How do you mark your progress through a book? What sort of place-holders do you use? Any? Me, I use none. Purists would cringe at my page folding, spine bending, postcard/Post-it/cinema ticket inserting-cum-bookmarking skills; the kind of techniques solely reserved for guilt-free communion with (hopefully) musty pages. Hey, at least it’s not a big fat rasher of bacon…

Corner turning in a book is symbolic, a tantalising glimpse into self, and perhaps even the future. From The Bible to Harry Potter, and even Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography, the allure of dead certainties fly towards spine-tingling moments—not just because of the added resonance the physical act of paper provocation illicits, but because it always appears so relaxed and happy to be manipulated.

Books have to be read (worse luck it takes so long a time). It is the only way of discovering what they contain. A few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the West. EM Forster

Going off-piste with say 650 pages, enlivens what could easily become a dry curatorial exercise. Last summer I bought a paperback from a book stall in East Hampton and read it over the next few days. And then somehow the physical book itself vanished from my life. This week, with barely enough time for writing, my mind went back to the novel I had read which has gradually acquired talisman-like status. It doesn’t really matter what the book was called, what matters is that it represented the first thing a writer, somebody else, wanted to say about the world.

And while I too am contemplating what I want to say about the world (in print, no less), I feel I’m about to enter the time of the superlative. Literally and figuratively, I’m crawling into burrows and magical wardrobes, an almost unpredictable enchantment of the realist (not me) or the heavy hand of prophecy. Because much as I may enjoy them, such sparkly tales do not stand as any old myths stood. They demand nothing from me, except digging into satisfying that infantile desire I found in my childhood books, rather than any holy books I was forced to read.

Talking about holy books, the communion I feel with each page, is akin to evoking perfumed literary enchantment. Where once scents promised a ride on a magic carpet, now they can capture the olfactory experience of manhandling your overdue tome to a disappointed friend or librarian. Which is not to say that people should always give off the odor you expect them to…or do.




The medium of story is ever evolving, but not its essence. Living in New York is a great opportunity to go to as many libraries as possible. And I do. While some lament our descent into ‘the end of literature,’ paper storytelling is not dead or dying. Or is it? Sure, television, video games and mixed media crank out the skeleton of the tale in delicious ways, but the end of books? In the mustiest and best places I know?

Forecasts predict that within 10 to 15 years the largest “publishers” in the world will be Google, Amazon and Apple. In August of 2010, Google annonunced its intention to scan all known books (130m) by the end of the decade. The change is coming clearly, but what about a different kind of transformation. Didn’t they say Penguin paperbacks would destroy the print industry in 1939? That the printing press would overthrow Catholicism after 1440? That home videos would destroy cinema? Libraries may change in character; they may even transform into habitats for multiplayer online role-playing games. But they won’t disappear surely? As Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry put it in the opening to their hypertext fiction “Izme Pass,” which was published on a disk included in the spring 1991 issue of the magazine Writing on the Edge:

“This is a new kind of fiction, and a new kind of reading. The form of the text is rhythmic, looping on itself in patterns and layers that gradually accrete meaning, just as the passage of time and events does in one’s lifetime. Trying the textlinks embedded within the work will bring the narrative together in new configurations, fluid constellations formed by the path of your interest. The difference between reading hyperfiction and reading traditional printed fiction may be the difference between sailing the islands and standing on the dock watching the sea. One is not necessarily better than the other.”

As innate weavers of the most spectacular yarns, we’re come up with all these other ways to try to keep the library open. Co-working spaces! Media labs. Art galleries? I still think of books as highly exotic and largely unknown in the alleyways of our mind. Our inborn thirst for narrative means that story — its power, purpose and relevance — will endure as long as the human animal does. Let’s do everything in our power so that it, and the library, are never rendered obsolete.








The critic Irving Howe described Saul Bellow as “a mingling of high-flown intellectual bravado with racy, tough street Jewishness.” I’ve just read The Adventures of Augie March and fell in love with its jazzy, colloquial opening lines (“I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city – and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted: sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes not so innocent”) that heralded an exuberant departure for American fiction in 1953.

Augie March opens in 1920s Chicago during the Great Depression. Augie is “the by-blow of a travelling man”, finding his feet through his engagement with a kind of America that had not been run to earth in fiction before. He becomes a butler, a shoe salesman, a paint-seller, a dog-groomer and a book thief.

Sixty-two years and some 500 pages long and later, Augie says..“It takes some of us a long time,”..“to find out what the price is of being in nature, and what the facts are about your tenure.” Quite so.