Saturday, December 20, 2008
"You Never Know What You'll Find in a Book," Henry Alford's back-page essay in this weekend's New York Times Book Review, has me remembering this morning; those essays often do. Alford's piece is a roam—across the slice of bacon Reynolds Price once found tucked inside a library book, through the books-as-banks memories of the now-sober Sherman Alexie, and past book-stashed Q tips, notes to self, faux history, cash, even a baby's tooth (I understand that one, and then again I don't).
The essay took me back to the years I spent visiting an old book barn 30 minutes down the road. I went in search of anything Spanish Civil War esque, anything that might tell me more about a novel I kept endlessly rewriting. I'd come home with boxes of things, books inside which had been stashed recipes, memos, polaroids, objets d'art kept safe—for whom? I wondered, for what?
Later, I began to write a novel about the writer who had gone searching—not just for that war, but for herself. I never published that book either, but this morning, looking back over those pages, I found that writer who is still searching, who still loves the holy ground of books:
She was not afraid to stow the seashells in her pockets. Not afraid to chase the moon into the mountains. Not afraid to spend almost the whole of every Sunday in the book barn down the road, which she had fallen in love with for its dozens of stairs, its risers that went up and down, Escher-ized. She had loved the way the books were shelved in old peach crates and how the overturned crates were also chairs. How thick the floors were with splinters. How there was the smell of fruit mixed with the smell of history, and no sound except the sound of turning pages, the sound of an occasional bibliophile’s shoes or the call of Mr. Shipley, “Finding everything you need?” She had loved the room she had thought of as her own: the Spanish room. She had loved the Andrew Wyeth painting on the wall below, and the rocking chair and the old church pew and the gigantic books nobody purchased. She’d needed no one but herself at the book barn. Nothing but the stairs and the gardens of color she could see through the open windows —the reds and greens, the occasional starched yellow.