Friday, May 28, 2010

Two bookish bits for your holiday weekend

{Photo by rocketlass.}

To send you into the weekend, I'll share a couple of passages of bookish appreciation that I've come across in my reading this week. First, from Lev Grossman's Codex (2004), a moment when the protagonist, charged with the task of cataloging a vast library of rare books, reflects for a moment on the volumes around him:
He went back for another stack of books: a three-volume English legal treatise; a travel guide to Tuscany from the '20s crammed with faded Italian wildflowers that fluttered out from between the pages like moths; a French edition of Turgeniev so decayed that it came apart in his hands; a register of London society from 1863. In a way it was idiotic. He was treating these books like they were holy relics. It wasn't like he would ever actually read them. But there was something magnetic about them, something that compelled respect, even the silly ones, like the Enlightenment treatise about how lightning was caused by bees. They were information, data, but not in the form he was used to dealing with it. They were non-digital, nonelectrical chunks of memory, not stamped out of silicon but laboriously crafted out of wood pulp and ink, leather and glue. Somebody had cared enough to write these things; somebody else had cared enough to buy them, possibly even read them, at the very least keep them safe for 150 years, sometimes longer, when they could have vanished at the touch of a spark. That made them worth something, didn't it, just by itself? Though most of them would have bored him rigid the second he cracked them open, which there wasn't much chance of. Maybe that was what he found so appealing: the sight of so many books that he'd never have to read, so much work he'd never have to do.
As someone who hasn't thought of reading as a duty, well, ever, and who just yesterday used the excuse of the Seminary Co-op's annual member sale to bring yet more books into the house, I think of the stacks of unread volumes differently: I'll get to all of these someday, and oh, the pleasures that await!

Which leads nicely into this passage from Gene Wolfe's "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" (1970):
The drugstore is as big as a supermarket, with long, bright aisles of glassware and notions and paper goods. Jason buys fluid for his lighter at the cigarette counter, and you bring him a book from the revolving wire rack. "Please, Jason?"

He takes it from you and replaces it in the rack, then when you are in the car again takes it from under his jacket and gives it to you.

It is a wonderful book, thick and heavy, with the edges of the pages tinted yellow. The covers are glossy stiff cardboard, and on the front is a picture of a man in rags fighting a thing that is partly like an ape and partly like a man, but much worse than either. The picture is in color, and there is real blood on the ape-thing; the man is muscular and handsome, with tawny hair lighter than Jason's and no beard.
Be it pulp or something pleasantly snootier, enjoy your reading this weekend. I'll be back here as normal on Tuesday.

1 comment: