I had never heard of Bohumil Hrabal before last week when I read about him in different lists on recommended reading. (Thanks to Of Books and Bikes) Then I picked up Too Loud a Solitude. From the first paragraph on, I knew that I'd finish the short novella (redundant?) in a sitting, no problem.
For thirty-five years now I've been in wastepaper, and it's my love story. For thirty-five years I've been compacting wastepaper and books, smearing myself with letters until I've come to look like my encyclopedias-and a good three tons of them I've compacted over the years. I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me."
Like the compactor that he lovingly employs, Hant a, the narrator, repeatedly pounds away "for thirty-five years now, I've been compacting old paper and books." But not all the books end up compressed into waste. Some, many, find their way into the hands of Hant a, the safe keeper of words. Goethe, Shiller and Nietzshce are saved from the ruins by their supposed executioner and brought back to his cramped apartment where they'll live among a throng of thousands.
Tons of books are stacked precariously above Hant a's head. The sheer weight of them would crush him to death. "I've been bringing home books every evening in my briefcase, and my two-floor Holesovice apartment is all books: what with the cellar and the shed long since been packed and the kitchen, pantry, and even bathroom full, the only space free is a path to the window and stove. Even the bathroom has only room enough for me to sit down in: just above the toilet bowl, about five feet off the floor, I have a whole series of shelve, planks piled high to the ceiling, holding over a thousand pounds of books, and one careless roost, one careless rise, one brush with a shelf, and a half ton of books would come tumbling down on me, catching me with my pants down."
I imagine my apartment like that if I didn't have roommates, or had a job in which I could afford more books.
The thing about the book that caught me by surprise though isn't the humor of it, but rather the baseness of the bibliophilia. So many times when I read about a love of books or the all consuming passion for books and reading, it's about old, nostalgic libraries and reading in the confines of a favorite comfy chair. Hrabal is able to show the humanity of books. How books are so easily discarded after they're used, even if only once. It could have been written by Bukowski. Bibliophilia is a compulsion and can lead to severe effects on one's life. I don't think Hrabal is making this strong a point, it's just something I thought about while reading about Hant a. While writing that sentence, I was tempted to write, lonely Hant a, but I can't write that someone is lonely when they have visions of Jesus and Lao-tze while working
"I saw Jesus as a romantic, Lao-tze as a classicist, Jesus as the flow, Lao-tze as the ebb, Jesus as spring, Lao-tze as autumn, Jesus as the embodiment of love for one's neighbor, Lao-tze as the height of emptiness, Jesus as progressus ad futurum, Lao-tze as regressus ad originem."
My mind wanders at work as well, but I'm usually trying to decide what I want for lunch. Burger King as the tasty choice, Souper Salad as the healthy choice. Is Hant a lonely? Some may see him as such. I tend to see him and people like him, as the mystics of the modern world...or maybe they're just crazy.
Bohumil Hrabal Too Loud a Solitude
Jeffrey Ford The Girl In the Glass
Alberto Manguel A History of Reading
Blue Jays at the Red Sox on a soggy Wednesday night in the Fens