olivia’s language and culture by total immersion, she is surprised to learn that Olivia has learned nothing about Ping the whole time. This creates an immense rift between the two girls, even though a “getting to know you” event has taken place. Some people will never get to know us, though we may come to know them very well.
Not all people are the same on the inside, once you get past superficial differences. It is important not to give someone a vote who has no skin in the game and does not know what he is voting about.
The Few Who Count is the book in which I explain that limited liability for corporations is a violation of the rights of third parties and violates the principles of free enterprise. But the real crux of the matter is that if you allow stockholders who have nothing at stake but their paltry investment to vote on management of a business they know nothing about, the results will be bad, both for the business and for the economy at large.
We can talk about it as an abstract legal issue all day long, but that will not move people to change their minds about it — especially those who believe limited liability is good for business, because it gives incentive for investment.
But if we think of it in terms of consciousness — if we think of all the people we have met but who have been asleep and have never met us — then maybe it will be easier to grasp the principle that nobody should get to vote about something that is none of his business — not because people are malevolent, but because they are not even aware of what it is they are voting on, unless it directly involves them.
People in a community need each other to maintain their freedom against outside usurpers, but the contributions of each in the community are not equal and the responsibilities are not equal.
Vacuum County is my most critically acclaimed novel. People who do not see merit in any of the others have praised it. In that sense, it is possible that if you can only read one of my books, perhaps this is the one you should read.
But having read it, you might still not grasp what it is all about. You might think that it means little, outside of the story of one little lost college girl in a backwards Texas county. You might take it as a kind of “Beauty and the Beast” love story, whose plot it certainly resembles. But it you want to read it in depth, then ask yourself where it fits in with the other books, and what clashes of consciousness can be found in the story. What misunderstandings are there about who is what? How well do the people of the county really know each other? Is there a “getting to know you” event at the heart of this story? Is it mutual? Does that matter? If so, how much?
While war is necessary sometimes, those who pay for it should be allowed to wage it at their own expense. When war is publicly funded, that leads to loss of liberty for all.
Should people who don’t pay for war — either by risking their lives or by contributing to the war machinery — get to vote about war? Should they get to vote when they literally have no skin in the game? That’s really what the two Theodosia and the Pirates books are about.
The story of Jean Laffite and his contributions to the Battle of New Orleans is a true story. The story of his founding of Galveston is also a true story. The life of Aaron Burr and his persecution by Thomas Jefferson is also history. I have linked these two true stories by a speculative thread involving Theodosia Burr Alston.
At the heart of this tale is a “getting-to-know-you” event wrapped up in a “getting-to-know-oneself” event. Is it possible sometimes that we don’t even know ourselves as well as we think we do, until we can see ourselves through someone else’s eyes? Can learning to know someone else ever help us to know ourselves?
Internally motivated people are rare. Most people conform to social reality, which is formed from their collective choices. This is why over time societies tend toward socialism.
What does it take to teach just one person a new language and culture? Total immersion. It’s what worked for Ping. She had to be separated from a social world where everybody looked and acted and thought like her and forced to live in another world, where she was the odd one out, and everybody else spoke Snirkelly. Anyone, if taken at the right age and forced through this experience, can come to understand others better, but the process is painful and not always reversible. And that’s just to get one person to change!
Most people are so immersed and assimilated into their own group that they can never stand apart and judge their culture and their norms from the outside. But into every society are born special people who don’t assimilate that easily. Those are the people who are called madmen and saints. They are the ones who don’t expect everything to be mutual. They can love without being loved in return. They can know without being known. That is the story of Marah Fallowfield.
In today’s world, if we do not assimilate well into our first language and culture, then that is called a developmental disability. If we do not assimilate well into a second language and culture, then we are just foreigners. But there are those who walk among us who are not exactly foreigners and not exactly disabled, who can see what other people can’t see, because they are not blinded by the collective consciousness.
The idea that we can vote about personal and financial matters involving other people, their bodies and their assets, presupposes that we’re all the same on the inside, and we can reason about things that are none of our business, because we are all the same. But in fact, our ability to reason is very much tied in to whether or not we have skin in the game. And we are not all the same on the inside. Each of us is very different from the others. Language and culture, when they are shared, give us the illusion of uniformity and mutual understanding. But on the inside, we are each different and very much alone.
Poetry and Song
So what about your other book? you might be asking. What about In Case There’s a Fox? Well, that book is really just a poem. It should be read with my other poems, once I publish a book of my poetry. It also goes well with the lyrics of the songs in The Debt Collector, a musical with Daniel Carter as the composer. Here is a playlist of song demos: