Mild derealization at the used bookstore (Books acquired, 23 Sept. 2022)

The first time that I remember having intense derealization in my adult life was when I spent a few hours cleaning out a large spare closet in the house my wife and I were then living in.

This was about sixteen years ago, close to the birth of our first child, our daughter, and I was removing from the closet boxes of nostalgia: high school and college papers, paintings and sketches, patches, guitar pedals, old issues of MAD Magazine, punk zines, stereo wire, soon-to-be obsolete audiovisual cables, record sleeves without records, 3.5 inch floppy disks, memory cards from abandoned cameras, rolls of film, tennis balls, band t-shirts I’d never fit into again, heavy stereo equipment, and so on and etc.

I was removing all these old things to make space for new things, a pattern that I’ve followed ever since. And well anyway, not an hour into the process I began to get an odd dizziness, a feeling that none of this was real. I was not thinking about any of the objects but something about their accumulated physicality overruled my subjectivity. I recall having to turn off the record I was listening to, drinking a lot of cold water, and lying down. But the sensation kept on, like a low-grade psychotropic trip.

I experienced similar misadventures later in similar circumstances—reorganizing large bookshelves, moving offices, more stuff with closets. I also began to (rarely) experience full-blown anxiety attacks later in life, usually triggered by driving an automobile over a large bridge or on a complex highway, and the feelings of derealization I’d previously experienced were a part of those attacks, but they were also accompanied by feelings of dread and difficulty breathing. Those kinds of attacks are awful; the derealization thing is just trippy and weird. And it happened to me today while I was browsing for books. I’m not sure if it was the closeness of the aisles or the smell or a certain book or the mild change in weather that we had in north Florida today, where the throbbing humidity and scorching sun relaxed to a cloudy eighty. I think it was the screaming child who triggered it though, thrashing around on the ancient cut carpet, slapping the carpet, kicking her feet like a swimmer. Her mother and siblings walked away from her, walked into another aisle of this mazelike used bookstore, while I completely lost and never regained the name of the author I was searching for in the “T” section of Classics.

From there I leaned into the unreality and made a nice little trip of it, reminding myself that if I am a little bit crazy, that makes me a normal American. I too have microplastics in my blood! I too feel the stress of the appearance of unrelenting, non-stop change!

I picked up two books: Javier Marías’s Thus Bad Begins and Osvaldo Soriano’s A Funny Dirty Little War. I mostly knew Marías from his “La Zona Fantasma” columns in The Believer, and I have read only one book by MaríasVoyage Along the Horizon, which I scarcely remember. But I know Roberto Bolaño was a fan, so I’d always meant to return and try again. Today, I saw a hardback copy of Thus Bad Begins (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) propped lazily up against a hardback copy of Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black. Mantel died yesterday; Marías died a dozen days ago; both books had strayed from their author’s placards, not unusual in this wonderful sprawling store. So I picked it up. It’s probably not the best starting place for Marías, right? I’ll try. I love the title; I am shallow.

The title on the spine attracted me to Osvaldo Soriano’s A Funny Dirty Little War (translated by Nick Caistor), the goofy, menacingly violent cover intrigued me and the Calvino blurb and first three pages sold me.

I don’t have a conclusion for this blog. I still feel a little outside of myself.


4 thoughts on “Mild derealization at the used bookstore (Books acquired, 23 Sept. 2022)”

  1. That sounds intense. I’m glad you shared that experience. It helps me realize, wherever I am, someone could be going through something similar.
    Also, I love that Soriano book and have been looking for it on and off for a while. I fell in love with that little press, Readers International, when I was working at Borders in Oak Brook, Illinois, in the early 1990s. I bought several of their Latin American translations, all stories of the horrors of war and terror (with the aid of the US, of course). I recently found a used copy of one of my favorites: Mothers and Shadows by Marta Traba. Love your blog.


  2. I’ve experienced something similar before. It’s an out of mind experience w/in your mind. Mine was also more nihilistic; personal trait. Feel better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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