Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sometimes you really do have to just put the book down.

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Having taken Dr. Johnson to task a couple of weeks ago for his carelessness with books (which, as Jenny Davidson pointed out in a comment to the post, could more properly be called destructiveness, as he was known for breaking spines and even tearing out whole sections), I had to smile when I came across an incident of far more distracted and bizarre behavior in Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives (1998, English translation by Natasha Wimmer published in 2007). Ulises Lima, one of the mysterious pair of visceral realist poets around whom the whole novel rotates, is, like many of the characters in the novel, almost pathologically focused on literature . . . but even that didn't prepare me for the testimony of his friend Simone Darrieux:
He was a strange person. He wrote in the margins of books. I'm glad I never lent him any of mine. Why? Because I don't like people to write in my books. You won't believe this, but he used to shower with a book. I swear. He read in the shower. How do I know? Easy. Almost all his books were wet. At first I thought it was the rain. Ulises was a big walker. He hardly ever took the metro. He walked back and forth across Paris and when it rained he got soaked because he never stopped to wait for it to clear up. So his books, at least the ones he read most often, were always a little warped, sort of stiff, and I thought it was from the rain. but one day I noticed that he went into the bathroom with a dry book and when he came out the book was wet. That day my curiosity got the better of me. I went up to him and pulled the book away from him. Not only was the cover wet, some of the pages were too, and so were the notes in the margins, some maybe even written under the spray, the water making the ink run, and then I said, for God's sake, I can't believe it, you read in the shower! have you gone crazy? and he said he couldn't help it but at least he only read poetry (and I didn't understand why he said he only read poetry, not at the time, but now I do: he meant that he only read two or three pages, not a whole book), and then I started to laugh, I threw myself on the sofa, writhing in laughter, and he started to laugh too, both of us laughed for I don't know how long.
When set against the image of someone taking notes in the shower, Samuel Johnson's destructiveness seems almost mild--and Gabriel Gudding's writing of his 426-page Rhode Island Notebook (2007) while driving seems almost sane.

Note to rocketlass: these examples serve to point out that I could always be worse!

No comments:

Post a Comment