Christopher G. Moore has written 27 novels, 9 works of nonfiction and hundreds of essays. Years ago I wrote something that I felt was innocuous but the feedback told me otherwise. It was that Christopher may likely be remembered in writing circles as an essayist more than as a novelist. In writing Rooms – On Human Domestication & Submission he keeps that risk alive.
His previous nonfiction works include: Heart Talk: Say What You Feel in Thai; Faking it in Bangkok; The Orwell Brigade; Fear and Loathing in Bangkok; The Age of Dis-Content; The Cultural Detective: Reflections on the Writing Life in Thailand; and Memory Manifesto: A Walking Meditation in Cambodia, which I reviewed here at Asia Life Magazine.
Rooms, at 369 pages, plus 44 pages of notes, and a 7 page index is Moore’s most ambitious nonfiction work by a country mile. It is the first work by Moore which I have read that felt like an academic read. This is Moore the Oxford graduate with a degree in law writing to a world-wise audience – the university law professor well-prepared at the chalkboard, lecturing to hungry students. Rooms reads like a Ph.D thesis to me, and that’s what I didn’t like about the book. It’s a book that piqued my interest frequently, and left me confused on occasion. It’s a tome that is worthy of being peer reviewed in scholarly journals and causing Moore to be awarded a doctorate in anthropology, psychology, or futurology. That’s good news for Moore but I came away realizing I fall far short of being that peer.
Rooms is about room culture, a subject I knew nothing about and had given little thought to when first entering Rooms. I now know a great deal about the subject. What I am less clear on is how useful that information will be for me in the future and what void, if any, it helped fill. Stay tuned.
The notes in the back offer a fascinating glimpse, in my case, of what I had just read. With hindsight I recommend you consider reading them first. The pages are a window into Moore’s mind and what must be his Bodleian-like library. One of the terms found on the first page in the notes and throughout Rooms is “Sedentaries”. The term is used to distinguish sedentary people from mobile ones. Our hunter gatherer ancestors are an example of mobile cultures.
” Sedentaries is used to refer to the lack of physical activity in most people’s lives. All such people live in room culture. While long hours of physical labor were part of the early city-states and carried on through the Industrial Revolution, modern people are noted for their physical inactivity. One 2016 international study found that in a life span of seventy-one years the average person spends 41 percent of his/her time in front of a technological device, 29.7 percent sitting down, and 0.69 percent exercising.
Moore takes the reader on a Rooms expedition that includes several topics of interest to him. Specifically: privacy, technology, systems, George Orwell, violence, history, economics, psychology, architecture, power elites, human rights, personal freedom, the brain, legal issues, artificial intelligence, and the future, distant and not so distant. If that seems like a lot to digest in one book, it is. Moore tackles these complex subjects in Rooms with clarity and a sense of purpose. He has done the same in his previous works, but this book felt unlike anything Moore has ever written or more accurately unlike anything I have ever read by Moore. Rooms is a book which might not garner Moore a huge audience, although that is certainly possible, but it should find an appreciative readership, possibly avid and curious readers who are not yet addicted to screens big and small.
If you are looking for Steven Pinker optimism in Rooms you’ve come to the wrong place. Moore paints a dark, pessimistic future for mankind or at least that’s my interpretation. As a former lawyer Moore is often not definitive in his thoughts and ideas. He’s more likely to use the word “may” over “shall”. This leaves a lot of wiggle-room for what actually happens in the future or what actually happened in the past.
Moore’s pessimism is what led to my confusion at times. An example occurs on page 343 in a chapter discussing Rooms After AD 2060. I get that we are losing freedoms, including privacy. I get that we are more sedentary. I also get that, like Bancini in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, we are losing these freedoms voluntarily. What I have trouble comprehending is that there will be no resistance – that we will all acquiesce. As Moore puts it, “Everything about us will be legible, accessible, measurable, characterized, commoditized and stored.” So far so good. He goes on to say, “The Hollywood-style rebel-hero, who seeks refuge from this world of rooms, would be viewed with the same disgust that we reserve today for child pornographers.” Maybe it’s my Berkeley birthplace or my Santa Cruz, California home, two places known for where old rebels go to die, but I cannot wrap my head around that one. Where’s Pinker when I need him? The Chief’s of the world are still out there, able to break out a window and run free.
Of all the subjects Moore covers I found the issue of privacy the one that held my interest the most. Whether I agreed with his take or not made no difference. What mattered to me was that the subject was given proper thought. Rooms by Christopher G. Moore is a time demanding, deep read that requires the reader to analyze the author’s thinking and their own. Rooms explores a time when we were wilder and nomadic and takes us to a gentler less violent place and analyzes the cost of that gentleness.
Does Moore remain hopeful for humankind in the future? Does he believe that technology will free us or further confine us? I’m not sure. But I do know this from reading Rooms by Christopher G. Moore: if you find yourself in a room alone with a door, leave yourself some wiggle-room. Don’t assume that the door is locked and don’t assume that you are alone. Open the door to your room and take a wild walk.