'er lasst sicht nicht lessen'
Unable and powerless to circumvent my miseries, daunted, discouraged and unable to face reality alone, I sought refuge in the companionship of others. Wretched and unloved, despising of myself as the object of anyone’s attentions or affections, I knew not where to go, where I would be accepted. I had always enjoyed the quiet company of books and so it occurred to me that a librarian or bookseller, someone literate and studious, might, if anyone understand and favour me.
How many times had I seen her and how many times had we met? That is the peril of the library: there is always something to read, and so our encounters were always avoidant and half mumbled, my eyes in the books I had come to her to borrow: but gentle, gentle. And do not think dear reader, because I never said anything, that I did not give her more than a passing thought, for I thought of her a great deal, often and vividly as only the shy can, to where I could honesly say that she filled my world, at least the part of my world I had left fallow and open for something other than unrelieved solitude, and though I waited, and waited so long and distantly, do not imagine further that everything that came, did not come pregnant on that first glance, that very first glance, surreptitiously behind the camouflage of Jane’s Guide to All Armoured Vehicles which I was perusing in the hopes of recognizing a silhouette from a disturbing and recurring dream I had been having. No, I was never not keenly aware of her, though I walked, as all true library patrons walked, in my readerly sleep and seemed to peruse only shelves; indeed, I would often reconoiter around the display of books of local interest (which held no interest for me) in the hopes of obtaining the merest telescopic glimspe of her fair and sedulous face serene over the horizon of her counter.
She was graceful, she was slender, she was like a slight blonde, bespectacled moth by an itty bitty book light. She too, always had a book, but an easy a gracious smile as she dutifully and silently received each patron. We had perhaps exchanged fewer than a dozen words or phatic sounds over the course of our acquaintance, if it could be even called that. But readers, they live between pages, that are to say in their heads, and there, there –what had I not imagined between us?
Paradoxically, in order to woo her I kept having to check out books I had already read or owned and knew quite well. This made for some illogical chit-chat: “Yes, it’s a wonderful book and I already have several copies at home." Which was impressive, in a way, but nonsensical.
Our first assignation went, on the whole, rather well. I was not at all disconcerted to note that she had brought a book, though when she read it at dinner, I feared for her eyes: “There’s never enough lighting in these places.” I said. “How is your book?” I asked, to which a received a not unfriendly, readerly, shrugging ruffling gesture, that, though cordial, did not seem to have any communicative content, other than acknowledgment. After some subtle moments, I inquired after the book’s author and what else they had written, but this and other simple conversational openings seemed to serve only to distract her from her reading. Not wanting to hinder her, I wisely kept my menu throughout the meal, so that I, too, would be reading, that we would be reading together: fortunately, I had picked a fine restaurant, which, in addition to having lengthy descriptions of desserts, also featured an extensive and diverting wine list with many evocative foreign titles. By the end of the coffee service, she finished her chapter and was ready to leave. It had been a pleasant evening over all for her: the food had been agreeable enough, I supposed, and the reading engrossing. I asked if we could meet again, to which she unequivocally replied “Sure”.
For our second rendez-vous, I suggested a reading -a tactical misjudgment on my part, for she despises being read to, which she feels spoils the whole beauty of reading. Even worse, of course, are audio books, or film adaptations of books. I ask her what she is reading now. “The same book” she replies. It is by no means a small book, with fine type, but it seems she is getting along with it. It might very well help if I knew at least what kind of book it was, but our conversations never seem to get around to it.
One day, over coffee I discover that she enjoys fiction as much as non-fiction. Actually, this is an inference, but based on much quiet observation. Further, subject matter does not seems to matter; she is either a polymath, or indiscriminate. Good, bad, it is all reading. I finally understood this went we went out to the country together. Her eyes lingered over the entirety of the ticket, to its finest print on the limits of its liability. She is never bored, as long as there is something to read. Or she is always bored.
Reading, which is how most often I see her, her eyes are almost as though closed, as though she is sleeping; this readily sonnambulance is somehow intimate. Or it is the opposite of intimacy. Her face expresses little and when it does, it is brief and perishable; not knowing what it is she reads I do not know to what she reacts, if it is at the text, at the author, or something from her own life of which I know nothing. Only her little eyes dart back and forth with regularity, like ants going from one end of a leaf to another.
Of her family I know nothing. Of her education I know nothing. Of her past I know nothing. Of her experiences I know nothing. Of her loves and hopes, I know nothing. Of her pets I know nothing. An unbroken and unspoken "Shhh" separates us; the wall of the book. Of her hobbies I know she likes: reading.
Our relationship, though in some ways quite singular, is modern and we do end up in bed, as she will allow me to nibble on her neck so long as I do not read over her shoulder. This act is quite rewarding in itself as she is quite lovely, having a librarian's graceful build, though somewhere in the act I become concerned with how what is happening now compares to what she has read, if it is drawn from all sorts of different sources, Anäis Nin's diaries and Penthouse Forum, the Susie Bright and D.H. Lawrence. Henry Miller. This throws me off my game.
Afterward I regard her lovingly in the soft light of her little itty bitty book light.
Eventually, I reached that point that many lovers do reach, of needing to declare my love, whether it is a matter of Venus's true conscience or simply one of protracted frustration, boredom and curiosity. The singularity of my beloved, though, gives me an opportunity of unique fortune and genius: I will write her a love letter, knowing with certainty that she will read it. A problem presents itself: what will be the style?
Knowing not her tastes in reading, but only that she reads, I chose logically to pursue an encyclopadetic approach to the whole subject and create a passable pastiche of all the songs, sonnets, diatribes, Platonic dialogues, billet doux and epistletory historical novels that mankind has had mind to pen over the history of writing. It was an ambitious project, but the thought of a substantial and authoritative tome to capture her attention was appealing. Here I would express not only my own tender delicate feelings, but the love feelings, tender and delicate or otherwise, of every human being that had recourse to written symbols and were available to my survey. To be sure, this took some time, but as our relationship wasn't going anywhere and I had no competing interests, I applied myself readily and the project proceeded apace. The results were not unlike a cross between Moby-Dick, Hobbes' Leviathan and Pound's Cantos, a certain over emphasis on classical allusion owing the fact that of the various languages learned to compose the letter, Greek was the most dearly acquired. Yet, in all my learning and footnotes, I still felt like a child, in this matter of the heart, wanting so dearly for her to read it. The letter was written in an equivocal, agonistic way, one paragraph declaiming the nature of love was immediately followed by another anti-thetical to it, unified only as much as men's hearts have been, in the use of the word "love" and more particularly in my love of the reader.
Having delivered it to her doorstep in a finely bound copy printed at my expense, I waited a calculated number of days (knowing by now well her approximate parsing speed) and dropped in at the library to casually ask if she had read my letter, to which she unequivocally replied: "Yes."
It was later, but not much later, that I finally grasped my doom. Of all the readers I might have found, jealous readers, careless readers, readers who bring their own crypto-political platforms to bear, readers who skip to the end -it was my fate to receive this one, the reader, the great silent unknowable majority, the unknown eye that copy editors watch out for, the inaudible voice of posterity. This is the mystery reader that sits and receives the unprepared essays that we write in our dreams, a reader so unreal and impersonal it might as well be my own death. The reader who reads, but who cannot be read.
Accepting of my fate and the fate of all human communication, I resolved to consign myself to being a fellow solitaire, a companion only in sharing the same reading room in a quiet turned chair, less like a book to a book or cat to a reader than a dreamer among the millions who dream, with all their soul, each night, alone.
“Read any good books lately?”
Not you, dear reader -shh!
TURN #68: WEEK 54; WORDS: 59,727
NEXT BY 5 JULY 2006