Yesterday, I was at work at the NYC bookstore where I’m currently employed, and a man came in. He was asking for a book that I couldn’t find in our computer system. That happens frequently enough, so I decided to look it up an Amazon to see if I could find the ISBN number there. No luck. So I looked up the author and found only a LinkedIn profile, and the usual sort of things you might find if you looked any person up–a Facebook page, a Twitter account. The man gave me the name of the book’s publisher, and I looked up the author on their webpage and found nothing.
“I just can’t find anything anywhere,” I told the man.
“That’s because she burned every copy,” he said. “The book left nothing to the imagination. I met her once, and said, ‘I read your book,’ and she walked away as fast as she could.”
At this point, I realized the book didn’t exist.
The whole incident took me aback. Not because people don’t say crazy things all the time, but because of the vividness with which he detailed the contents of the book, the author, identified the publisher, told me everything about it. It was such a vividly constructed reality. And it was complete fallacy.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve questioned reality. A particularly vivid memory of doing so is when, when I was a teenager, I walked across a street and narrowly avoided being hit by a passing car. And I couldn’t get this thought out of my head—what if that car actually did hit me, and everything that’s followed is all some reality constructed from my dying brain? And the question has often followed, when I’m having a conversation, when I’m with a friend, when observe something breathtaking or horrible, or even just mundane–did I make that up?
Part of it is that I’m a writer. I make things up for a living. And what’s the difference between me doing what I do and this man who came into the bookstore the other night? A piece of paper seems to be about it. I’m writing my inventions down and he’s spilling his out to people around him. But the way that person he was talking about actually exists, and the publisher actually exists, the way he had built an alternate reality around these facts—is that so much different than how I build worlds? From bits and pieces of things I find all around me in this one?
How far off is this man’s reality from mine? Or any of ours? And what’s the rest of his story that brought him into mine?