What really matters is having felt that our plan, which more than once we made a joke of, really and secretly existed and was the world and ourselves. Down through the years, without much hope, I have sought the taste of that night; a few times I thought I had recaptured it in music, in love, in untrustworthy memories, but it has never come back to me except once in a dream.

Once, I ran across Nierenstein on Lima Street, and we pretended not to see each other.

Borges, The Congress, in The Book of Sand

Cataloguing Cultural References in 'Oscar Wao'

Of course, that’s part of the beauty of the novel. Diaz’s sexy cartwheeling Spanglish prose drives the story, but at heart, this is a geeky book about a nerdy boy. Oscar’s world sags under his myriad sci-fi inscrutables, heavy badges of geekitude that isolate him from every living girl on his lonely planet. Diaz references hundreds of points of culture, both superstars and blips, and they pour out of nearly every chapter in the book. Only a reader as geeky as Oscar could catch ‘em all, if you will.

Books That Unlock Other Books

And the non-reading of books, you will object, should be characteristic of collectors? This is news to me, you may say. It is not news at all. Experts will bear me out when I say that it is the oldest thing in the world.

From Walter BenjaminUnpacking My Library

To me, an unread book is always an unlocked world. It sits on the same shelf as the read books, with worlds that I’ve entered and characters who’s stories have become mine. And sometimes it sits there for years, unread.

Recently I’ve come to realize that there are some books that “unlock” other books—so that this fifth, tenth, fifteenth time that I pick up the unread book, is the last time it stays unread. Because a book I’ve just finished led me straight there and I’m now ready, prepared, to enter that world.

Sometimes there’s a strict logic to the connection between the two books, sometimes there’s nothing more than a feeling.

So I finally read Alberto Moravia’s Contempt after years of it sitting on my shelf and years more of loving Godard’s adaptation, because I’d just finished Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs and something about Thomas Abbey in The Land of Laughs led me immediately to Molteni in Contempt. Prior to this, I’d started Contempt about six or seven times, always stopping after a few pages.

Then from Emmanuel Carrère’s My Life as a Russian Novel to the first book of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Justine. I’ve tried to read Justine about ten, twelve times before, never making it past the first page. Now I’m on my way to book two of the Quartet. Because I’m just in that sort of mood now. Which I wasn’t before My Life as a Russian Novel.

In both those most recent experiences, I didn’t know what would come next—I didn’t start Carroll thinking of Moravia, or Carrère thinking of Durrell. It just worked out that way.

But I’m wondering now if the book that unlocks other books, could work in reverse. If I could pick a book that I’ve never been able to get through, but have always wanted to read, and locate the one book that would unlock its world for me.

Because I’m trying to work up the courage for Musil. For a Los Angeles to Frankfurt and Frankfurt back to Los Angeles flight in October. And I’ve been told I’m just not ready for Musil. Years ago.

Unlocking The Man Without Qualities. There must be a book out there that will.


Shelving Simenon

A week ago I went to the local bookshop looking for a book by Georges Simenon. I still haven’t gotten to the Magriet stories but I’m a fan of the romans durs and wanted another one of the volumes put out by the New York Review Books.

There was nothing in stock, of course.

I wanted to read only Simenon that weekend. Before I visited the bookstore I’d looked up and down my library at home to see if I could find anything that drew me in. No luck.

I came home with that sense that’s one part disappointment, one part anger that the book you want to read is simply out of hand. 

I looked back in my library. 

Where I found shelved, an unread Simenon. The Strangers in the House.

A story about a man with a house full of books, who doesn’t know what lies under his own roof. 

The right book at the right time—I never fail to find it.