Category Archives: book

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

Our Old Home



Book cover designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman. Our old home, originally uploaded by Boston Public Library.

The House Of Paper

I have often asked myself why I keep books that could only ever be of any use in a distant future, titles remote from my usual concerns, those I have read once and will not open again for many years, if ever!  But how could I throw away The Call of the Wild, for example, without destroying one of the building bricks of my childhood, or Zorba the Greek, which brought my adolescence to a tear-stained end, The Twenty-Fifth Hour and all those other volumes consigned to the topmost shelves, where they lie untouched and silent in that sacred trust of which we are so proud.

It is often much harder to get rid of books than it is to acquire them.  They stick to us in that pact of need and oblivion we make with them, witnesses to a moment in our lives we will never see again.  While they are still there, it is part of us.  I have noticed that may people make a note of the day, month, and year that they read a book; they build up a secret calendar.  Others, before lending one, write their name in the flyleaf, note whom they lent it to in an address book, and add the date.  I have known some book owners who stamp them or slip a card between the pages the way they do in public libraries.  Nobody wants to mislay a book.  We prefer to lose a ring, a watch, our umbrella, rather than a book whose pages we will never read again, but which retains, just in the sound of its title, a remote and perhaps long-lost emotion.

– Carlos María Domínguez

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Chapter 14)

For, he thought, it’s a special hour. Women never wake then, do they? They sleep the sleep of babes and children. But men in middle age? They know that hour well. Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning, there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three A.M.! Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out. The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It’s a long way back to sunset, a far way on to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead – And wasn’t it true, had he read somewhere, more people in hospitals die at 3 A.M. than at any other time . . . ?

Stop! he cried silently.

“Charlie?” his wife said in her sleep.

Slowly he took off the other shoe.

His wife smiled in her sleep.

Why?

She’s immortal. She has a son.

Your son, too!

But what father ever really believes it? He carries no burden, he feels no pain. What man, like woman, lies down in the darkness and gets up with child? The gentle, smiling ones own the good secret. Oh, what strange wonderful clocks women are. They nest in Time. They make the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity. They live inside the gift, know power, accept, and need not mention it. Why speak of Time when you are Time, and shape the universal moments, as they pass, into warmth and action? How men envy and often hate these warm clocks, these wives, who know they will live forever. So what do we do? We men turn terribly mean, because we can’t hold to the world or ourselves or anything. We are blind to continuity, all breaks down, falls, melts, stops, rots, or runs away. So, since we cannot shape Time, where does that leave men? Sleepless. Staring.

Three A.M. That’s our reward. Three in the morn. The soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. And a train arrives at an hour of despair. . . . Why?

“Charlie…?”

His wife’s hand moved to his.

“You… all right… Charlie?”

She drowsed.

He did not answer.

He could not tell her how he was.

– Ray Bradbury