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Autobiography of a Book


in which the book reviews its positions

I stand, mostly. I stand and wait. I stand among my brothers, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. Among my sisters, cheek by jowl. Each to each pressed. I stand among them, many of them far greater, older, more praised, more frequently translated, larger in the world. And am I proud to be in their company? I am grateful!

We stand together in some sort of order, usually by author, often by subject, sometimes by color or size. And when we get lucky a reader removes us from the company we keep, spreads us open, and looks in at what's been going on quietly all the time, hidden, stored away like ... oh you know, like something. Make up your own simile. Like a seed, like a diamond in the earth, like a secret. Like that.

I admit my favorite position is supine, gazing up at the circle of light the insomniac has just caused the lamp to throw to the ceiling. I like resting by the bed. After the hopeful, then hopeless, tossing and turning, the sufferer sits up, turns the lamp's black knob, blinks. I'm happy to provide some company in the middle of the night. I'm happy to speak soothingly, soporifically, lull the wide awake toward the narrows, toward the dark entrance to the underworld where the torrent drops away, falls, and sleep rises over, the roof of the cave, the lid. And so, it's fine with me if I flop onto your chest, your warm, slowly rising, slowly subsiding chest. It's fine with me if you snore softly or thickly, the lamp vigilant, my words murmuring in the shade of my own body.

But don't let me put the pressure on. If you're not sleeping, hey, don't let's obsess about it. We can talk about something else.

I just like it, that's all. I like waiting next to the bed. I like to be near what goes on there.

in which the book, awake at last, revisits other readers

I sleep. Yes, while on the shelf I sleep. Do I dream? I dream. I remember my dreams.

There's this one dream in which I'm lying open on the bed and a beautiful drag queen is paging slowly through my innermost pages. She leans in close because she is myopic and vain and won't put on her glasses. Her eyelashes graze the paper as she blinks. No no, I can't allow her to think I am ticklish. For then, what would she do to me? Such girls can be so cruel. Her eyes are dark, so dark I wonder that my words don't get lost in them, blundering about in search of the naked lightbulb in the dressing room of her soul.

There's this dream in which a grandmother, having survived all her children and all her grandchildren, is sitting up in bed laughing at me. I feel ashamed. I want to tell her that I am not funny. That nothing could be funny in this world, least of all my thin excuses, my wheedling for a thumbing (just one riffle, dearest stranger, just one licked finger encouraging the unsticking of page 49 from 50); nothing I say could jerk a laugh from your belly, grandmother. Yet she laughs. She laughs at my teardrops, each of which wobbles at the end of a phrase.

There's this dream in which I am a door prize at a spaghetti feed fundraiser. I'm jammed in a cardboard box with novels by professors about professors and twenty-year-old memoirs by twenty-year-olds. The smell of tomato sauce is oddly intoxicating, as though the waft of industrial basil and bulk garlic retinted the Library Discard stamp a hallucinogenic vermilion. I start to think I am being colonized by pasta spores. I tell myself this is not a nightmare. Semolina flour is not so unlike the wood pulp of which I am made. Were my paper to be replaced with lasagna noodles I would make a yummy main dish.

in which the book asserts a certain capability and exercises it

I like to imagine you holding me. I may just be a book, but I have an imagination. And what I imagine is your hands.

Your hands holding me so I don't fall down, so your eyes can get a good look at me, a good look at everything. I hold nothing back. And you hold it all. I like that, thinking of you.

There are those who curl a book's cover back, the better to keep the book going one-handed. There are those who, when they turn to a new page, press it down, stress the book against its binding so it won't snap shut.

There are those who keep handy a highlighter pen and whisk it across a few words that strike them, forcing those words out of the ordinary. What had been, for all you could see at a glance, a collection of objects of equal importance, has suddenly been graded. A few words now shout, their brothers murmuring around them. There are even those who jot notes of their own in the book's margins. These notes will sometimes agree with, sometimes argue with what the book thought it had the sole authority, within its own body, to declare.

Do I not have control over my own body?

Who does? When you get right down to it. Who does?

Really. I don't need control. I don't. Write upon me. Don't feel scolded if I say I am uncertain that's what I want. Even those who surrender do not give over without mixed emotions. Is a book a conversation?

Are you moving your lips? You are probably not moving your lips. When a child is learning to read, he tends to move his lips, shaping the words as though they were not truly recognizable until they became physical, became objects with a mouthshape. As you grow more practiced your lips can no longer keep up with the eyes, with the mind's voice, with the silence.

I like to imagine you holding me, fingering a page.