The Library, by Myriam Frey
artwork by Myriam Frey

I own a library. Its various sections contain a few hundred volumes of fiction and non-fiction, an extensive newspaper archive, around a hundred TV documentaries, some scientific papers and a very small number of feature films. It contains no poetry. I can't be sure about these figures as I have never seen the library in its entirety, but it's an educated guess. I find new sections at regular intervals. Some of them are packed with books; others hold no more than a fragment of a story. I expect there is a system to it all and I would love to discuss it with the librarian, but I've never met her.

The library exists only in my head.

The sections, wings and rooms of my library are memories of childhood places. They're gardens, classrooms, forests, a ballet studio. As memories go, they're just like anyone's, three-dimensional, photorealistic images of what these places looked like at some point in the past. When you look closely you see the brain doesn't render every corner of a memory with the same level of detail. Sometimes you just don't remember if there was a shrub behind that swing on your school yard and so the area is kind of fuzzy on closer inspection. You can move around in your memories, take various points of view, play with perspective. The memory itself appears static, much like the background in a video game.

There are about three dozen sections in my library that I have access to at the moment. There are no shelves in any of them. There don't have to be as the books are not being stored as actual volumes, either. No bound paper to pick up and leaf through, no covers, no dust jackets. What there is is much more interesting. The Ďbooksí don't look like anything. Literally, they don't. They're ghosts of written content. When I zoom out of a library section to get an overview I sometimes think there's a faint gleam to them. However, they don't have an appearance other than that they invariably occupy a very clearly defined space. Some stories are three-dimensional, others just cover a patch of ground. There are linear ones, like Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which perfectly divides the garage at my parents' house in two halves. Some stories float in the air. Sometimes I find the faintest of traces of a novel I've almost forgotten. When I zoom into a particular story it turns into my actual memory of it, projected onto the childhood memory to which it has been mysteriously allocated. It becomes a holographic image that can be anything from a lightly coloured haze if I don't remember the content too well to a high-resolution cinematic representation of the smallest detail if itís a story Iíve read several times.

William Gibson novels are a good example. The Neuromancer trilogy and the cyberpunk short stories occupy a small area next to the football pitch where I watched my dad play on Sundays. They overlap and interpenetrate in all kinds of ways in a volume about ten metres high. Thereís an almost fractal density to them. In fact, Gibson's account of the matrix probably isn't such a far cry from my library's design. I even called it the matrix for a while but then those films ruined the term and I reverted to not calling it anything for another while. I first read Neuromancer in the Eighties, about five years before I discovered the library. With hindsight I suspect my boundless excitement at the time could be to do with the fact that I felt there was something not entirely dissimilar in my head. Or maybe I was so excited that my brain decided to create a library after the matrix as conceived by Gibson. I don't expect I'll ever know.

I don't have a say what goes in my library and what doesn't. Or where, for that matter. Some of my favourite novels are unavailable. Of course, I tried to force them in by repeatedly reading them but it doesn't work. I once tried for an Ďadultí section, too, but it wouldnít stick. Of course, there's always the possibility I just haven't gained access to the room these things are shelved in. When I discover a new section I often find it surprisingly packed with content. When I read Anna Kavan's Ice, it went to an adventure playground I had not previously identified as part of the library. When I walked into it in my mind I saw there was already tons of stuff on medieval castles, a Wikipedia list of Christian demons, a book that questions the benefits of alternative medicine and a TV documentary on the Isenheim altar piece. Once a story has been given a place, I will never be able to read it again without that childhood memory as a backdrop. There will always be the playground under Ice and I will forever find Ice on the playground.

One of the low-density wings of my library is a small park that I always thought was exclusively occupied by Michael Marshall Smith's short story More Tomorrow. The story has the segmented shape of a tapeworm and runs along the short side of the park. I recently immersed myself into it but then was distracted by something between two plane trees a few hundred metres away. It turned out to be a razor-sharp, hammock-sized expanse of exam papers I edited for a hairdresser's college many years ago. I've never cut anyone's hair in my life but I do possess a certain theoretical knowledge of how to give someone a perm.

I found the library when I was a student. I don't remember how, but it would have been after I'd read something. It felt a bit like pulling a muscle you didn't know you had or that terrible feeling you get when you're looking out of the window while your train pulls out of the station and after a few seconds you realise it isnít your train at all thatís moving but the one on the next track. The sight of its receding tail lights throws you back in your seat and makes your stomach churn. That's very much what it felt like when I discovered the library.

I knew from the start that it was quite extensive but in the beginning I enjoyed only the occasional glimpse into it. It was exhausting and it almost hurt, like when you try to stare at something out of the corner of your eyes. Nowadays it unfolds whenever I care to look at it, but at the time it required an enormous amount of concentration to see it. Think of unicyclists or tightrope walkers. Once they get the hang of it, they find it hard to believe that maintaining their balance ever posed a problem.

I once met a neuroscientist on a train to Florence and he said he believed it was a form of synaesthesia. I found a number of related organisations but discovered they're all too busy smelling their colours to care much about my case.

All sections of my library are places I've been to between the ages of five and eleven. I have no idea why they would be from this particular period but I suppose the neuroscientist on the train would have linked it to certain development stages of my brain. I should have asked but he got off in Bologna.

After a while, I tried to chart what I'd seen of the library. I sat on the balcony of my parents' house with an A4 notepad and started to write down the locations and books I'd spotted so far. I was perhaps twenty titles into the list when I felt an increasing tension in my chest, a sudden sadness I could not explain. I dropped the pen and threw away the list. Clearly, this wasn't the way to go.

Over the course of almost twenty years I've discovered certain patterns. With some authors or topics I know that, no matter what I read by or about them, it will appear in a certain section. All things Oscar Wilde are shaped like strings and run a length of about 50 metres across a parking lot. The garage that is home to Middlesex features a few dozen articles and documentaries on reproductive medicine, heart surgery and transgender issues. There's a scene in Ian McEwan's Saturday in which the heart surgeon protagonist is peeling onions. I don't remember the rest of the novel very clearly, but there he is, peeling away. He'd stick out of the bonnet of my mum's car but I'm uncertain if I should tell her that. Also, inexplicably, there's Rollerball with James Caan from 1975. The librarian certainly has a sense for the absurd.

I've been wondering what would happen if someone wrote about me. Would it make it into the library and if yes, would I short-circuit if I saw it?

I've just noticed that this text covers a beach-towel sized patch of lawn in front of my granddad's aviaries. It's a stone's throw away from Ray Bradbury's A Graveyard for Lunatics. That's not too bad.




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