Wednesday 14 October 2009

The Paper House

Wow, thanks everyone for your great comments on yesterday's post - it's such an interesting concept, the book that started the transition into a world where, as Hayley so wonderfully put it in the comments, classics were no longer 'worthy books that I thought I should read rather than living things I wanted to read.'

A book like Howards End is on the Landing (yes, it's becoming second only to Miss Hargreaves in ho
w often I'll mention it... everyone got their copies of Miss Hargreaves by the way, since she happened to come up?) - sorry, as I was saying, a book like Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill doesn't just finish when you close it. Rather it sends you off in all other sorts of directions, and one of those was The Paper House by Carlos Maria Dominguez. (With some Argentinian accents which apparently aren't compatible with Blogger's HTML, sorry...) Hill wrote that it was 'a charming novella about the perils and dangers of books and book owning [...] about a man who has many thousands of books which not only take on personalities of their own but come to replace people in his life.' And she also quoted this excerpt: was unthinkable to put a book by Borges next to one by Garcia Lorca, whom the Argentine author once described as a 'professional Andalusian'. And given the dreadful accusation of plaigarism between the two of them, he could not put something by Shakespeare next to a work by Marlowe, even though this meant not respecting the volume numbers of the sets in his collections. Nor, of course, could he place a book by Martin Amis next to one by Julian Barnes after the two friends had fallen out, or leave Vargas Llosa with Garcia Marquez.

Lazy blogging on my part, I realise, but I thought I should share something which made me leap to A Certain Website to buy The Paper House. If you can resist a description and a quotation like that, then you don't have the same relationship with books that I have (does 'relationship' sound more or less healthy than 'obsession'? Hard to say.) The novel follows the narrator as he tries to track down Carlos Brauer, a bibliophile who has mysteriously sent a cement-damaged copy of Conrad's The Shadow-Line to one of the narrator's colleagues, recently deceased. Hit by a car, in fact, whilst she was reading Emily Dickinson's poems. The narrator sets off on a journey to find out who Brauer is, and why he's sent the book...

But the plot is only half the book's point: this is a novella for those who love the sight, feel, idea of books. (Incidentally, the illustrations by Peter Sis - which include the cover image, and the image reproduced below - are bizarre and yet fitting... certainly unique.)

I love reading bibliocentric books, because it makes me feel a lot more sane in my book addiction. Which of us won't nod in empathy at the following sentences (except perhaps the bit about giving books away...):

Every year I give away at least fifty of [my books] to students, yet I still cannot avoid putting in another double row of shelves; the books are advancing silently, innocently through my house. There is no way I can stop them.

It is often much harder to get rid of books than it is to acquire them. They stick to us in that pact of need and oblivion we make with them, witnesses to a moment in our lives we will never see again. While they are still there, it is part of us.[...] Nobody wants to mislay a book. We prefer to lose a ring, a watch, our umbrella, rather than a book whose pages we will never read again, but which retains, just in the sound of its title, remote and perhaps long-lost emotion.

To build up a library is to create a life. It's never just a random collection of books.
This is a very quick read, but a magically bookish one, which will make you feel a little saner about your own book collection. I'll think I'll revisit it over the years.... and anticipate quite a few of you doing the same?


  1. Isn't it such a charming little book? I've had it on my shelves for quite a few years now and often reread because it's such a delight! I think you're the only other person I know who've read this apart from me. :)

  2. Oh funny - I bought this, too, after reading the Susan Hill. Very glad you enjoyed it; it does look delightful.

  3. When you finally go into property ownership Simon it had better be a barn - not a barn conversion... unless you can call fixing books to every wall and making it into a library a 'conversion'!
    BTW there is now room for 2 more bookcases on the landing... start looking! (Will Howard's End go there?)

  4. That sounds like an irrisitable little book, wondering how I can possibly justify ordering it...

  5. This sounds fabulous! And, oh, I do love Peter Sis.

  6. Thanks for the recommendation for this I have readitswappedit and it should be here in a few days am very, very excited!

  7. I love Peter Sis! The Three Golden Keys is a favourite of mine! Thank you for sharing!


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