Sunday, November 28, 2010

You: Blue, Writerly. Me: Careless, Sad.

I lost a library book.

This is the cardinal sin of library membership, one rung up from ascending a step stool at 11:00 AM on a Tuesday and gracing the reference section with your rendition of "Climb Every Mountain." It's worse than your dilatory relinquishment of the sixth Harry Potter, worse than your seven obscure and ultimately unfulfillable Interlibrary Loan requests, worse than dragging nine contractor bags full of dogeared donations over the threshold, thereby setting off the alarm system on your way to dumping your prize like a bloodied rabbit -nine bloodied rabbits- at the feet of the long-suffering reference assistant.

That's when you run.

You run because you are afraid you might be asked to give up your library card, and you cannot live without your monthly or weekly or daily whiff of sour flesh and old paper. You are galvanized by the Sisyphean labor of the shelvers, haunted by your vertical glimpses -through the gaps left by checked-out romances, wanted mysteries- of the old man who never leaves. You love the reassuring whining of the children, the underlay of grunt and shuffle, the inimitable sound of covers cracking back.

Turn the page. You are six years old and you have made the singular discovery that life is better on paper. You consult a browning sign which informs you that thirty (30) is the maximum number of books you can check out at one time, plus six (6) books on tape. This seems stinting: your parents are older than thirty (30), and no one wants books on tape, which are awkward operators connecting you to the direct line to elsewhere you know awaits inside every one of the thirty covers you have amassed. You totter toward the exit under the weight of your stack. The librarians look at you askance. They like that you like the vehicles upon which they've staked their careers, but they know the trouble you're in for, later.

Back to the lost book: It's by John Banville, one of those old writing men who writes about things which concern old writing men: family, sex, class, old writing men. He wrote The Sea, which is excellent in its undulating way, and other novels you mean to read but don't quite get to because you are not an old writing man and keep being returning to books by people who are not old writing men, either.

The lost book has a title, The Infinities, and a blue cover. You like the blue cover but not the title, which you file away under your list of titles that do not serve the books to which they are affixed (Love and the similarly afflicted). You are reminded of small dogs named Egbert or Smash, and large dogs named Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Where you lost the book is the question. Or possibly the question is how you lost the book: How could you have been so careless? How could you be responsible for releasing a whole trembling world onto the Cincinnati to Indianapolis Mega Bus amongst the middle-aged shoppers, the scruffy dropouts on their way home from college, the token suited man? How could you have left a wilderness shimmering under the fold-out-couch in a half-wired guest room with no heat? How could you have lost a book?

I was thinking of libraries. I was thinking back to all the ways my hand could remove a book from a shelf, the way the absence of a book rocked its fellows. I was thinking of the the way librarians would tilt certain books forward so their covers, slick, shiny, called out to you. The way the library would close one day and reopen the next with only a brief hitch in its song, its Sirens singing out their hearts. The Sirens: a metaphor I learned from a book so old no one speaks its language anymore.

I cannot stand the shame. I renew.

I renew. I renew and renew and renew. It strikes me that renewing a lost library book is like living: you pretend everything is fine, that the story is unfolding, that you will not be, at some unknowable time, recalled. The Infinities, finitely renewable, is out there somewhere and I, too, am out here somewhere. One missed connection in a universe -a library- of missed connections: $25.95 plus the taxing of my heart.

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