Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Book

Somewhere, in some well stocked library I have yet to visit, or in some humid used book store where the owner secretly cooks dishes composed of cabbage and garlic, or perhaps on some hastily constructed shelf in a thrift shop, or arranged on a dried-out lawn hosting a yard sale, or perhaps even in the dusty shelves of an alcove in a funky hotel, there is a book you have been searching for all your adolescent and midlife years.

The book may be poetry from an as-yet unknown Yeats; it could also be a work of fiction such as the book of knots Annie Proulx used to such epigramatic and thematic effect in The Shipping News.

It could be a novel or a particular collection of short stories--anything is possible where this special, life enhancing book is concerned.

When you find this book, it will change your vision, your senses, the way you think, the way you respond, the way you make love. This book will do for you what the grateful genie did when freed from its bottle prison, all of which is good enough, but even better is the fact that you will never forget this particular book, however long you might live; the transformative qualities of each page will remain as your companion.

If you had so much as a title or author for this book, an ISBN or hint of the publishing date, your search would be simple, even direct. There would be no further need to gaze out at the wide Sargasso Sea of shelves and catalogs.

There have been numerous books in your life that have become friends in one way or another, adding the depth of experience, information, and understanding to your tool kit, in the process convincing you of the actuality, the presence somewhere of the book you seek, energizing you in as tangible a way as the metaphoric one with which knights errant of old ventured forth after the Holy Grail, seeking, watching, observing closely the miracles of life and evolution about you.

Having searched for so long already, you have searched beyond the madness of seriousness, the implacable focus of the perfervid spiritual quest to the point where life no longer seems absurd to you nor do human institutions, even universities, seem absurd. Rather, it is funny--it is all funny. From time to time your impatience causes you to lose temper and you find yourself railing at those individuals and institutions who impress you as absurd. You do this until you realize that there is a scale of absurdity, just as there are scales of, say, hardness, or intensity of wind, or scales of the waxing or waning of the moon. From this comes the comfort that the book you seek might be a Sears catalog, the Tiffany catalog, or even the booklets sent you with each voting cycle, purporting to explain the issues on the ballot. The book might teach you the basic truth of which kind of twine you'd use when trussing a chicken, prior to roasting it. It might be an Archie and Friends comic book, although you'd have thought you'd remember those.

You remember that the book itself and the place you find it might be rooted in funny, thus you are reminded once again to step back from your serious while you look for the funny, while you in effect join the funny about you until you become funny yourself, funny in appearance, funny in meaning, funny in your hungers.

At what appears to be the right place for the book to be found, a sales person who may or not be Merlin, who may or may not be Meryl Streep or Glenn Close or Peter Falk, shakes a shaggy head at you. "Had that book around here for some time. Know exactly the one you mean."

Your senses tingle with apprehension and possibility. "What was it called?" you venture, thinking now, ah, now you can order it from Amazon.

"Funny you should ask," the salesperson tells you. "Doesn't work that way, however. Not with this book. With this book, you want it--you gotta write it."

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