If Books Could Kill

Oil baron publishers, ink-stained bioweapons, and a readers’ revolution in the year 2025


| January-February 2009


It requires neither imagination nor acumen to predict that our current conglomerating, lowest-common-denominator, demographically targeted publishing industry will soon achieve its streamlined apotheosis—a single, worldwide, Exxon Mobil–owned literary empire offering up seven books twice per year.

The lists for these two seasons—Holiday Gifts and Beach—will each include one of the following: a Dickens­ianly sprawling Antarctic thriller; a faux-intellectual, faux-experimental novel packaged with gimmicky swag (such as a French existentialist pashmina); a World War II historical novel wherein one or more ex-Nazis, in the flash-forward sections, live as kindly sausage makers or residually evil schoolteachers; a winningly bitchy PTA tell-all, written by an overeducated mother of multiple-birth ADD children, living in a suburb of eco-friendly prefabs; a spiritual-conversion-after-brush-with-Ebola memoir; an inspiring life-lesson book for the left- or right-leaning (left for Holiday Gifts, right for Beach) written by a long-shot gay pro-life female minority ex-Klan presidential hopeful; and a “quick fire” cookbook for people with intimidatingly professional kitchens and no time, inclination, or skill to cook in them.

Books will be compiled by a team of content providers; “the author” will be represented in photos and on tour by actually attractive people. Blurbs will be supplied by eBay sellers with the highest approval ratings.

This, we all know, is the future.

But while many have doomily predicted the death of literary culture as a by-product of this future, few have wrestled with the possibility that deaths—actually human fatalities—will result. Indeed, in this not-so-distant and inevitable future, people will begin to sicken, and the weaker among them will perish. Initially, a batch of E. coli–tainted produce will be fingered as the culprit, but eventually the source of the contagion will be determined to emanate from a most innocuous source: books.

The sick and the deceased, the investigation will show, each read two or more books published during the Exxon Mobil Holiday Gifts ’25 season. A team of crack scientists in hazmat suits will convene in Houston’s Astrodome with box upon box of Exxon Mobil text product. While their tests will prove inconclusive—Was the literary DNA of books so tampered with that a viral mutation was unwittingly released? Have terrorists finally perfected the Text Bioweapon, thereby rendering all acts of reading potentially fatal?—the consumer panic will result in a conclusive cultural shift. (Death of the intellect is one thing, but actual death is quite another.) Exxon Mobil’s book sales will drop to nearly nothing.