Category Archives: Carlos María Domínguez

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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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