Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lost Libraries

Rumor has it that there was once a great library in the city of Alexandria though no one living has seen it or even the ruins of it. It is known to us primarily through references in ancient books, and, as is always the case with ancient books, there has been a good deal of disagreement about how they should be read.

There does seem to be a consensus that the burning of the library and the books within was a profound loss.

The day after the house burnt down, I learned a great deal about what will burn and what will not.

I had kept my books on a single, long shelf that spanned a room.

They were still there, although the shelf and the wall and the room were gone. Actually, there was, in the aftermath of the fire, only one book, because the spines and exposed edges of the pages were gone. What remained was a dense shape of pages and covers. It would fall apart when I touched it. When that happened, I could read the heart of the page, a fragment of a story or a fact stranded in the middle of obliteration.

(The library pictured above is a virtual library created by Olivier Charles.)

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