Monday, January 08, 2007


Living in books.

Carlos Maria Dominguez, The House Of Paper (Harcourt, 2005).

A little novella about those of us who grow too passionate about books as possessions rather than things to read. The arresting image at the heart of this work is of a house on a lagoon in Uruguay, built of books:
”But he did take his books to Rocha with him. To the strip of sand between the lagoon and sea. It was an expensive move, because the books had to travel more than two hundred kilometers in covered trucks. They had to go in along the earth road and then be taken across the dunes by cart, until, finally, they arrived at the lean-to shack almost on the beach.

“Then what do you think he did with them? He set about finding a local out-of-work laborer, one of those men who are as competent working with wood as they are with cement, who can put in a window or thatch a roof, hammer in nails as big as your finger, drill for water or chisel stone, although you can never be sure of the results. The kind of man who asks no questions but follows instructions, whatever they may be, providing he gets paid, because he won’t have to live there.

“Brauer told his laborer to build the supports for the windows and two doors on the sand. He got him to build a stone wall, and a chimney. Once the chimney was built at the side of the shack, and the door and window frames completed, he asked him to put in a cement floor. And on that floor—you can imagine the horror that fills me as I say this—he told him to turn his books into bricks. . . .

“I can see Carlos sitting, hands on his lap, in a chair between the huge pile of books the cart had left and the shoreline, wearing a straw hat to protect him from the fierce Rocha sun, listening to the sound of the laborer’s trowel on the backs of books whose margins he had scrawled on with useless references to other works, commentaries he could never again check, consult, or cast light on with a further reading. He is neither happy nor sad, more dumbstruck by his own brutal act, and lulled by the laborer’s whistle, the radio playing, or the ocean waves breaking on the shore, the gulls on the beach.
pp. 69-71.

Must one be a bibliophile to surmise that this doesn’t end well? A cautionary tale, if you will, of living in books.

Peter Sis, whose work I adore, illustrated this book, and my chief complaint would be that his illustrations are too small, though I suppose it’s a function of publishing such a cute, little book.

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