Sometimes stories about books feel cheap and easy. “I know my readers like to read, so I’ll let them read about reading.” This story by Rose Lemberg feels anything but.
Also, Strange Horizons, from which many of the stories featured here come, is having their annual fund drive. The stories are free to you, but paying the authors is important to.
Its pages smell of honey, with dusty and sweet notes of paper flowers that bloom on the flat roof of a house, a library that stands on the top of a lonely blue hill. Bees come to the roof and alight on the blooms that had once lived in books—books that had perished in fires and floods of forgetfulness. On the paper petals the bees look illuminated, gilded with time and traced by a hand that has never spelled rush. I had planted the flowers there myself, when I was a librarian under a thousand sunsets, but today, like any other day for years and years and years, I will not dare to open Teffeu.
There are thousands of books on my shelves here. Once, in despair before yet another big move, I called a company. The supervisor who did the assessment told me they had recently moved a small Jesuit college with less books than I owned.
I do not own the books. They live with me. In Russian, we say the books are by my side. I live in English mostly these days, but they live by my side in Russian, English, Old English, Welsh, Old Norse, Old Russian, Bulgarian, Homeric Greek, Modern Icelandic, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Yiddish. They are by my side, but no longer do we quite live together. Sometimes when I come down the stairs and open a book very fast, I see that all the words have gone missing.
I know where they go. When I was fourteen, my body resided in a tiny apartment with cockroaches and a broken wall, and three weeks had passed since my family immigrated to Israel. But there was another house I lived in, circular and ancient, with stucco walls painted in flowering ink that spelled itself into a thousand names for every sunset since the world was new. And I had made a library there, for all the books I’d ever want to live with me in all the languages, in all the alphabets and abjads, syllabaries and logographic scripts.
When my books empty out at night, they go to the library at Taarona.