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
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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