The pages are so swollen we have to pry the books from their shelves with a long screwdriver, levering against the after-effects of the flood. A few thin volumes at the outer edges seem almost dry. With his sleeve, Wayne wipes the mantle and lays them down flat. “I think these can be saved!” he says, his voice sharp with the kind of hope that knifes up from despair.
Don Vincente wanted just one thing: to own the sole surviving copy of Furs e ordinations
, printed in 1482 by Lamberto Palmart, Spain’s first printer. Vincente ran a Barcelona bookshop stocked with books he’d plundered from ancient monasteries, including the one near Tarragona where he once lived as a monk. When the Furs
finally came up for auction, he bid everything he had, but it wasn’t enough. The book went to his rival Paxtot, whose house mysteriously burst into flames a few nights later. The bookseller burned to death, but the precious Furs
was discovered unharmed in Vincente’s shop. At the trial, Don Vincente’s lawyer produced a second copy of the rare book. “You see,” he argued convincingly, “the one in Vincente’s shop was not necessarily Paxtot’s.”
“Execute me now!” moaned Don Vincente. “My copy is not the only one!”
Jonathan Swift imagined a battle of books in the night, volumes hurling themselves off the shelves to tear each other’s pages out. But what really happens when the lights are dimmed, when readers go home, when a library falls into disuse or is abandoned to human disaster?
Most of my day is spent in front of a computer screen. I read thousands of words between dawn and dusk. But when I say to my husband, “I’m going to read now,” he knows what I mean. I’m leaving him for a book.
When Maya Angelou was eight, a lady took her to the local black school library. The shelves held some 300 books, ragged copies donated from the white school and rebound with shingles covered in pretty cloth. “I want you to read every book,” the lady said.
“I don’t say I understood those books, but I read every book, and each time I would go to the library, I felt safe.”