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If you borrow this book, you have to return it: Sarah Fran Wisby.

March 22, 2011 \pm\31 12:00 pm

[For this series, I’ve asked many wondrous writers to reflect on an individual copy of a book that is very important to them. Writers and publishers have varied and often impassioned relationships to their analog books, as actual books are still arguably the “realest” physical manifestation of their poetic pursuits. I think that as the Kindle and other digital representations of text continue their upward spiral, it’s important to reflect on books as the uniquely funky-smelling, emotion-provoking, paper-cutting, dust/coffee/spaghetti sauce-collecting artifacts that they are! Check back next week for more top picks!]

Sarah Fran Wisby is the author of Viva Loss, a book of fables and speculations from Small Desk Press, and two irreplaceable letterpress chapbooks, Like Gold From A Slit Purse, and Etiquette For The Next World.

I’m the wrong person to write this sort of thing. Not that I don’t love the real. It’s just that I’m famous for letting things go. An abstract commitment to the minimal makes me systematic and brutal about getting rid of things I love. The only thing I’m guilty of hoarding are my time and my feelings. Not that I don’t get sentimentally attached to objects—I cry when I break a pretty dish—but for some reason I cannot name a single book that feels irreplaceable to me. Some probably are irreplaceable—out of print or worse—and I don’t even know it. I conduct regular purges of my shelves; if I don’t think I’ll read a book again I get rid of it, period. Sure, I regret some of these choices. Regret is the one book I am constantly rereading, and the only book I know how to write.

Some books I trust will continue to weather the purges: everything by Lydia Davis, Flannery O’Connor, Joe Wenderoth, the Anne’s (Sexton and Carson).

Some I regret selling or giving away over the years: Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, an illustrated Alice In Wonderland, a green-cloth covered book of vintage pornography I forget the name of.

I suppose I could write about my signed copy of Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles, but the story is pretty embarrassing and not very interesting. She inscribed it, “To Sarah, who writes me gorgeous love letters.” Actually, I’d be relieved if someone could take this piece of my stalker history off my hands.

I could write about the slim volume of Jenny Holzer’s Laments I stole from the bookstore because it was priced at $60 (I guess it was a first edition) but since then I’ve bought several other copies at reasonable prices and don’t even think I possess the original anymore.

To let go of even the books I most love is a way of trusting the universe to provide me with more books to love, to believe that The Book will always survive as object and artifact, which I do, I really do. It’s kind of like believing in the romantic ideal of true love, which allows me to let go of lover after all-too-human lover, constantly replenishing my stock of regret.

After my last breakup I went to the bookstore to comfort myself. I stayed there for hours, looking at all the books I wanted to read (from Arendt to Zizek) and I thought, I’ll never be lonely. And it’s true, as long as there are bookstores and libraries, my mind will never know loneliness. But loneliness is primarily a body problem.

What is irreplaceable? Our bodies? This moment? Everything?

After a near-death experience in the 1990’s, Saddam Hussein commissioned a calligrapher to ink a copy of the Koran with 24 liters of his (Hussein’s) blood. Reading this item in Harper’s Index I mistakenly thought the book was inked with blood from his dead body, after we (us) executed him. I mean, it sounds like something we (us) would do, or, more likely, allow others to do.

At the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia last week I stood before glass cases that held books quarter-bound in human skin. This was, in the creepy Victorian Era, if not common practice, at least an acceptable way of preserving the dead as keepsakes.

In this country, in our time, it is illegal to do anything with the body after death other than bury or cremate it. If you do not allow your body to be read completely during your lifetime, there is no way that unique book will ever be known. No keepsakes are permitted. Remember me, or don’t. I’ve only borrowed this body, and have to return it.


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