Books in the Trees
As soon as I understood what a book was, I resolved to become a bookkeeper. To the dismay of my parents, I was forever climbing trees in hopes of catching an unwary volume. Of course, I never did; they were far above me, flapping unmolested from branch to branch.
My proudest achievement was to bear back to earth a whole egg, but my pride turned to dismay when my mother scolded me and insisted that I put it back in the nest immediately. “That might be another Calvino or Bulgakov!” she told me. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I made the long climb anyway. (I have a strong suspicion the egg hatched into one of the flock of self-help books that used to stoop upon us as we walked, tangling their claws in our hair.)
It was not until I began my training that I realised how much more was required than the ability to climb trees. There were cliffs, mountains, and sea-stacks to be scaled, of course, but also the myriad arts of classification and cataloguing, acquisition and disposition. The reward for endless hours of drudgery was the swoop of a thriller from a clear blue sky, the heavy “whump” of a fantasy series flying north for the summer, the chirping of young pamphlets in the spring.
I have grown old in the service of these magnificent creatures, but I prepare for my retirement in growing dismay. The age of the book is ending. The wide forests are no more, cut down for wood and land and greed, and the great flocks of books that filled the skies of my youth have dwindled to lone volumes fleeing the hunters. Now all kinds of buzzing, brightly coloured things clamour for our attention, and books are almost forgotten.
In an attempt – perhaps it will prove vain – to preserve what we can, we have trapped many endangered books and placed them in sanctuaries we call “libraries”. It breaks my heart to see them trammelled so; yet perhaps I shall live to see the day when booklets bred in these libraries are released back into the wild. May the last sound I hear be the rustle of their leaves.
“Books In The Trees” was first published in Turbine (2002). It is the final story in my short story collection Transported.
You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported