Most Intimate Knowledge

A mammoth vision of deep espresso stain, she towered, undisturbed, and pensive as an overflowing well of knowledge. Four deep shelves heavily laden with bodies, thick and thin, a forest of corpses; rigid bones in dust jackets. Mysterious symbolisms that communicate the concepts, beliefs, opinions, and imaginative powers of the human race—her contents suggested the particular character of an insatiable lust for a deeper understanding of thought and a strengthened existential dread. Student manuals, OSHA Regulation handbooks, Clue, Connect4, blank spiral notebooks, sketchbooks, art references, and botanical field guides littered the bottommost shelf in a haphazard way, an indication of random 4 a.m. perusal.

Just above the indiscriminate mix of the unexpected, were literary curiosities pilfered from transfer sites and a smaller, rural post office where empty egg cartons, self-help books, and magazines could regularly be discarded for the next interested party. Here was a shelf where one might find something, after all other—possibly better—options had been exhausted. Wicked might eventually be read, but it was just as likely to be put back into circulation for another person to own and love—communal property on indefinite loan until it is decided that the time is right to part. 

Photography by Brandi Redd
Photography by Brandi Redd

The bottom two shelves weren’t the truly important shelves though, everything upon this minimalistic tribute to learning was carefully slipped, stuffed, and stacked in a certain chaotic organizational scheme so everything fit just-so. Coming-of-age novellas and novels graced the third shelf, which brought the sting of secret longing for the return of a preteen daughter and the love of reading that had long ago been instilled within her. Young adult journeys into super-heroic flights of fancy, teenage high school idealization, introduction into dystopic societies, and injustices worth fighting against; all waited there for her to come home. Abutted against those which may never be opened, there were worn out westerns—covers bent and torn after many reads, spines that had cracked and glue that had long-since flaked and turned to dust. Louis L’amore novels intermingled with the lukewarm spy thrillers and political crime narratives of James Patterson. More random, “I’ll get to this later,” titles that would never truly be consumed.

None of those shelves were the main event, however, it was the top shelf that held that honor for me. In the far back row graphic horror novels of brain-eating revenants and corrupt preachers with a penchant for running into supernatural problems; these were safe from light and undue wear. A different sort of horror could be found in WWII books where swastikas defied political correctness by addressing a period in history that can never be allowed to fade into distant memory. Next to the graphic novels, a row of academic resources that had a healthy collection of dust once the season of their use had come and gone. A healthy musk of the bibliosmia of old and new pages, which would attract even the most indifferent of bibliophiles. Languages that had been picked up and promised for another day also made friends with the fine dusting of time and benign neglect.

At the forefront of all, relics from previous generations sat undisturbed, their pages decaying and crumbling like a forgotten tombstone that disintegrates more and more with a hard rain, editions that would likely last another generation if they continued to go undisturbed. The only value they hold is to the owner, to gingerly open the decrepit covers and gaze over the brittle yellowed-pages of Lord Byron’s tomes of poetry to appreciate the flamboyantly romantic verses of the 1800s. My hand lightly glanced over the tops of large volumes of herbal remedies, slipped in between two, and forcibly pushed one aside to slide another large book in place.

My palms itched and reached out for something known well to me, a book that had drawn me out of a dark place for its darker truths. Lives were held between those pages, ones that had been far worse than my own; lives that had been conveyed in such a way to put my own struggles in perspective with my privilege and opportunities that I had been gifted with. Le Ly Hayslip had, within those pages, made my heart race, my throat close, my palms sweat, my stomach twist, my breath catch, and my tears swell with rage and sorrow. My fingers grasped the spine of the book and I pulled it close to my chest as if cradling a child. I climbed up into my loft bed and settled in and that was When Heaven and Earth Changed Places once again.

Photography by Daniel Schludi
Photography by Daniel Schludi

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