My greatest literary discoveries have been made browsing the shelves of libraries and bookshops at my leisure. My favourite ever pastime, is roaming through the lines of shelves, left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top, moving around here and there in no particular order. My eyes passing softly reading title after title.. my fingers gently touching the different books, feeling the textures of the binding covers, looking at the titles, picking up a book and flipping through its pages, reading bits and pieces, putting it back on the shelf and moving to another shelf with other books.. other themes.. other colours.. covers of books usually are what attract me the most.. the design of the cover and its material, the title and its typset.. the author.. My greatest delight is discovering undiscovered treasures.. books that are not famous, those that are less known.. finding the shelves or piles that are randomly placed or that are uncategorized..
I discovered Letters to Young Poet that way, and of course all of Rilke’s works from then on were to me small discoveries of a great poet and a wonderful writer. That tiny book, that I found almost buried in one of the hidden corners of the second floor of the AUC library and read almost completely while standing there next to the shelf, to me was a revelation. The book was calling for me and I beckoned and read it all in one go. That little dark red hard-covered book is one of those treasures closest to my heart.
Tonight, I made a new discovery! I came to Kotob Khan for a coffee and to escape the toils of the week, to finish some work and to refresh my soul by being surrounded by books with the smell of coffee in the air.
Another of those bottom line shelves.. an enclosed area.. no particular categorical sign.. a mixture of books from Orhan Pamuk to Pope John Paul II to Murakami to Arab writers to Kundera to Stalin, nothing really grouping them together.. unshelved, uncategorized books so to say.
I see the title Jorge Luis Borges and pause for a moment. I hesitate for a split second thinking, I should start reading Spanish works and I should start to become familiar with writers and poets like Borges and Marquez and Lorca. I brush my thoughts aside reminding myself that I still have an endless number of books unread, cursing the fact that the latest book I have been carrying around with me for the past month is not even half read.
I continue to browse the shelves. There is no harm in browsing. I stumble upon a tiny little grey-coloured book.. almost invisible in the midst of the larger titles. A simple title With Borges by Alberto Manguel. The latter name not unfamiliar. I pick the book up. A little gem of no more than 70 pages, large enough print, 1.5 or double-spaced. Thoughts of Rilke flow back into my mind. The back of the book reads:
In Buenos Aires, 1964, a blind writer approaches a sixteen-year-old bookstore clerk asking if he would be interested in a part-time job reading aloud.
The writer was Jorge Luis Borges, one of the world’s finest literary minds; the boy was Alberto Manguel, who was later to become an internationally acclaimed author and bibliophile.
Now how can one move away from such a book.. from such a sentence? Borges was Blind! What a discovery! And he employed someone to read for him.. someone who became an acclaimed author.
What luck. What a coincidence that brings me here today.
I look inside the book and start to read through the pages. I put it to the side and go back to the Borges title I had come across a few moments before. Selected Non-Fictions. I learn that the greater part of Borges’ writing was not only in fiction and poetry but also in non-fiction prose. Titles of essays that include, “the nothingness of personality” and “an investigation of the word” or “a profession of literary faith” or “a history of eternity”. Film reviews and book reviews, from King Kong to Crime and Punishment to Faulkner and Huxley, Joyce and Wells. Lectures on Shakespeare, essays on Dante and prologues to a personal library… now how can one turn away from that?!
Not only that, the book is in a good clear type and on the thick recycled-type, what-do-they-call-it, acid-free? paper, with unevenly-cut pages on the side. Simply breathtaking. The little book too is breathtaking. The story of a friendship that develops between two huge literary figures talking about books and reading.. you delve into their minds, their personalities and how they think and feel and view the world..
I am happy with my discoveries. I pick them up, gather my things, head to the cashier and proudly pay for my newfound treasures.