"The Ghost of Books: Past, Future, and Present" is an experiment not in terror and not necessarily Dickensian. We've asked certain writers to respond to the three times (or tenses) in the subtitle, or simply to the title.
In "The Ghost of Books Past," we learn what a handful of writers were reading as children: first books, books that shaped them, books they couldn't shake. We learn, too, some regrets about books not read, books they maybe pretended to have read, books loved and later forgotten.
" The Ghost of Books Future" will tell us about forthcoming titles some eagerly await.
Which leaves us with "The Ghost of Books Present," where we learn what certain folks are currently reading, and what they plan, and do not plan, to give as gifts.
By Sven Birkerts, Gary Phillips, Julie Cline, Ben Ehrenreich, Stephen Elliott, Matthew Specktor, Mary Otis, Ayelet Waldman, Meghan Daum, Sesshu Foster, Laila Lalami, Ben Loory, Casey Walker, Jane Smiley, Mark Haskell Smith, Morgan Macgregor, Cullen Gallagher, Chris Kraus, Jennifer Egan, Padgett Powell, Antoine Wilson, and Matt Weiland.
I still have the book on my shelf; it's a green hardback with a reasonably wide black band on the right side of the front cover, paralleling a similar stripe on its back cover. The book is a collection of short stories, Stories From the Twilight Zone, and are prose versions of the teleplays Rod Serling wrote for his sci-fi, morality tales anthology TV show, the Twilight Zone. I was eight or nine and my Uncle Sammy's girlfriend, "Aunt" Virginia, gave me the book for Christmas along with the collected Sherlock Holmes and the collected Edgar Allan Poe.
I think she got the books as some sort of Reader's Digest book club special. Anyway, what I remember to this day is the lightning bolt that went off in my head when I started reading the short stories in that book. Tales such as "The Mighty Casey," about an android baseball player; "The Midnight Sun," about a woman who dreams it's unbearably hot when her reality is the world is gripped by unrelenting cold; or "The Big, Tall Wish" when a kid's faith is stronger than the will of a washed-up boxer. I think I knew then that actors learned their lines from scripts, but reading those stories suddenly crystallized in my head what the power of words could do.
Maybe having seen the stories, particularly the Serling ones, acted out on all those TZ re-runs I devoured as a kid had already planted the notion that how you said what you said mattered. But the text allowed me a glimpse into the inner thoughts of the characters and that just floored me — how cool was that? Even then I'd read other books, but this was the first adult kind of book and was different than Robin Hood or Pinocchio, or for damn sure the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. Em...