Old Editions Live

myshelf

While walking through a bookstore, new or used, I always stop and look for my favorite authors. I idle by their alphabetical presence and run my eyes hungrily over the spines of their books. I am always looking for first editions, or copies of works I do not possess. But sometimes I find a unique copy of a book I already own. If it speaks to me I will purchase it and bring it home to sit on the shelf with its cousins. I’ve ended up with four or five different versions of that same title. Is it a compulsion? No, it’s a conversation.

I can sometimes hear the voice of the book. It tells about the hidden history of hands holding it through time; maybe only one person…sometimes a dozen. Each finger, each thumb that held the pages open for salutation floats into my mind’s inner vision. Young children, teenagers, elderly grandmas – they’ve all left some integral essence on the paper and horse-bone glue of the book. It talks about revelations eternal. It talks about scansion and presentation; it talks about late night binges and book club biddies talking rhetorical about semicolons. It talks of authorial eternities among righteous writers from all times, all civilizations.

I also hear the writer speak. Each time I open one of their books they briefly, for the time I am reading them, live again. A voice of someone long deceased (or maybe even living in a low rent apartment forgotten, akin to death) and they begin to talk to me, to tell me intricate stories woven from late nights and long airplane flights, from cross country Greyhounds run through desiccated sunburnt towns, discovering the endless variations on the essential dreamscapes of storytelling. They blow the smell of lattes in my face and echo the distant chatter of cafe couples as keyboard keys clack. I almost have to wash the ink off of my fingers from running my hands across their notepads as sentences form and new realities take shape.

I am a necromancer when Twain tells tales. Reading ‘A Connecticut Yankee’ or ‘Letters from the Earth’ causes him to appear ghostlike in this world, his white mustache twitching in desperate need of a cigar when no smoking is the rule of the day. Allen Ginsberg appears each time Howl is recited by curious and independent 16 year olds, he dances with glee when they discover his paeans to assholes, cocks, and ultimate freedom.  The dandies, the denialists, the dreamweavers and thoughtpickers; the ancient voices salvaged from broken shards of cuneiform and papyrus, the dime novelists and the sci-fi strategist – come back to life like miraculous Lazarus and all so much more vibrant.

How wonderful it must be to be a name remembered. To be the writer of books that stand the test of time. To have life breathed into your ideas again and again. To be a voice calling from the pages of a book eternal as long as paper holds its molecular cohesion.  As long as English is spoken.  As long as eyes search for you hungrily on long shelves among a thousand others. These individual tomes tantalizing in their verbal glories begging for that fine and sweet amygdala response, where brains convert dashed off inky imprints into words to be pronounced in internal silence.

They say in so many various ways:  “As long as words have meaning, I will too.”

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