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Off topic: On books and libraries, shortstory
Thread poster: Zlata
Local time: 12:20
German to Spanish
Mar 18, 2005

On books and libraries
by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho

     At the end of this Warrior of Light Online I comment on my earmarked books. Actually I do not have many books. Some years ago I made certain choices in life, led by the idea of trying to obtain maximum quality with a minimum amount of things. This does not mean that I opted for a monastic life – quite the contrary, when we are obliged to possess an infinite number of objects we have immense freedom. Some of my friends complain that because they have too many clothes they waste hours of their lives picking out what to wear. Since I have reduced my wardrobe to “basic black,” that is one problem that I do not need to face.
     But I am not here to speak about fashion, but about books. To get back to the essential, I decided to keep only 400 books in my library – some for sentimental reasons, others because I am always re-reading. This decision was made for several reasons, one of them being the sadness at seeing how collections carefully gathered during a lifetime are then sold by the pound without the least respect. Another reason was: why should I keep all these books at home? To show my friends that I am cultured? To decorate the walls? The books that I have bought will be infinitely more useful in a public library than in my house.
     I used to be able to say that I need them because I am going to consult them. But today, whenever there is any need for any information at all, I connect the computer, type a key-word and what I need appears there before me. That’s the Internet for you - the biggest library on Earth.
     Of course I still buy books – no electronic device can possibly replace them. But as soon as I finish a book, I let it travel, give it to someone or hand it in at a public library. My intention is not to save forests or be generous; it is just that I believe that a book has a course of its own and should not be condemned to remain immobilized on a shelf.
     Being a writer and living off copyrights, I may be advocating against myself – after all, the more my books are sold, the more money I earn. But that would be unfair to the reader, especially in countries where many of the government programs for buying for libraries do not use the basic criterion for a serious choice, namely the pleasure of reading a text with quality.
     So let our books travel, be touched by other hands and enjoyed by other eyes. As I write this column I remember vaguely a poem by Jorge Luis Borges that speaks of the books that will never be re-opened.
     Where am I now? In a little town in the French Pyrenees, sitting in a café enjoying the air-conditioning since the temperature out there is unbearable. By chance, I happen to have the complete collection of Borges at home, a couple of kilometers from where I am writing this – he is a writer that I am constantly re-reading. But why not try the test?
     I cross the street. I walk for five minutes to another café, equipped with computers (a type of establishment known by the sympathetic and contradictory name of cyber-café). I say hello to the owner, order a very cold mineral water, open the page of a search program and type some words from the only verse that I remember, along with the name of the author. Less than two minutes later I have the complete poem in front of me:

     There is a line by Verlaine that I’ll never remember again.
     There is a mirror that has seen me for the last time.
     There is a door closed till the end of time.
     Among the books in my library
     there is one that I’ll never open again.

     In fact, I have the impression that I shall never re-open many of the books that I have given away – because something new and interesting is always being published and I love to read. I think that it is wonderful that people have libraries; the first contact that children have with books is usually through curiosity for those bound volumes with figures and letters. But I also think it is great when at a book-signing I meet readers with very used copies that have been lent dozens of times, which means that the book has traveled like the mind of the author traveled while he wrote it. - newsletter

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