Sunday, October 21, 2012

Museum Dreams: The Great Books Room

Calligraphy on the walls of a monument
in the Qutb minar complex. Probably Alai
Gate, aka Alai Darwaza. When one sees a
building turned so throughly to text, it begs
the question: what is a book? Photo by
Shashwat Nagpal via Wikimedia Commons
In reading alone, the pages become translucent to me, pale as water. It is not like watching a film, nor do I feel surrounded by the story as if I was submerged within it; it is more like bending down to watch the gold flecks on the riverbed, the bodies of the fish alive and trembling under the bright surface. I see the surface and I don't see it; my eyes are focused underneath, underwater, to the fixed world over which the words flow flickering. I do not inhabit books as one inhabits houses. But still I'd to dwell for a while in a room all full of giant books, stars of eight-foot paper with their leaves fanned out like carousels, doors in their covers and their guts hollowed out into rooms of language. Books whose pages turn around you, a dizzying whirl of shifted scenarios and the rustle of invented life. Books whose covers open onto stairways carved in a spiral round the spine. Books opening like the wings of a suspension bridge on either side, angelic, enfolding. Books to get truly lost in - say, a dozen volumes connected by folded paper passageways that drop you, disoriented, into someone else's story. Books hallowed and hollowed like cathedrals. Poems clinging lichen-like, meandering like vines, drainspouts of sorrow and wonder. Favorite lines underscored with black pen fat as graffiti strokes. Notes taken in college become manifestoes on the walls, annotating, aggrandizing, letters large as your hand. Novels grave and sturdy as small houses, prayerbooks private as altars. Erotic books with pages of tracing paper to hide behind naked and leap out to surprise the beloved, wound with nothing but calligraphy like a black ribbon. You feel the walls of words with your palms, paper like stone, covers solemn as church doors. Here in the pages you hold yourself upright. On the other side of the page, an unknown reader looks down through the surface and sees you standing, small and alive between the lines.

Feasibility: closer to a narwhal than a unicorn.

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