Being a librarian means that I’m always hearing about different books from different sources (listservs, newsletters, podcasts, patrons) and I’m always reserving copies through my library system.  Because I reserve so many items and because some of them take so long to arrive, many times by the time a book shows up I don’t remember why I ordered it.

Working at the “service desk” means doing a small percentage of librarian work and a much larger percentage of clerical work, like checking out and returning materials for patrons.  One of the things I do whenever patrons are checking out or returning items is I flip through each book to check for damage and to see if anything was left inside the book.  That way if the book was damaged / written in / underlined / highlighted we can make a note of it so that the next patron won’t get blamed for it.  And if the patron left something inside the book (money / mail / metrocards / etc.) they can get it back.

That being said, a few weeks ago a book called S came in with my name on it.  I didn’t remember ordering it, and when I picked it up it felt oddly … heavy …

Opening S

Then I opened the book to discover that it kind of looked like a library book …

Book For Loan

And … hang on … there’s a loose paper stuck in the book?  Let’s look at this more closely …

Stolen From a High School Library

Oh, dear.  So, it was stolen from a high school library, AND it was written in by several people.  My librarian senses are starting to overload.  Let’s look a little further …

Stuffed With STUFF

Aigh!  There are all KINDS of cards and papers stuck in this book!  And lots and LOTS of writing in the margins, in different color pens written (apparently) at different times.  As I flip further through the book, I see more and more of the same:

Brazil Postcard

So now the different parts of my brain are fighting each other.

The librarian part of my brain is going NUTS.  There’s writing all over this book!  How can we tell if our patrons have damaged it?  Will this encourage our patrons to write in our books?  And what’s with all of these papers stuck loosely inside the pages?  THEY’RE GOING TO GET LOST.  THEY’RE GOING TO FALL OUT.

But the reader part of my brain is thinking … I can’t wait to start reading this, although … what do I read, exactly?  Is all of it important?  What is MORE important?  What’s going on, here?  And, just how long is it going to take me to finish this thing?

Well, I can spoil one thing for you right now, Dear Readers.  I didn’t finish this book.  Not even close.  I have over twenty books on my desk right now (primarily young adult and children’s stuff) and I don’t have the time or the mental energy needed to focus on this book.  And while the story was fascinating, it DOES take a lot of focus to follow this story.  Since I had so many other books to read, and since there was an enormous waiting list for this book, I had to let it go to the next person on the waiting list.

But let me tell you about this book called S, so that you can decide if you’d like to immerse yourself in this unique literary experience.

So, a mysterious person named V.M. Straka wrote a series of books, which were translated by a mysterious translator named F.X. Caldeira.  A copy of Straka’s final book (Ship of Theseus) was stolen from a high school library by a reader who was obsessed with reading the book and puzzling over the author’s identity.  A college student named Jen finds this book, reads some of it, and then follows the “if found please return to” directions inside the book, writing her own note underneath it.  Then the owner of the book (read: stealer of the book) writes back to her, and they continue to correspond within the margins of this book.

And basically, once you understand the concept of the book, your job is to read, and read, and read.  You’re reading Ship of Theseus, which opens with a man who wakes up with amnesia and soon finds himself aboard a ship with scary sailors who seem to know him.  Is he a sailor?  Is he the captain?  Is he alive or dead?  What happened to his memory?  Then you’re reading the notes in the margins, which are written by Jen and the book’s owner, who write back and forth about the plot of the book, about parts of the book which might or might not be clues about Straka’s identity, about the translator (who might or might not be Straka himself), and about their own personal lives.  You’re reading the translator’s introduction and footnotes, which might or might not reveal details about his own life.  You’re also reading the pages, papers, and postcards that are stuck inside the book, which are things that the readers are leaving for each other that tie into their written conversations.

So the whole time your mind is jumping back and forth between thoughts like, “I wonder how long it’s going to take this guy to get his memory back” and “I wonder if Straka isn’t dead after all” and “I wonder why what’s-his-name didn’t show up when he was supposed to meet Jen for coffee.  What’s THAT about?”

I’d like to say that I’ll put this book back on hold after the piles of books on my desk are a little smaller.  But based on the number of copies my library system ordered and the number of people who are waiting to read them, by the time it came back around to me I’m sure that some, if not all of the loose items in the pages would be long gone.  So even if I did see the book again, the reading experience would be incomplete.  I think the only way to read it, to know that you’re getting the entire book, and to have enough time to absorb all of it … well, you might just have to buy it.