Friday, May 6, 2011

An Open Letter to the Library Book, “A to Z Mysteries: Something or Other about Quicksand” (We Can't Even Remember the Title) that Our Daughter Lost.

NOTE: I'm thinking of submitting this, or a more polished version, to McSweeney's Open Letter forum. Kinda fun.

I'm so terribly sorry.

She left you on the third step up from the basement, “right where that bottle is,” apparently, as if the book somehow magically transmogrified into a bottle of antibacterial soft soap.

I hope your final resting place is a pleasant one. That you're in the house somewhere I don't doubt, unless, of course, she left you at the vet's, or at ballet, or at Grandma's house, or at the university when we took everybody there a few weeks ago so we could go for a long walk out of the cold. Considering, however, that we found her brother's copy of Jeff Kinney's “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” in the middle of the rain-drenched street in front of the house because he left that one on the car bumper, and that we found my heirloom copy of D. Manus Pinkwater's “The Hoboken Chicken Emergency” amidst the dust bunnies and butt crumbs on the floor behind the boys' toilet, it's also likely you're somewhere dark and sticky.

I spent more than an hour today looking for you. I cleaned the boys' bookshelf trying to find you. Part of me is glad you weren't there, frightened at the pages spilling out of their “Captain Underpants” books and the ripped-off covers from their “Garfield” comics. Nestling among the corpsey bits of other books certainly wouldn't be comforting. Of course, either would be the alternative if you're lost somewhere in her room, squeezed into the pile of schoolwork from the first and second grades that she insists we cannot, under any circumstances, throw away, because she might, in some distant future, require examples of her ability with spelling or her felicity with fractions.

Your absence makes me think of Terry Pratchett's dwarves who chided Chalkboard Monitor Vimes for his irreverence in erasing words from existence. I'm half-dwarvish, I've decided. When a book becomes too aged, too crumbled, too pulped to be of service any more, I burn it. I can't bear to simply throw books away. They gave their lives for me to enjoy the ideas and suggestions and characters and words printed on their pages. The least I can do is offer them a reverential burial. Sometimes I sneak books out of the boys' room and put them in the fireplace, sending their words to heaven through the chimney.

My wife wents me to do that with the “Captain Underpants” books, but not because of any reverence she feels towards words. Pratchett's grags would not like my wife. Different strokes, of course.

She's willing to pay the library what it'll take to replace you. I can't however, guarantee that they'll buy a new copy of the same book. I don't know how popular you were, but as our kids tend to bring home books that were last checked out from the library in, say, 2005, your chances of being replaced with an exact replica aren't good. But maybe that's okay – some other book, containing another story to enchant the mind of a nine-year-old girl, will come to the library, for our daughter to check out and, hopefully this time, return.

And if we eventually find you, maybe she'll finish reading your words.



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