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Bibliophile in a Bind



There's this room in my house where I keep the bulk of my books: the ones not on the hallway or bedroom bookshelves, not piled on side tables and nightstands, not on the shelves in my office, not stored in boxes up in the attic, and not in my bag, waiting to be read. The room is overrun with books, hundreds of them, shelved and stacked and balanced in precarious piles on the floor. They overwhelm me sometimes, so many books I want to read, so many I've read but have not yet shelved for lack of space or system. When I expect guests, I close the door to that room so no one will see.

What do you do with a book collection grown completely out of control? A freak death-by-Emily-Dickinson and a cement-encrusted copy of Joseph Conrad's The Shadow-Line send an Argentina-born Cambridge professor to Uruguay and into the mysterious life of a bizarre bibliophile gone over the edge in Carlos Maria Dominguez's The House of Paper, recently released in English translation.

The futurists have long foretold the end of the printed word in its bound and spined incarnation. But we fetishists of wood pulp may hold off the coup of the e-book longer than the IT true believers anticipate. Books endure in ways that bits never do. All must finally fail and pass away. But, as Dominguez's narrator reflects, "even if this is our common destiny -- the book's, mine, and that of everything that one day crawled out of the ocean's ghastly slime to invent a meaning for itself on land, it could be resisted, and even if all we can do is offer a slow, prolonged delay, then it will be for others finally to surrender the word to its fate."

The House of Paper is a tribute, in part, to the internationally renowned Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, author of such stories as "The Library of Babel," "The Total Library" and "The Book of Sand," which touched on similar themes. Dominguez does not equal Borges' depth, but The House of Paper is nevertheless a soulful study of the peculiar passions and perils of bibliomania.

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