Books Magazine

To Live And Die By Books

By Akklemm @AnakaliaKlemm

“She never wanted me to save her, only to love her as she was.”

- from The Archivist


The awful truth of it all is that madness isn’t beautiful.  But it can be made to sound like it is by literary giants who suffer from it or have had someone close suffer from it.  Anyone who has read the works of Sylvia Plath or T.S. Eliot could tell you this.  Martha Cooley makes this so utterly clear in The Archivist.  Reading Cooley’s work is like coming home.

“Her anger lay just under the surface, and it governed.  I was foolish to think I could urge or lead her anywhere.”

If you’ve known or been close to a manic depressive, you know how maddening this can be.  You know how frustrating the inability to react properly to anything that goes on in their head.  You know how quickly you, too, can be sucked into their reactions and find yourself angry as well.  You also know how wonderful is the defense mechanism of diving into a good book or hiding away with your journal and pen.

“People with special powers are frightening to love.  That’s why Eliot and Vivienne were doomed by the way – why their marriage was bound to fail.  They terrified each other.”

The literary mind finds safe places where it can… inside the pages of books.

“[...]While denial is useful, it has its price.  There’s no such thing as identity without history.”

So many quotes from Cooley moved me with their simplicity and truth.  They are words that I feel in my bones.  “Authentic moral resonance,” Robert Taylor of the Boston Globe called it.  Resonance is always felt in my bones, for all their conditioning I am oddly hyper aware of them.  They are undeniably tied to my passions – my loves – my needs – my life.

The ArchivistIn 1998, Steven Moore of the Washington Post Book World, wrote: “It is rare and gratifying to read a novel about people who take literature seriously, who practically live and die by books…”

It’s not so rare anymore with the likes of Diane Setterfield, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Kate Morton lurking about.  These days there is a whole sub-genre of fiction dedicated to it featuring titles like The Secret of Lost Things and The Little Book.  My own book is a feeble attempt to honor these authors with a dose of what suited the publishing company at the time.  The Bookshop Hotel is a bit of a romance – but one where the main character is quite in love with books and her small town more than in love with another human.

Poets, a marriage, diaries… Possession won awards and became insanely famous.  Somehow, however, Cooley’s book got buried once it ceased being a New York Times Bestseller – but it should never be forgotten.

I think I’m drawn to these kinds of books because I always find peoples’ relationships to books telling of what their relationships to people are.  Sampling someone’s library is like peering into their soul and seeing where their loyalties lie.  Or, if they have loyalties at all.

There’s a quote on page 47 that I find so familiar -

“She had become familiar to me physically as well as intellectually; I knew her dark brows and good coloring, [...] the slope of her neck, the slight overbite of her upper teeth.  I was familiar with the details, yet she eluded me.  Something to do with her motives remained completely beyond my grasp.”

I find this true of many people I’ve encountered.  And many books too.  You hold them, weigh them in your hands.  You lovingly caress their spines.  You know their smell, you know what they are saying.  You know their stories, their backgrounds, their recurring themes.  But you couldn’t begin to comprehend why they are telling you and what motivated them to do so.  You’re not always certain what they want you to do with the information.  That part belongs tucked away in someone’s secret heart and one can only guess.

“I sat at my desk, staring at the note and struggling to make sense of it.  I remember feeling a peculiar detachment – as if I were someone else, trying to unravel a mystery that was captivating but in which I wasn’t personally implicated.”

The Archivist is a must have for any book lovers library, especially for those who live and die by the printed word.

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