Thursday, July 23, 2015

Non-Existent Books that I'd Like to Read

I'm reading Borges's Ficciones. Some of the stories there are about imaginary books. These are more thought experiments than books that anyone would ever write. And unfortunately they're boring thought experiments. But they did make me think about books that could be written and that I would love to read, but that, to the best of my knowledge, do not exist. They are much more pedestrian than the ones Borges wrote about.

1) A book about the origin of current international borders. Each chapter would cover an individual section of the border between two countries. If the section was drawn by a treaty, you'd get a description of the intrigues and motivations behind it. If it was drawn by a war, you'd get a discussion of why the armies involved stopped at that particular line and not at some other. This would be repeated for every section of every border in the world. I'd read it. I've been following the neocons' and Putin's struggle to partition the Ukraine since early last year and it's a fascinating process.

For example Mariupol, an overwhelmingly pro-Russian city of almost half a million people, could have been easily taken by the Novorossiyan Armed Forces last year. Why wasn't it? Rinat Akhmetov has factories there. He was pre-war Ukraine's richest man. The things that these factories produce have to be certified as having been made in the Ukraine, in Russia or in some other internationally-recognized country for them to be sold abroad. The Donetsk People's Republic isn't internationally recognized. So Akhmetov did not want Mariupol to become a part of it. His cooperation must have been valuable to Novorossiya in other matters because Borodai (the Donetsk prime minister at the time) has admitted that Mariupol was not liberated because Akhmetov was against it. At least this is the story I got from reading Yegor Prosvirnin. It does seem plausible to me.

2) A reference book on East Indian castes and caste-like groups. For each group you'd get a population estimate, geographic distribution, economic, occupational and emotional profiles, history, self-image, relations with other groups, demographic trends, genetics, languages spoken, typical physical appearance, typical surnames, etc. The Wikipedia does not have enough info on this and what it has isn't standardized.

I've been working with Indians for more than 15 years. It's a world of enormous complexity and, for outsiders, obscurity.

3) Grand novelistic epics about the high politics of major countries. You start with the country's founders - this could be Hengist and Horsa in England's case, Clovis in France's, Riurik in Russia's, etc. - and you continue till the present. A project like that would require many writers. It would have to be either run by governments (China could easily do that) or in an open source software type fashion with people submitting chapters and a Linus-like project head deciding what to keep and what to reject. For a very old country you could go for hundreds of volumes.

The chief source of drama would be the struggle to set policy and the main characters would be policy makers. I think that an all-seeing, God-like narrator would be appropriate. Nothing in such books should contradict current historical knowledge, though of course the writers could improvise where history is silent.

There have been examples of people writing series of books of that approximate type about relatively short historical periods - Colleen McCullough's and Dmitry Balashov's works come to mind. This guy writes on a millennial scale. But much larger collaborative epics - hundreds of volumes each - would be cooler.

1 comment:

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