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Out of Clumps of Books

Aaron Guest

Guest post Twenty minutes is enough time to visit a bookstore. Especially when your son asks to go to the bookstore and you only have twenty minutes. He scoured for spy books, startled me fifteen minutes later, pointing to a book on a top shelf in the fiction stacks.

“You’ve got that book,” he said. “It’s on the coffee table.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude. Read this when I was very close to giving up on writing.

“You’ve got that one, too.”

A few rows down, to my left, I removed a book.

“Yeah. You have that one. And the other one.”

East of Eden. John Steinbeck. A coworker and I started an unofficial book club on weekends when the news was slow. I didn’t finish it because we were moving and you had just been born. I finished it two years later, around the time your sister was born.

Color me impressed that my eight-year-old son recognized my books on those shelves. But he should. He and his younger sisters have made my modest study into their play area. They take my books off my shelves and use them for staging forts, small plays with puppets, pillows for dolls, items to buy from the store, planet surfaces for their pocket-size civilizations of legos and barbies.

With enough time Isaac may have been able to point to more books on the shelves of the bookstore. And I, perhaps, may have curiously realized I was not telling him about the book itself, but where I was and who I was and what I was doing when I read the book.

Orthodoxy. G.K. Chesterton. College Senior. Feet propped on a dorm desk. I had just started dating your mom.

City of God. Augustine. Unemployed and depressed, trapped for a weekend in an apartment above two chain smokers while the street outside was under six feet of water.

Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling. All seven books while trying to get you to sleep in your bed through the night.

Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace. Read when your aunt and three cousins came to live with us in our old house. This book kept me sane with so many lives in complete disarray.

The poet Anna Kamieńska’s Astonishments sits on a special shelf in my study. A shelf that the kids know is untouchable. In “Small Things”, she records a number of images quivering, thrusting, seeping, pricking, splashing from the detritus of everyday life. And these minuscule things, “[grow] enormous/as if Someone was building Eternity/as a swallow its nest/out of clumps of moments.”

Properly shelved or piled on the corners of yet another fort, I may not be able to tell you about all of my books as someone with a “graduate degree in books” should be able to. Still, it is clear what has taken shape around these spines. That day my son asked me to take him to the bookstore I bought a George Saunders novella. It was and is an awful book. But it is no small thing.