The House Of Paper

One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car.

Books change people’s destinies. Some have read The Tiger of Malaysia and become professors of literature at remote universities. Demian converted tens of thousands of young men to Eastern philosophy, Hemingway made sportsmen of them, Alexandre Dumas complicated the lives of thousands of women, quite a few of whom were saved from suicide by cookbooks. Bluma was their victim.

But not the only one. An elderly professor of classical languages, Leonard Wood, was left paralyzed after being struck on the head by five volumes of the Encyclopedia Britainnica that fell from a shelf in his library; my friend Richard broke his leg when he tried to reach William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, which was so awkwardly placed he fell off his stepladder. Another of my friends in Buenos Aires caught TB in the basement of a public archive, and I even knew a dog from Chile that died of indigestion from swallowing the pages of The brothers Karamazov one afternoon when rage got the better of him.

Whenever my grandmother saw me reading in bed, she would say: “Stop that, books are dangerous.” For many years I thought she was simply ignorant, but the passage of time has shown just how sensible my German grandmother was.

– Carlos María Domínguez

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