It’s seldom that I see anyone perusing the stacks of the library. While this indicates that too many people aren’t taking advantage of a different type of infinite wealth of knowledge and wisdom they have at their keyboard-stroking fingertips, this also means that I have unlimited literature all to myself. I can skip along the aisles in utter joy, dragging my fingers along thousands of leathery bindings and there is no one there to obstruct my path. I can, theoretically, build a blanket fort anchored by books, one with bookshelves for walls and two password-guarded exits (hint: it’s the invention in Cat’s Cradle that destroys the world). This is nothing but a silly theory, but it is one I am determined to test. And there would be no one to judge me because, of course, it’s just me. I’m brilliant in that I’ve found the one place in this over-populated world that is never teeming with people. In a major city, no less! I should give myself a present.
I’ve been going to the library not to study but to borrow books. It’s on my bucket-list for this year, and every year, you see, to read and read and read until my eyes hurt, likely the result of words being inscribed on my corneas like a solar eclipse. I want to die well-read. Books are good for you, a reliable way to ward off intellectual anorexia. My dream house is small, but it has a spacious, well-lit library with floor to ceiling bookshelves and a chair that is so squishy and soft that it presents the sitter with a sensation of near-weightlessness, like you’re physically on the moon, in another world, just like that of the book you’re reading. Someday.
So I’ve been progressing nicely. Considering my life, as of late, has been absurdly busy, I like to think that ten books so far is not bad. It’s in line with my goal of finishing at least 52 books this year – I’m ahead of schedule – and the must-reads are being crossed off regularly as well. One must-read is Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. It is a heavy undertaking, not like the lighthearted words of one of my literary heroes Bill Bryson. It is dense in concept, plot, and themes, 700 pages of them. It is a commitment, but it is also regularly cited as one of the most influential works of the twentieth century. My dad knows more about literature than anyone else I know – and I steal a lot of my books from his impressive, comprehensive collection of the world classics – and he routinely irks me to read Mann’s greatest work.
So I waddled down to the library and picked up Magic Mountain, as well as a few others:
During this particular visit, I claim the realization that library books are the most underrated things ever. They have that old book smell. You can open the book to any page and it stays open, a feature that new books annoyingly lack. They have character, a history all on their own.
Magic Mountain in itself is a happy disaster:
The whole goddamn book is held together by black duck tape. It is the most legitimate book I’ve ever held. Heavy, thick, solid, leather cover, soft, wispy, and aging pages. It is from 1944. Like I said, a history all on its own.
The binding has holes in it. Basic observation and logic tell me that the binding was once split in half, maybe ripped apart by some meek English major’s Hulk-ish fit of rage. This might be indicative of the following: this book can drive its temporary owner – even the most composed of souls – to the crumbling edges of mental despair, to the dark depths of a fragile conscious. Or, you know, the binding wore down over the years.
Pages 404-411 are missing! I shall cross this bridge when I come to it.
Then I realized: someone ripped out those pages and glued them – out of order – in between 246 and 247. Many pages look like someone has taken a bite out of them, but 406 has fared the worst. So many mysteries – what the hell happened here? Why did someone not take the three seconds to place the pages where they belong, and in proper order no less?? A tale within a tale. The pages in the beginning, the first 200 or so, are ripped, crinkled, underlined, and overcome with illegible note-taking and scribbles; the last few hundred pages have been left unscathed almost like the day after their printing, leading me to believe that no one ever finishes this book. There are also questionable stains. All of this is worrisome. There is a major difference between a book that is old and loved and a book that is old and despised. This is clearly a case of the latter. Why did people despise it so? I shall soon find out.
In any case, I love this book already. It’s so fantastic and aged and unique and maybe I’ll find out more about the book itself, let alone what it contains. I decided that I shall adopt this book like any normal person adopts an abused puppy. So I made my way to the circulation desk, and I asked them if a book ever reaches a point of such destruction, a point where its contents prove to be so unreadable and unknowable, that they would consider discarding it, or selling it perhaps. They said no. A book enters the library and it is there to stay, forever, until it disintegrates into dust or is vaporized by the sun in millions of years.
I’m going to start reading it when I am mentally prepared to do so, optimistic with the immense challenge it presents. Not only in content and sheer intellect, but also putting the missing pieces together, the random bits of torn pages, missing paragraphs, chicken-scratch covering the typed words, all the result of one very temperamental and frustrated English major from the distant past.