Jan 4, 2006

On pages
For Jeff, who became a Marine

When I die, I want to be buried under the ground under the floor of a library. I want the musty smell of turned over pages to seep down through the wood floor, through where the wood turns black around the nails. I want to dream of ink, through the stone scattered earth and a plain pine coffin, of ink pressed as words into the pulp of paper, of the way the afternoon light comes yellow through the high windows sprinkling down on floating flecks of dust. I want to hear the footsteps of a kid looking for the first time for a particular author as the joists creak. I want to feel the shift in the weight as a girl stands on her toes to find the place her books would be on the shelf, if she'd written them. I want to see the sigh escaping a man who's finally found a book he once loved, once lost.

I bought my first book shelf at an estate sale, after they'd sold everything worth something, everything but the clothes and the cat and the press board shelf. My granddad, the girl said, as an answer. He was 64. It had five shelves, the top shelf too small and the bottom one too large so the books had to be arranged by size. I set it by the head of my bed, and stacked my books all there, with only a few left laying on the floor unshelved. I lined the top shelf in paperbacks, pushing in the penguins and the signets, the bantams and the ballentines, until there wasn't room for another full book and the last one I pried in trying to keep the cover from crushing back. At night, trying to see the shelf in the dark light of the alarm clock, I smelled the old owner's cigar smoke seeping out of the pressed particle wood. For weeks or maybe longer it hung there, in the dark, the soft scent of hours spent smoking and reading, paper turned and leaves burned and a life spent rocking quietly into the night.

The books you read, as a boy, they're about men of action. Knights and cowboys and heroes and adventurers. Men who went over the horizon, into the next day, and if they die they die gloriously as a testament to things accomplished, to deeds done and victories claimed. You never read, when you read the books of a boy, about men who die wearing a bathrobe and reading until the end finds them half way through a cigar, half way through another book. But you read, when you're a boy like I was a boy, with glasses and a book shelf and a penchant for California oranges ripened on the tree, you read and you see things in books like you're the first one to see. You read and as word follows word follows page follows cover, you see that specter. You get a glimpse of the outer limit, of mortality.

In books, the man said, in books rowed up on the shelf you see, for the first time, your mortality. You begin to measure the time this way. To come to feel the passing of life in titles. You come to look at a library the way the alchemists kept skulls on their desks, as a time check. Remember death, reads the space of every shelf, remember the limitations. I read 48 books, last year. And 52, the year before.

If a year of my life means 50 books, then I'll read 500 by the time I'm 34. Two thousand when I'm 64. Two thousand titles I've yet to choose that will mark my accomplishments. Two thousand titles that could be any titles but whatever titles will pass, will pass shelf by shelf, author by author, passing my time. All of them could be bound together as the book of my days, the record of my lamp-lit nights.

Books I read in 2005
1 The Devil and Sonny Liston, by Nick Tosches
2 Long Day's Journey into Night, by Eugene O'Neil
3 Violence and Difference, by Andrew McKenna
4 Conversations with Susan Sontag
5 Youngblood Hawke, by Herman Wouk
6 The Dutchman and The Slave, by Leroi Jones
7 Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry
8 Mothernight, by Kurt Vonnegut
9 God's Politics, by Jim Wallis
10 American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11 Standing by Words, by Wendell Berry
12 The Double Helix, by James Watson
13 On Photography, by Susan Sontag
14 Job, by Rene Girard
15 Violence and the Sacred, by Rene Girard
16 Underworld, by Don DeLilo
17 Angelhead, by Greg Bottoms
18 God among the Shakers, by Suzanne Skees
19 The Book of Daniel, by EL Doctorow
20 Girl meets God, by Lauren Winner
21 The Eclipse of God, by Martin Buber
22 The Magic Journey, by John Nichols
23 As I Lay Dieing, by William Faulkner
24 The Actual, by Saul Bellow
25 The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
26 Mr. Lincoln's Wars, by Adam Braver
27 Thinking through the Death of God, ed. by Lisa McCullough
28 Subculture, by Dick Hebdige
29 100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
30 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, by Ludwig Wittgenstein
31 Soul Made Flesh, by Carl Zimmer
32 Gas Station, by Joseph Torra
33 Freddy's Book, by John Gardner
34 Superminds, by Selmer Bringsjord & Michael Zenzen
35 City of God, by E.L. Doctorow
36 History of Philosophy vol. 1, by F. Copleston
37 Blondie 24, by David Fogel
38 The Creative Process, by Scott R. Turner
39 Searching for God Knows What, by Don Miller
40 Mao II, by Don DeLillo
41 History of Philosophy vol. 2, by F. Copleston
42 The Gang that Wouldn't Write Straigh, by Marc Weingarten
43 Artificial Intelligence and Literary Creativity, by Selmer Bringsjord & David Ferrucci
44 Under the Big Top, by Bruce Feiler
45 The Baptism and The Toilet, by LeRoi Jones
46 The Rediscovery of Mind, by John Searle
47 You Shall Know Our Velocity! By Dave Eggers
48 Riven Rock, by T.C. Boyle