the crane wife


'To take his blade and cut into the pages of a book felt like such a taboo, such a transgression against everything he held dear, George still half-expected them to bleed every time he did it.
He loved physical books with the same avidity other people loved horses or wine or prog rock. He'd never really warmed to ebooks because they seemed to reduce a book to a computer file, and computer files were disposable things, things you never really owned. He had no emails from ten years ago but still owned every book he bought that year. Besides, what was more perfect an object than a book? The different rags of paper, smooth or rough under your fingers. The edge of the page pressed into your thumbprint as you turned a new chapter. The way your bookmark ­­­­­­­­‑ fancy, modest, scrap paper, candy wrapper ­­­­­­­­‑ moved through the width of it, marking your progress, a little further each time you folded it shut.
And how they look on the walls! Lined up according to whatever whim. George's whim was simple ­­­­­­­­‑ by author, chronological within name ­­­­­­­­‑ but over the years he'd also done it by size, subject matter, types of binding. All of them there on his shelves, too many, not enough, their stories ranging within regardless of a reader: Dorothea Brooke forever making her confounding choice of husband, the rain of flowers forever marking Jose Arcadio Buendia's funeral, Hal Incandenza forever playing Eschaton on the tennis courts of Enfield.
He had seen a story once about sand mandalas made by Tibetan Buddhist monks. Unbelievably gorgeous creations, sometimes just a metre across, sometimes big as a room. Different colours of sand, painstakingly blown in symmetrical patterns by monks using straw-like tubes, building layer upon layer, over the course of weeks, until it was finished. At which point, in keeping with Buddhist feelings about materialism, the mandala was destroyed, but George tended to ignore that part.
What was interesting to him was that the mandala was meant to be ‑ unless he'd vastly misunderstood, which was also possible ‑ a reflection of the internal state of the monk. The monk's inner being, hopefully a peaceful one, laid out in beautiful, fragile form. The soul as a painting.
The books on George's walls were his sand mandala. When they were all in their place, when he could run his hands over their spines, taking one off the shelf to read or re-read, they were the most serene reflection of his internal state. Or if perhaps not quite his internal state, then at least the internal state he would like to have had.'


The Crane Wife
(Page 60-61)