Do you find that? That you are lying on the bed, buried in a book when suddenly you come across a passage that is so striking, so delightful you must write it down? And then you dash to your laptop and keyboard your excitement so others can read when you post it to your blog? Do you do that?
Here is the passage I found quite early into my voyage of ‘The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker’: ‘on the shelf above the clothes rail were two identical life jackets lying side by side like a canoodling couple …’ Even more apt when you learn she is waiting for her beloved husband to board.
It was an extra pleasure to be able to GO INTO the library, roam around the new book shelves, and strike up conversation with the librarians whom I had not seen for over seven weeks.
Do you do that? Do you copy out passages? What’s the last book you were really excited about, particularly regarding the quality of writing?
I would like a copy of Amy Hempel’s Collected Short Stories please.
I’ll just do a quick search, she says. Good news, We have a copy in the system. One copy. We can get it from the Burnside library.
There’s only one problem.
Did you learn any foreign languages at school?
French, Spanish, a spattering of German. Why?
How about Croatian?
The only copy we have is in Croatian.
How did that even happen? I ask.
God only knows. Do you know any Croatian?
My cleaner comes from Montenegro. He taught me a few swear words. Does that count?
Not really, she says. You could do a crash course in Croatian.
No thanks. I’ll wait till there’s an English version.
It could be a while. This version came out in ’96.
Have you got anything else by Amy Hempel? I say. In English.
- have you ever encountered an unusual problem in the library?
- can you speak Croatian? are you one of the readers of that Amy Hempel book?
- photo by Jakub Arbet from Unsplash
I was walking through the new state-of-the-art library
Looking for a book of poems, any book of poems.
It was like looking for dodos in the zoo
or passenger pigeons in the sky.
Do you still keep poetry books? I asked the librarian.
I’m not sure , she said.
She had to do a search
Then called the chief librarian who came with a swagger
Looking for that rarest thing— a poetry book.
Here, she said. Here they are.
They were squeezed Between ‘War’ and ‘Sports’,
The whole Western World’s canon reduced
to ten books on a tiny shelf.
And the ultimate irony?
There were more books on extinct animals than poetry.
do you see evidence of the death of poetry?
when’s the last time you bought a poetry book? or borrowed one?
All quiet on the Western Front? I asked one of the security guards who had been involved in an incident ten minutes before.
Yes, he said but you could tell he was a little jumpy.
He and two of his mates had wrestled to the ground an ice addict who was bothering one of the patrons.
Amongst much kicking, punching and hurling of abuse, he was shoved out of the library.
I pulled out my phone to take a film. One of the guards seeing me, said: No. Put it away, mate.
So I did.
I wish it were as easy to put away some of the stuff that is out there but it isn’t. It isn’t.
The rain has begun.
I park the car close as possible, then dodging the drops, duck into the library.
“Ahh,” says the librarian, “we’ve been wading through your requests and look what’s washed up.”
It is like Santa handing over a present.
“Ahh, ‘Waterlog’”, I say.”The perfect book to read in the bath,”
“Just don’t drop it,” he says.
I should have seen that coming but Steve is quick, very quick.
“Thanks,” I say and we have a brief chat on the merits of reading in strange places, like baths.
“Have to go”, I say. “The rain’s getting heavier.”
By the time I get to the car, the book and I are waterlogged.
Steve would have appreciated that pun.
Now I don’t have to worry about dropping it in the bath.