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548 pages, Hardcover
First published September 21, 2021
Now, she was surprised at how tawdry it had become. The piazza was filled with homeless people, slumbering at the café tables next to their bundle buggies and shopping carts, or picking through the garbage for empty cans and crusts. Pigeons strutted on the ground by their feet, fighting with the sparrows over muffin wrappers and croissant crumbs. The smells of alcohol, marijuana, and urine commingled under the arches.
And as Benny waited to pass through security, he heard the hobo, whose name he now knew was Slavoj, say, “Ya, ya, of course, my dear Ronald, but I hef become somewhat intrigued by this notion of a slot. That a slot is a thing, we cannot deny, however it is a thing defined entirely by lack, by an absence of form, by negative space, by its own emptiness. We know vat it isn’t, but how can we truly know vat it is? How can we tell ze difference between a slot and, say, a slit? Is a slit slimmer than a slot, and therefore lacking less? If it lacks less, does it vant more? And if so, how can we know if this slot or slit vants books and not bottles?”
Every time such a patron paused on the bridge, we would catch our breath and wonder what would prompt an architect to design such a precipitous point of departure into a Public Library? What folly!
"You really have to wonder what would prompt an architect to design such a precipitous point of departure into a Public Library."
He has several ....... entities he talks to, and many others who talk to him. His Aleph is one of them. He says she lives in trees. …. And another he calls the B-man, or sometimes the Bottleman, whom he describes as a hobo with a prosthetic leg. These appear to be complex visual hallucinations—he can see them and describe them in some detail. In addition, there’s the larger group of elementary auditory hallucinations, including miscellaneous objects like teapots, table legs, shower heads, scissors, sneakers, sidewalk cracks, and glass window panes, to name a few. But there’s one that’s different, a primary and complex auditory hallucination, an entity he calls the Book.
“In the beginning, before there was life, when the world of things was the entire world, every thing mattered. Then life happened, and eventually you people came along with your big, beautiful, bisected brains and clever opposable thumbs. You couldn’t help yourselves, and it was only a matter of time before you caused a rift to occur, dividing matter into two camps, the Made and the Unmade. Over subsequent millennia the schism grew. Haltingly at first, in fits and starts—a pinched pot here, an arrowhead there, a bead, a hammerstone, an ax—you worked your way through the material world, through clay, stone, reed, hide, fire, metal, atoms, and genes, and little by little you became better makers. Cranked by the power of your big prefrontal cortices, the engines of your imagination gathered steam until, in tumultuous leaps of what you came to call progress, the Made proliferated, relegating the Unmade to the status of mere resource, a lowly serf class to be colonized, exploited, and fashioned into something else, some thing that was more to your liking.
Within this social hierarchy of matter, we books lived on top. We were the ecclesiastical caste, the High Priests of the Made, and in the beginning you even worshipped us. As objects, books were sacred, and you built temples for us, and later, libraries in whose hushed and hallowed halls we resided as mirrors of your mind
Is it odd to see a book within a book? It shouldn’t be. Books like each other. We understand each other. You could even say we are all related, enjoying a kinship that stretches like a rhizomatic network beneath human consciousness and knits the world of thought together. Think of us as a mycelium, a vast, subconscious fungal mat beneath a forest floor, and each book a fruiting body. Like mushrooms, we are a collectivity. Our pronouns are we, our, us. Because we’re all connected, we communicate all the time—agreeing, disagreeing, gossiping about other books, name-dropping, and quoting each other—and we have our preferences and prejudices, too. Of course, we do! Biases abound on library shelves. The scholarly tomes disparage the more commercial books. Literary novels look down on romance and pulp fiction, and there’s an almost universal disregard for certain genres, like self-help.
Poetry is a problem of form and emptiness. Ze moment I put one word onto an empty page, I hef created a problem for myself. Ze poem that emerges is form, trying to find a solution to my problem.” He sighed. “In ze end, of course, there are no solutions. Only more problems, but this is a good thing. Without problems, there would be no poems.” Benny thought about this for a while. He thought about his mother and her fridge magnets. He didn’t write those stupid poems, and that was the truth, but his mother thought he was lying, and that was a problem. He had a lot of problems. “Is that what you write about? Your problems?” The poet shrugged. “Not so much my problems. But ze world’s problems, yes. I listen and write down vat I hear.”