bookjacket photographs

yesterday i went to the library, suddenly hungry--no, ravenous-- for a story. i headed straight for the fiction section--an unusual thing for me in the public library. normally i flit about there as if i was a hummingbird; the sheer volume of the kinds of knowledge there are to be had combined with the deep generosity of the whole library system usually puts me into a kind of tizzy. i quickly fill up with the kind of anxious crazed joy of children who have been allowed to stay up past their bedtimes and eat unlimited amounts of sweets. i always end up checking out too many books to carry home comfortably; books on gardening, breadmaking, learning chinese, making your own clothes, raising a teenager, constructing lampshades without sewing, philosophy, art, photography, puppet-making, surrealist poetry, world history, dogs, chickens, ways to make money on the side. when i get them up the stairs i sit in bed with them for hours, skimming wildly from one to the next, consuming them like a chain smoker, nestling them open inside of each other, a crazed intoxicated speed reader dog-earing pages as i go in a desperate attempt not to forget everything i've read.

inevitably by evening i have an information hangover, and am plagued by disillusion and regret. already the books seem so overlarge and burdensome i want to return them to the library in order to experience the lightness of having them gone.

but yesterday was different. i knew what i wanted, though not exactly. i would know as soon as i found it. i relished moving slowly across the shelves with my eyes. i cherished the comfort of the dewey decimal system. surely this was one of the ultimate ways one could be alive, is how i was feeling.

certain very modern books, when i opened them, i knew right away they were not what i wanted. books so modern that when you open them they glare at you like the lights in a modern supermarket. maybe something too casual about the dialogue, i don't know exactly, though i could feel the difference very palpably. but i did notice that one book i thought looked somewhat interesting stopped being interesting to me when i saw the bookjacket photograph of its author. the trance the book had started to put me into was broken when i saw the author's picture. something too slick about it--it made her look like a newscaster. i put it back. after a little while i found a small carson mccullers copy of "the ballad of the sad cafe" and accompanying stories, something i somehow managed to get all the way through graduate school as a literature major without reading. i read a page and knew it was the right book. or one of the right books. there was no photo of her on the back. but after coming home and reading those stories one after the other until there were no more to read, i really wanted a picture of her to look at. so i found this one:

yes she looks very young in it, but she published "the heart is a lonely hunter" when she was only twenty-three.

another book i found, and which is proving to be delighful, as i started in on it as soon as i closed carson's book, is a book of stories by roald dahl, titled "kiss kiss." yes he is famed for writing for children, but believe me, he can also spin wicked stories for grown-ups. here is the lovely bookjacket photo from that book:

candidly sweet, that's how i like these bookjacket photos.

well, that's what i though until i found that the library was carrying a copy of georges perec's "a void," a vast oulipian experiment of a novel, written without a single letter "e". though i am a big perecian, i had so far-- yes, avoided-- reading it, largely because i thought it might be too much of an experiment, and maybe not as engaging as everything else he ever wrote. what a silly thought. a quick glance at the first page and i was reassured. "mmmm... how scrumptious is milk at midnight," what a sentence!. i flipped the book over happily to glimpse the familiar face, and what greeted me was a picture of perec i had never seen before. it surprised me so much i jumped a little:

it was so funny and sudden of a picture, it was as if he'd jumped out at me from behind a curtain and said 'boo.'

these were the books i took up to the circulation desk. the librarian, who has been there for ages, doesn't really greet you. but i was not really in the kind of mood to not have a greeting, so i greeted her. it turned out the perec book wasn't in the system. as the librarian typed in the title of the non-existent book that was right in front of us, she chuckled. i began to feel that excitement you feel when something clicks. while she was trying to find the book in the system i told her all about how it didn't have any "e"s in it, and what's more, it had been written in french without any "e"s and then translated into english without "e"s, which was doubly amazing. she agreed. she never found it in the system. she surmised that though the book had been physically in the library for years, no one had ever checked it out until now. i told her i thought georges perec would really appreciate his book "a void" being lost in the void of the library system and us standing here trying to unravel it. she said she was going to look him up. she told me to have a nice day as i went out.


kay said...

wow, that truly is the best author photo ever.

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