The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. Tr. by A. Waley. 1928. This is the only book in my library that was once in Sylvia Beach’s bookshop/lending library. When you open it up, you get this. And more.

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Packing my library.

This is always an exercise in provoking chaos out of order. With each book pulled off the shelf comes a torrent of memories: a city, an age, a bookshop, and the people around me while I was reading. Handling these books, peering inside, finding pressed flowers and old post cards, stirs up memories of invisible cities. Some of the bookshops where I bought them are no longer around. The cities where they’d been have themselves changed.

There are a few here that have been with me since my San Francisco days, bought mostly in City Lights. Many date from when I was a young buck bookseller in NYC. Back then, my days off were mostly spent scouting second-hand shops and street-vendor stalls on the Lower East Side. But the lion’s share of the books I bought here in Europe. Seems I can sense every bookshop within a country kilometer. Have built up a neat little collection of books from some far-flung, unlikely places. When I look at my library now, there are the books, and then there are the stories behind the books, as far as I know them.

Time for me and all these stories to go back to Paris. I hope this is the last move we make for a very long time.

*Homage to Walter Benjamin’s Unpacking My Library, which I read every damned time I pack up these books. Gives me hope.

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