“I stole a book” (Clarice Lispector)

Literature, Writers

The moment her aunt went to pay for her purchases, Joana removed the book and slipped it furtively between the others she was carrying under her arm. Her aunt turned pale.

Once in the street, the woman chose her words carefully:

— Joana.. . Joana, I saw you…

Joana gave her a quick glance. She remained silent.

— But you have nothing to say for yourself? — her aunt could no longer restrain herself, her voice tearful. — Dear God, what is to become of you?

— There’s no need to fuss, Auntie.

— But you’re still a child… Do you realize what you’ve done?

— I know…

— Do you know… do you know what it’s called… ?

— I stole a book, isn’t that what you’re trying to say?

— God help me! I don’t know what I’m going to do, you even have the nerve to own up!

— You forced me to own up.

— Do you think that you can… that you can just go around stealing?

— Well… perhaps not.

— Why do you do it then… ?

— Because I want to.

— You what?

— her aunt exploded.

— That’s right, I stole because I wanted to. I only steal when I feel like it. I’m not doing any harm.

— God help me! So, stealing does no harm, Joana.

— Only if you steal and are frightened. It doesn’t make me feel either happy or sad.

The woman looked at her in despair.

— Look child, you’re growing up, it won’t be long before you’re a young lady… Very soon now you will be wearing your clothes longer… I beg of you: promise me that you won’t do it again, promise me, think of your poor father who is no longer with us.

Joana looked at her inquisitively:

— But I’m telling you I can do what I like, that…

A biblioklept episode from Clarice Lispector’s novel Near to the Wild Heart.

 

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Jorge Luis Borges, Forgeries, and Book Theft

Books, Literature, Writers

jlb

Fascinating story today at The Paris Review about a first edition of Jorge Luis Borges’s early poems stolen—and then returned (perhaps?)—to the National Library of Argentina. Forgeries, facsimiles, and book thefts! The following paragraph points out that Borges himself was once director of the library:

The National Library is as old as Argentina: it was created in 1810, together with the first national government, and its first director was Mariano Moreno, one of the greatest national heroes and the founder of the country’s first newspaper. The library was, at one point, something to be proud of, and Borges’s name is inextricably linked to its history; he was its director for eighteen years, between 1955 and 1973. By then, books were already disappearing from its shelves. When asked whether this was true, he replied, in typical fashion, “I can’t tell whether books are being stolen, because I’m blind.”

Read the essay.

Confession

Books

The following is the complete text of an email someone sent me today:

I give you permission to publish this anonymously. Do you do that?

***

It seems that I have stolen many books. Let me elaborate on these and the occasions on which I thieved.

Although packs of baseball cards such as I used to steal from gas stations as a young boy are not books per se, this is how my thieving began. Perhaps. Or perhaps my thieving began further in my past than my memory now reaches.

I stole from a university library Omensetter’s Luck by William Gass–an earnest accident that I did not seek to right after I noticed I had escaped with it and that the magnetic gate had not reacted with its electronic screeching to alert the responsibles.

From the same erudite friend I stole The Captive Mind by Milosz, and also Le Parti pris by Francis Ponge. Perhaps Grass’s The Tin Drum too.

From an institute in France I stole an edition of selections from Apollinaire’s Alcools, as well as a Surrealist anthology. And both of André Breton’s Surrealist manifestos. From my host family I stole a book of Blaise Cendrars’s poetry.

Accidentally from a bookstore I stole Washington Square by Henry James. Honest.

From a library I stole Nicholas Mosley’s Serpent, as well as a book called The Art of Not Working, or some such title.

I have probably stolen ten or so other books. Titles escape me. That’s not too bad, I suppose.

Oh yes, I also stole that book Marilyn Manson wrote in the 1990s, and I gave it as a gift to a romantic interest. How unromantic this seems now.

I think I stole many books as an adolescent. Some of these I placed in my pants, held against my abdomen by the pressure of my pants waistline or belt. I think I stole numerous books related to sex when I was young.

I don’t think I’ve hardly ever borrowed a book and not returned it.

***

I give you permission to publish this anonymously. Do you do that?

 

You know, I don’t normally do that (i.e. this), but I guess I could start.

If anyone else feels like anonymously confessing to book theft, email me.

 

 

Keith Miller’s The Book on Fire, A Tale of Biblioklepts, Bibliophiles, and Bibliomania

Books, Literature, Reviews, Writers

Balthazar, the hero of Keith Miller’s agile and trippy novel The Book on Fire, is a biblioklept. He comes to Alexandria to rob the famous library, a cavernous, labyrinthine complex that still exists–under heavy guard—in Miller’s mystical version of that ancient Egyptian city. Miller’s Alexandria is a byzantine maze, humming with a turn-of-the-century buzz, a kaleidoscope world that strongly reminded me of the strange cityscapes of William Gibson or William Burroughs. Here, Balthazar describes his attraction to Alexandria:

This is the city of books, where children are admonished if they don’t bring a book to the breakfast table, where they’re ordered by their mothers to drop their books and go play on the street, where bedtime tales sometimes continue, chapter after chapter, till well after midnight, parents pinching their children to keep them awake. This is a city where men beat their wives with books, the women shielding their heads with books. A city of book-whores, who fuck for books, and their bibliogiglios. A city of book-beggars, who spit on your money, gesturing with their stumps to the paperback in your hand.

What a town for a book thief! Balthazar plans to rob the Library of Alexandria, but he spends his early months stealing rare books from private homes. Soon, he’s trailed by Zeinab, a book prostitute who burns each volume she’s paid with. After a sexual interlude (“like fucking a wounded ferret,” Balthazar tells us), Zeinab introduces our hero to a guild of thieves and helps guide him through Alexandria’s frenetic underworld. In time, Balthazar breaches the forbidden, intoxicating library:

I read impossibly gorgeous scripts. Scripts in which each hieroglyph filled a page and took a day to write, but could express an entire philosophy. Scripts in which each letter stood for a notion, so the writing dictated thought patterns rather than words. Scripts that had no meaning at all, or that started out meaningfully but then, as the author was caught up in the physical act of writing, became relationships of lines and shapes on paper, beautiful and abstract. Private scripts, the authors long dead, so the script stood isolated, unreadable precious nonetheless. Rainforest scripts of samara and turaco crest. Marine scripts of shark tooth and sand dollar. I passed through rooms of books the size of doors, each cover the death of an eland, and rooms of books dainty as ladybirds. Books written on communion wafers, grains of rice, sheets of ice.

For Balthazar, books are a drug, and the Library of Alexandria is the heady nexus point for his addiction. No wonder then that he becomes obsessed with the young librarian Shireen, whom he plots to free (or perhaps steal) from the library—a plan that comes into conflict with Zeinab’s own designs. And while The Book of Fire does have the strong, page turning plot of a thriller, that plot exists mostly as the bones for Miller to hang rapturous descriptions of reading and books and, best of all, his strange Alexandria, a city of marvels. Good stuff.

Patti Smith, Book Thief

Writers

Patti Smith’s story about stealing a book was published last month in The New Yorker; somehow we missed it. It’s good to see this blog return to its original mission sometimes. Here’s an excerpt, but the whole piece is lovely and moving:

The next Saturday, my mother gave me a dollar and sent me to the A. & P. alone. Two quarts of milk and a loaf of bread: that’s what a dollar bought in 1957. I went straight to the World Book display. There was only one first volume left, which I placed in my cart. I didn’t need a cart, but took one so I could read as I went up and down the aisles. A lot of time went by, but I had little concept of time, a fact that often got me in trouble. I knew I had to leave, but I couldn’t bear to part with the book. Impulsively I put it inside my shirt and zipped up my plaid windbreaker. I was a tall, skinny kid, and I’m certain every contour of the book was conspicuous.

I strolled the aisles for several more minutes, then went through the checkout, paid my dollar, swiftly bagged the three items, and headed home with my heart pounding.

Suddenly I felt a heavy tap on my shoulder and turned to find the biggest man I had ever seen. He was the store detective, and he asked me to hand it over. I just stood in silence. “We know you stole something—you will have to be searched.” Horrified, I slid the heavy book out from the bottom of my shirt.

He looked at it quizzically. “This is what you stole, an encyclopedia?”

“Yes,” I whispered, trembling.

“Why didn’t you ask your parents?”

“I did,” I said, “but they didn’t have the money.”

“Do you know it’s wrong?”

“Yes.”

“I Don’t Know If You’d Call It Stealing” — Sam Lipsyte, Book Thief

Books, Literature, Writers

Sam Lipsyte read live from his novel The Ask last year on HTML GIANT’s Ustream channel. The reading was cool but the best part was the q&a session afterward. We asked Lipsyte the one question all true biblioklepts are dying to know (and the one question we ask every person we interview): “Have you ever stolen a book?”

Here’s Lipsyte’s response, which you can hear/see at 31:25 in the video:

‘Have you ever stolen a book?’ There was one time when I stole a few books when I worked in a library; it was a university library and my job was to stick the metal strips into the spines of the books that would set off the alarm. And so if a particularly good book came through (and this only happened three or four times) I just wouldn’t–I don’t know if I’d call it stealing–but I wouldn’t put the strip in. And then once it was shelved I would take it.

That’s a pretty sophisticated operation. Kudos to Lipsyte for his candor.

 

Bolaño the Biblioklept

Books, Literature, Writers

The New York Review of Books has published an excerpt of Roberto Bolaño’s essay “Who Would Dare?” It’s from the forthcoming collection, Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches (1998–2003) (translated by Natasha Wimmer; published by New Directions). A sample—

The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup. In Mexico there was an incredible bookstore. It was called the Glass Bookstore and it was on the Alameda. Its walls, even the ceiling, were glass. Glass and iron beams. From the outside, it seemed an impossible place to steal from. And yet prudence was overcome by the temptation to try and after a while I made the attempt.

The first book to fall into my hands was a small volume by [the nineteenth century erotic poet] Pierre Louÿs, with pages as thin as Bible paper, I can’t remember now whether it was Aphrodite or Songs of Bilitis. I know that I was sixteen and that for a while Louÿs became my guide. Then I stole books by Max Beerbohm (The Happy Hypocrite), Champfleury, Samuel Pepys, the Goncourt brothers, Alphonse Daudet, and Rulfo and Areola, Mexican writers who at the time were still more or less practicing, and whom I might therefore meet some morning on Avenida Niño Perdido, a teeming street that my maps of Mexico City hide from me today, as if Niño Perdido could only have existed in my imagination, or as if the street, with its underground stores and street performers had really been lost, just as I got lost at the age of sixteen.

Sam Lipsyte, Book Thief

Books, Writers

Sam Lipsyte read live from his new novel The Ask last night at HTML GIANT’s Ustream channel. The reading was cool but the best part was the q&a session afterward. We asked Lipsyte the one question all true biblioklepts are dying to know (and the one question we ask every person we interview): “Have you ever stolen a book?”

Here’s Lipsyte’s response, which you can hear/see at 31:25 in the video:

‘Have you ever stolen a book?’ There was one time when I stole a few books when I worked in a library; it was a university library and my job was to stick the metal strips into the spines of the books that would set off the alarm. And so if a particularly good book came through (and this only happened three or four times) I just wouldn’t–I don’t know if I’d call it stealing–but I wouldn’t put the strip in. And then once it was shelved I would take it.

That’s a pretty sophisticated operation. Kudos to Lipsyte for his candor.