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The Books No One Reads

And the Libraries Nobody Visits

By JK SpaethPublished 6 years ago 8 min read
A book in a library in a book in a library in a book in a...

One simply must not keep strange ideas bottled up inside them. I feel, perhaps, in some part, people can become quite insane if they keep their odd thoughts too closely guarded. Because of this, I mentioned an eccentric idea to a friend, and he was quite bemused and thought my ideas silly but complimented me on my imagination.

Perhaps for most this is enough to ward off strange notions, but I found I was unable to let go of such a tendril of a thought. It started innocently as a dry thought experiment, and grew to engulf my whole being. It began like this:

Imagine a very large academic or professional library. These are vast sprawling things with many dark corners and poorly lit sections which get very little traffic. Tiny sections of highly rarefied & esoteric topics almost no scholar concerns themselves with.

Imagine a shelf, or a section, where there is located a book. And as it happens, this book has never been checked out.

Beyond that even: it has never been read, or looked at even, perused—its spine never cracked.

Aside from the processes of acquiring it and putting it into circulation, this book has never been the object of human touch or gaze.

Regular pruning expeditions always miss this volume. It has been in the library an unknown amount of time, as no database ever queries its record.

I presented this hypothetical to my friend.

"Now, in the real world, of practical things, such a book would never exist, as I needn't have to even say," he responded, after complimenting me on an unusual and novel concept.

"All the books are regularly subjected to things like updated codes plastered to the spines, recataloging to newer organizational standards. Books don't simply slip through the cracks," he continued. "They don't become little black holes or something!" and then laughed.

At the time I certainly agreed, no modern library would hold such an anomaly.

Then, later, I began to expand on the concept in my mind.

If there were such a thing as this book, never read, never touched, unknown, the very definition of desolate; than what of a some partition of rows, or columns—in library jargon—some "stacks," that existed likewise?

For instance, a shelf or two whose corridor no human had walked down since it had first been filled with volumes, small corner, whose carpet was still fresh, having been subject to no foot traffic.

I thought of the library at my Alma Mater, a building with a large footprint and 5 floors to it. During my years there I had been through much of it—but largely sticking to the mole-trails between my own personal popular sections: RA418, HV1-9960, GN296, an occasional perusal of BP600-610. There were large parts of the library I had never walked through, never looked at, never been in.

So then, what if there were parts that no one had walked through, or perused, or knew of? My mind began to leap into even more fanciful thinking.

From my undergraduate days of taking a few rather esoteric electives, I knew of the theories of the physicist Wheeler regarding consciousness and reality—that consciousness shapes reality, that very likely our world exists through the reification of our conscious observation.

And if we keep our universe real through our interaction with it—what would become of things that receive no interaction, no observation?

By this time I was too nervous to discuss this with my friends, I feared looks of disbelief, followed by the guarded body language one makes when they suspect they are talking to a crackpot.

After that, I stayed quiet, alone with my own thoughts. I had begun going back to that library I spent so much time in at college (I still lived in the town where I went to school).

I walked the stacks, thinking, and finding areas where there were no people, there was no noise, and the lights had grown dim or flickering from lack of replacement.

What could happen to a book, a shelf, a section, a stack, that went unobserved, I wondered? Would it slowly fade from our existence? Would it slip from our realm into some shade-land, beyond the veil—unmoored from our dimension, dissolving into another?

I theorized that like all things, such a dissolution would happen as a process, and that such strange dislocated spaces had for some length of reckoning, a tenuous connection to our universe—

"Our own little sandbox of consensus," I thought to myself.

—until the tether finally unraveled completely. And then even still, perhaps those stacks were still "here,"overlayed against our own cosmic topology—unseen, lying somehow cross-wise between the well-worn shelves designated by the Library of Congress Classification system, like an infinite collection of real numbers nestled comfortably between integers.

Was it possible, I wondered, that in some manner these ghostly spaces could still be reached? That some pathway exists that leads to a conjunction of dimensions?

Like a child needs to be taught arithmetic in order to understand the existence of figures beyond the natural numbers, I thought perhaps a mind could be trained to see these sections beyond the consensus reality of Library Science.

With this in mind, I spent the night in the library. Scouting it out, I found a particularly ignored section, near the disorganized heaps of governmental and institutional publications (evocatively named "grey literature," so I've been told) which I chose to hide with a selection of books on theoretical cosmology and metaphysics. I did not sleep, but rather, deep in a manic state by this point, feverishly looked for concordance between the two disciplines.

Of course, none of this I was formally apt to study. I was a social scientist, working in the fields of public health and applied anthropology. Yet I had become fully entrenched in an altogether different beast. I began to find parallels between the dimensions of M-Theory and the divisions of reality described by the ancient Rishis of India who had seen and visited these lands made of subtle energy.

And then the library opened again early in the morning. I spent another full day there, moving from my hiding spot among the almost unseemly amount of governmental technical reports, to a desk in the common area, albeit nestled in the back. There I spent the hours, pouring over a dozen texts, making notes, thinking. As I mentioned, I was in a state of high mania; I took no breaks for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner.

Academic libraries are open quite late, and it wasn't until it had already returned to darkness outside that I felt the need to relieve myself in the restroom. I was comparing sections from two different books on techniques to open one's third eye—I though perhaps this might be a link to finding the dark cracks in the library to the parallel reality no person could see.

One stated a pessimistic case, saying that in all likelihood one's pineal gland had calcified and that exotic, hard to come by psychoactive chemicals were needed to rejuvenate the gland in order to perceive the spirito-material world.

The other text was far more positive, stating the third eye could be opened through imaginative contemplation and breathing exercises.

I put them down and started towards the bathrooms. Instead of a straight path I took a more circuitous path through the stacks. It was then that there was a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a row of books I thought I had just walked past, but there it was— ahead of me and off to the left.

My body jolted with excitement, I was suddenly filled with adrenaline. I started walking quickly towards that row, but it stayed the same distance away. It was as if I was walking in place, I couldn't get closer. I looked below me, I was indeed traversing past the carpet, I was moving forward, but the gulf between myself and that row of books stayed the same.

I stopped. The rest of the library was starting to fade out and become fuzzy, while the mysterious section became brighter and more focused. I began to see a person in the row. It was a young woman, hard to describe. She looked like an average college student.

I tried walking again. Everything around me was telescoping and splintering into a tunnel of elongated shards of existence, mixed and disjointed. Books enmeshed with carpet and the carpet bled into the shelves of the stacks. It was as if I was reaching the end of reality and it was straining to provide form and content.

I grew dizzy and disoriented. I remember, through the corner of my eye I saw the college girl, and she was looking in my direction. She was squinting, giving a perplexed face. I don't know what she saw. Perhaps she could in some way see some shimmering, odd disturbance in the air. Perhaps she just felt something was happening and was trying to make out what it was.

I crawled on my belly, inching closer to this mirage, this other library peeking out through the shattered mirror of my perception. Straining forward, while never seeming to move, I lost consciousness.

When I came to, I was there, lying on the floor of my school's library, back to the status quo. But yet my hand rested on a book, dislodged apparently from the shelf in my struggling. It was a hardcover, the sort rebound by the library when its original cover fall apart. The binding was a strange, nondescript kind of dark green, or maybe navy, in all truth—the color was impossible to describe accurately.

More importantly, it had no title. Inside, the pages were empty. There were no markings of any kind. I returned to the table where I encamped. I slipped this odd volume into my book bag, and left the library. There were no alarms as I walked through the RFID detectors at the doors.

As soon as I was outside of the library's walls, I checked my bag. The book was gone.

science fiction

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