Saturday, June 21, 2014

`A Book Among Books, Almost'

Finally, thanks to Micah Mattix at Prufrock, I have seen Borges’ “Library of Babel” and it’s as grand as I had always imagined. To my surprise, it was in Cincinnati and was razed in 1955 to make way on Vine Street for a parking garage and office building. Three visages graced the entrance like tutelary spirits – Shakespeare, Milton and Benjamin Franklin. Take a look at the thirteenth photo from the top – hats off, no computers, people seated at tables reading big fat books – a preview of paradise. 

Collected in the late Dennis O’Driscoll’s The Outnumbered Poet: Critical and Autobiographical Essays (Gallery Books, 2013) is the 2005 essay “The Library of Adventure.” O’Driscoll starts with an epigraph by Randall Jarrell: “I rarely feel happier than when I am in a library – very rarely feel more soothed and calm and secure; and there in the soft gloom of the stacks, I feel very much in my element—a book among books, almost.” [from an unpublished talk to librarians excerpted by Stephen Burt in Randall Jarrell and His Age (2002).] O’Driscoll was born in 1954 in Thurles, ninety miles southwest of Dublin. The town had no bookshops, and O’Driscoll’s family had no television, record player or musical instruments. He started reading early and soon sucked the town library dry: “At some point in my childhood I began to ruefully realize that one book a day…would make only a small dent in the stock of the local library. I therefore resolved to double the dose and increase my intake to two books a day, as though I needed a book for each of my avaricious eyes.” With Jarrell, O’Driscoll associates books and libraries with contentment, security and abiding happiness: 

“Sorrowings notwithstanding, the obliviousness that is a synonym for happiness (we are never more contented in life than when we are out of it) triumphs regularly in childhood like the happy endings of the stories. Reading acts as a literate means of achieving pre-literate states of primary contentment and wholeness; insofar, that is, as one can actually speak of happiness except retrospectively.”

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