To an expatriate in Sydney, AU

Thanks for writing about “The Book That Eats People.”
I’m glad you found it in a bookstore in (of all places!) Sydney. Your nieces might well have had trouble finding it in a Virginian outlet since, to my increasing chagrin, it’s apparently quite hard for a book to get shelf space anywhere.

Fundamentally “The Book That Eats People” is about the unparalleled power of books. While my book (it is, of course, very substantially Mark Fearing’s and Abigail Samoun’s–I don’t assume they endorse this interpretation) literally devours readers, the ideas in other books genuinely consume people in ways that are often subtle, frequently insidious and, sometimes, epochal.

Anyone with a little reading can think of numerous examples of books that contain ideas and beauty that can profoundly alter the souls and minds of those who read them. Books called “Sacred” such as The Bible, The Koran, and the huckster Joseph Smith’s tome, fit the bill, as do works on economic theory such as Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations” or Karl Marx’s works. An unwary, uncritical, youthful or credulous person can read any one of the above and conclude, unfortunately, “This is the only book I will ever need.” Worse, many of these people come to believe their favorite book is the only one anyone needs, the last-and-best Word on everything under the sun.

When “The Book That Eats People” eats books in the reference section, it’s destroying some of its competitors.

While “The Book That Eats People” is an awful, anthropophagous monster, the narration unequivocally recognizes it as such. “This is a bad book,” it says, and goes on to encourage the reader to grind or burn the book.

Finally, as a father of two girls I couldn’t agree with you more that “children being harmed in the real world is the most horrific crime imaginable.” Think what dreadful, frightening tales are commonly rehearsed to children in the interest of “moral instruction”: Noah’s Ark describes the destruction of all humanity by an angry God; the Hebrews escape from servitude after God’s Angel of Death kills all the first-born of Egypt, to cite a couple. I’m happy to say that Sammy, Victoria, Isabel, Joey and Juan are safe and whole in their absurd, imaginary, cartoon world.

Thanks again, whoever you are, for your thoughts. Good luck with your nieces. Mostly I hope kids just get some big laughs and fun from “The Book That Eats People.”

John Perry




Mornin’ everybody. I got a few things to say so go ahead and gather ‘round here with yer coffee. Start out by sayin’ I don’t want you boys out there daydreamin’ ‘bout the romance of the river, or makin’ up complicated metaphors about the river bein’ like a woman, or how your canoe’s a… platelet in the arteries of the Earth, or whatever it is you fellas have been doin’ out there in your vessels. It’s an easy job, but I need you to focus. What do you need to focus on? Let’s call it the Beefy Woodbarge Guy presentation technique, like it says in your manuals. Otherwise we got problems.


Everybody recognizes these, right? They’re customer surveys. I know, I know. This is serious. Most customers don’t return ‘em, but here’s a good one. This guy says quote: “Good wood as usual (we love your service). Great fires.” Smiley face. Who puts smiley faces everywhere, like it’s a letter? “Bargeman ‘Ben’ was a little gabby. Maybe ask him to ease up on the creepy Ganges talk? We didn’t much want to hear about bodies in rivers—go figure. Nice guy, though.” Smiley face.


Hear that, Ben? I got ten guys, half of ‘em are called Ben. I got beefy Ben, beefy Bob, four more beefy Bens. What was I thinking? So guys. Last night Delores (you all’ve met Delores) comes home from New Morel’s after about four White Russians I think, said she overheard this kayaker at the bar. Anybody know what he was talkin’ about? “Ben.” This kayaker, he says “Ben” brought wood from the canoe—so far, so good. Then “Ben” made the logs into Beefy Woodbarge Guy Incorporated’s patented pyramidal shape—good! Smiley face. “Ben” fetched his weathered, leather satchel and produced a bundle of birch bark and dried pine-needle tinder. Perfect! Bonus points for that: mark-up on those bundles is huge. By the way those pre-worn bags are nice, aren’t they? Smiley face for the boss. Then “Ben” gets out his flint and sparks it up. Job well done! That’s what Beefy Woodbarge Guy’s all about!


But then this kayaker says “Ben” sits down and starts lecturing on the “Upnashids” for 20 minutes. That’s what Delores heard him say. “Upnashids.” 20 minutes talking about light. Fire. Embers. Aspiration. Creation. Destruction. JESUS!


I don’t know.


Bob, you know what an “Upnashid” is? Course not, right? How ‘bout you, Bill? Can’t tell an “Upnashid” from a weasel’s ass, right? Hahahaha. “I just haul wood, boss.” We love ya for it, Bill.



Listen. The song says everything you need to know. I’ll sing it:


I’m the Beefy Woodbarge Guy

I’m such a Beefy Woodbarge Guy

If there’s no firewood at your campsite

Call the Beefy Woodbarge guy


You guys know I pay about $600 bucks a week to have that jingle on the radio? Anybody hear “Upnashid” in it anywhere? No? Right. ‘Cause it’s not in it ANYWHERE. NO. WHERE.


I left out “Upnashid” on purpose, in case you were wondering.


“Dependable, friendly, rustic, can-do outdoorsmen deliver firewood by canoe to your remote home-away-from-home,” is what the website says. I just printed it a couple minutes ago. Here, pass it around. Can you believe it Bill? There’s not one word about ancient, sacred Hindu scripture. There’s not even a “free, recondite, religious discourse with the purchase of a full cord” promotion. I know I’m not the brightest spark in the fire, but do ya think I maybe left it out because people don’t want it?


And there’s something else they don’t want. Are you listening, Ben?


This kayaker at Morel’s, he goes on and on about how his buddy had to go to the hospital, the paddling trip’s ruined, the guy (Brad–turns out his name’s Brad. I mean the guy who went to the hospital, not the guy at Morel’s) is the weatherman at some TV station in Detroit, which, by the way is gonna be just F—ing great. They’ll get some picture of me looking like a maniac and do a big, scary expose, like: “Beefy Woodbarge Guy Incorporated: simple wood suppliers, or Hindu predators?”


So yeah, apparently this “Ben” won’t shut up. “Upnashids” this, “Upnashids” that, and Brad—Brad just wants to cook these sausages he brought, an’ he starts talking to “friendly,” beefy, “Ben.” “I just wanna cook these now, so, you know, here’s a $20,” he says. “Keep the change. See ya later.” And “Ben,” who I swear is gone the second I know which “Ben” it is, calls him “the stupidest person I ever met” and punches him in the mouth.


It’s like this “Ben” guy never even met beefy Bill.


Broke face. Bankrupt face. Settlement face.



But seriously. What I need to know, guys, before you go out to yer rivers and get loaded up for breakfast and lunch fires is who punched Brad? And don’t say “Ben.”


I’ll just wait.


That’s how it is, huh?


Remember how we all took those three days off, rented some cabins and did all those team-building activities to learn things like loyalty? And trust? How to work together and help each other out? Remember how we stayed up all night talking about trout fishing, eating mashed potatoes and gravy and big t-bones, doing that crazy exercise where one partner was the fisherman and the other was the netman? I mean, c’mon guys. Help me get this steelie into the boat.


‘Cause in the end fellas, you know, it isn’t about the “team” after all. Even though I love our team—you know it, don’t you? It’s about you guys as individuals. Ben, there. And Bob, Bill, Ben, Ben, Brian, Ben, Bob, Ben and Bjorn. You guys. Your families. One of you is hurt. He’s crying out “HELP ME!” That’s what a punch is of course. A cry for help. It’s “Ben,” (whoever he is) bleeding his sick religio-mystico-intellectual–nutjob pretenses all over the firewood. That’s what it is. So you have to help him. Help me help him. Or God knows what’ll happen next, you know? How can we know this “Ben” won’t go around the bend on some kind of Shinto rampage or, shit, force some campers to make a …a…bloody pantheistic offering? Do you want that?


You should all think about that.


This whole company is built around a simple idea. We don’t make computer chips. We don’t make stealth bombers, or deliver cords of aged pine to 70 countries overnight. We don’t make hand-carved totemic animal figures. We deliver wood to campers on rivers in Michigan, and that’s it. We stay focused on the wood, because that’s how everybody makes money.


Well. One last thing and then you guys need to get out there. I want you to know that, you know, if this is the wrong job for you it’s okay. Maybe there’s a Hindu think tank that’s looking for somebody. I know some folks at a whitewater rafting outfit in West Virginia. You might like it there. Whitewater’s kinda like fire, I guess. No sense in hatin’ yer job. I just want you all to be happy. That’s what’s important.


All right. Let’s get out there and sell some wood.

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