Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A great book and a bear sighting.

The library has only been open a few days, but there has been activity. Roberto has made himself at home and has more or less moved in. He sleeps on a couch in what he calls "The Cervantes Room" in the south wing of the sixth floor. I told him where the showers are, but I don't think he has taken the hint. Sigh. As the only other "resident" of this place I have visited him a few times and we have such good discussions that I quickly forget about the aroma.

Roberto has distributed his own books in the shelves of the Cervantes Room. Some I have read, but most I have not. Intrigued, I asked to borrow one. Roberto looked amazed.

"Jesus man, you don't have to ask! Isn't that what this place is for? For people to leave and borrow books at will?"

"Yes, of course. Um, so what do recommend?"

"For you, I'd say this one", and he pulled a cream-coloured hardcover off a shelf and handed it to me. Bartleby & Co. by someone name Enrique Vila-Matas. "For an Eternal Orangutan, I can think of no better book."

I thanked him, tucked the book into my bag, and took my leave.

I have been devouring Bartleby & Co. for the last two days. Roberto was right- it is the perfect book for an Eternal Orangutan, because it closely resembles the work of The Master whose name and mine are often spoken of in the same breath. It is not a novel in the normal sense, but a collection of encyclopedic entries on writers (some real some imaginary) who have mastered the art of not writing. It is like an invisible library all on its own.

When my rather flat nose is not pressed into this book, I wander the halls. Occasionally I hear footsteps clacking on the polished marble floors, but the echos off the empty book shelves make it hard to figure out where my visitor may be and they usually come and go without meeting me. There have been two exceptions. I found "Billy" a young man with a thick Northern English accent who was, I must say, rather rude. He kept saying "feck aff, yer oogly ape." Thankfully he seems to have gone. The other was rather more unusual- for as I rounded a hallway corner I could swear I saw a great white bear exiting the hall far down on its other end. Needless to say I was astounded- another great hairy beast in this library? I bounded down the hall as fast as my feet and knuckles could carry me, but when I rounded the corner I was greeted with only empty space and silence.

I only hope that should this ursus maritimus return, it leaves a few books on these shelves.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Opening the Invisible Library

I have a secret dream world that no one will ever find out about.

When I was a child I would spend hours daydreaming in the room we called the library- a small corner of the upper floor containing a beautiful old dark wood desk, the largest hanging spider-plant in the world and, of course, shelves packed with books. I would spend hours lying on the floor and staring at the spines. Most of the books were my mother's, and the bulk of them were hardcover fiction, the authors consisting of the more respectable names among the popular novelists of those years; James Michener (I was in absolute awe that anyone could write such massive books), Taylor Caldwell (Okay, maybe "respectable" is a relative term), Irwin Shaw, Farley Mowat...I realize now much of this selection came from the Book of the Month Club. Sprinkled amongst these, like half-hidden gems, were some books left over from her university days, like 1984 by George Orwell. As I stared at the spines of what seemed to me to be a massive number of books, I got the notion that while they all had value and they all deserved to be read, I had to be particular about what books I would read in my lifetime. I knew even then that I could, at best, read only a sliver of a fraction of the books that already existed. When I thought about the books yet to be written that I might one day read, I got the same dizzy-sick feeling that came upon me when I stared up at the stars and tried to imagine infinity.

When I was seven I tried to read one of my Mother's books. There was no rule against it (probably because my parents could not imagine one of the kids wanting to read an adult novel) but I still felt like I was doing something forbidden. These were her books, and reading them felt as wrong to me as going through the drawers in my parent's bedroom. I choose one with a fantastically ominous and dark title; Live and Let Die by someone named Ian Fleming. I don't know how long it took me, but I read that book a few pages at a time as before I fell asleep each night. I didn't really understand a lot of it - what is this KGB? why do all these girls want to take their clothes off and go to bed?- but I persisted and read the whole thing. In the end I still believed that books (and by books I meant novels) held magical secrets, but not every book had a great secret to reveal to every reader. I knew that Live and Let Die was not my book- and that I would probably spend the rest of my life trying to build a library of my own. Very quickly I came to realize this library would only exist inside my own head.

Thirty five years have passed, and the library of my mind has grown much larger than that real library I visited as a child. Books have come and gone. Many have stayed. There are quite a few crying out to be read next.

Care and maintenance of my invisible library is one of the most important things in my life. Do you, my reader, have such a place you go to in your mind? Do you lie on the carpet and stare at the shelves of your books - the ones you have loved and the ones that made you a better person? Do you secretly thrill at the prospect that the next book you read will unlock a secret room you did not know existed inside you?

I am opening up a new library now, a new library where visitors can leave books as well as borrow them. I am the great simian librarian- the keeper of this place. Its shelves are bare, but will not be for long.

Already there is a man waiting for me to unlock the door (a door never to be locked again) - thin man with long hair and a beard. One of those hippy-jesus types. Oh, well, one must welcome many different people if one wants a vital collection. I turn the big brass key in the lock and pull the heavy oak door back. His face lights up.

"Good morning. Am I the first to come?" He speaks with an accent I cannot place - mildly Hispanic and seems very happy to have the honour of being my first...customer? I see that he has not come empty handed - there is a large canvas bag slung over his shoulder and detect the corners of many books pressing against its sides. I try not to look too eager.

"Indeed. You are first. Welcome. I am the Eternal Orangutan, but you must know that already. And you are...?"

If possible his smile stretches even further across his lean face. He is already halfway inside.

"Roberto," he says. "Please just call me Roberto."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Birth of the Eternal Orangutan.

I have not even begun writing and I see a problem- if I am an Eternal Orangutan, that must mean I have always and will always exist, so how can I call this my birth? Perhaps I have always existed, but I am only really born when you read these words. So I must begin by thanking you for bringing me into this world.