Ladies and Gentlemen, bibliophiles and book lovers and lovers and book characters and bookish lovers and lovers of lovers of books, you all want the same thing. You aren’t unique for wanting this. People have done it before. Those doomed lovers in Atonement, releasing their furious need against each other, just once, bolstered by the burnished bookcase behind the two beloved.
Your friends have told wild stories of their “friends of friends,” those rumored few, those lascivious fiends. They go to Kenyon or Michigan or Wake Forest or live in Forbes, removed enough from your knowledge and family history that they take on a certain mythology.
They are among us nonetheless. Walking the long halls of the library at night, pacing the shelves, grazing the stacks with outstretched palms. A single exchange: Here? Now? / Why not. They’ve spent the evening cramming their brains to the brim and now they’re full, they’re at the zenith, they’re ready to be explode, so filled with their own fission they’re ready they’re ready to do it right here, right in the stacks, during midterms or thesis crunch time, crunching numbers and spines in the stacks, their spines against spines, both moving ever, so, ever… so… eversoquietly.
No singular event is shared between most universities like the rumors of people taking the best sort of advantage of the library stacks. The stacks are dark. They are quiet. They are mostly empty. You’ve been getting proverbially screwed by enough of your classes that you’re ready to do some of your own screwing. But why are libraries (or, more specifically, library stacks) the tumescent tip of the clandestine encounter totem pole? Why not a computer cluster, or an empty classroom, or a football field or a parking lot or a common room or a toe path or a sagging tree or a hidden yard or a deserted granary or a desert island or a dessert buffet table or the back of a 1957 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing or a waterbed or a DMV or a DJ booth or a fighter jet or a cathedral pew or a train car or a classroom roof or somewhere in Monaco or a secret, special place that only the two of you will ever truly find?
Certainly those places are ripe for the planning and plundering (if not punning). There’s no doubt that the frisky and flirtatious will do some frolicking wherever the fudge they find suit, but none can deny that there is something mystical about the library that lends itself particularly well for the task. The library stacks retain their mythological status, even when the books themselves only gather more and more dust. But why?
Consider the history of books. Or simply the trajectory of one important volume. Our lives are ordered by A Book, usually a holy one. We’ve inhaled this bibliophilic propaganda for years. Don’t dog-ear! Don’t fold! Don’t dunk in water or use as pillows or use as kindling or cut all the pages out to store your lighters and condoms and Guatemalan worry dolls! Respect all books as you respect The Book.
Consider now, the art of taboo: the prohibition of an act, restricted by social custom. As young men and women of a certain college age, we’ve learned that the true art of badassery is to achieve the impeccable balance between the obscene and the obvious. The appeal of shagging in the stacks is the same as that of sensually depicted priests: the unity of the holy and unholy, the restraint of the religious and the path of the philistines, etc. etc. is unabashedly intriguing. Imagine the fervor of the inaugural innovators in 1300 AD, stumbling their sandal-clad feet into the libraries of yore. Surely they could not keep this quiet!
Which begs the question: what makes this brand of library loving so particularly boastful? The simple answer is this: We obsess over books almost as much as we obsess over intimacy itself. We place abstract importance on the vessels involved with the act of reading, making books themselves the objects of obsession in a mysterious art. We can buy totes emblazoned with the words “Book Lover,” call ourselves bibliophiles if we put out enough fiction books on our coffee tables. As James Gleick mentioned in his 2011 New Yorker article “Books and Other Fetish Objects,” our society’s fascination with these talismans borders on sentimentalism. We go to bookstores for the performative aspect of purchasing a book to be read. We read loudly on the subway. We are equally performative about that which we pretend to be most coy. We slip hints, we invent euphemisms. We want people to know how many books we’ve read.
Ah, but there’s more to it. When we say we love books, we are involving ourselves with a discourse far beyond the reference section of Firestone library. To love books is to love humanity itself, the horror, the war, the rapture, to love ourselves and the stories of the bravest and most handsome among us. To love books is to love the stories of humanity passed down from generations, to love what has created our society, to love what has given it form and language and passion from Shakespeare to Shelley to Sexton to Satre.
To love among books is to love the language and return to its source, the one poem that all humans must and shall share, to return to the all-consuming drumbeat of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors as they beat their instruments to the most ancient of rhythms in the mead halls of yesteryear. Let us return to our most meticulous of realms. (I shall now don my linguistics hat!)
The word “poet” itself comes from the Latin poeta, which itself stems from the Greek poetes, meaning both “author” as well as “maker,” a variant of poein, meaning “to create, compose.” To be a poet is to “make,” whether that thing being made is joy, sadness, or love is up to the poet. And, as much of popular music would tell you, the reverse is true as well. To interweave two separate arduous endeavors is to become the master of both. Uniting the two is virtuosic.
To open one’s book in the library stacks subverts the usual process of attaining knowledge. Libraries are museums of knowledge, temples for the most basic units of the collective wisdom of the modern day. When we slam in the stacks, we are destabilizing the relationship between learner and the learned. We come to the library to learn, not to demonstrate our learnedness. To “know” someone in this sacred space is to truly take power over knowledge.
But this knowledge is best when other people know it. It’s no good to frig in Firestone, mount in Marquand or even ease nature in East Pyne if no one knows about it. Thus, the performative nature of books is doubly important. We aren’t just literary, we’re the most adventurous form of bibliophile. And I don’t predict this trend shriveling any time soon.
It’s in our very nature to discover new worlds, new hemispheres, sail our ships southward even when society tells us THE LIBRARY WILL CLOSE AT 11:45 ON MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS AND SATURDAYS. Ladies and gentlemen, consider the purpose of higher education. Were there not questions to be asked, boundaries to be pushed, books to be opened, our purpose here would be of naught. So go! Learn!
As for me, I shall remain here, on the D Floor, flipping loosely through Lolita. If I should hear footsteps treading hesitantly across the sprung floor, I shall consider you convinced, dear reader. Come closer. Let’s read.