by Carlos María Domínguez
with illustrations by Peter Sís
translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor
One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car.
Books change people’s destinies.
This is how The House of Paper begins: either you can see how I had to read the book once I read it, or you know this book isn’t really going to be your thing.
It is a tiny little book, and it reveals the freakishly obsessive nature of book people. If you think it is funny, or disturbing, or appalling — well, chances are if you bought this book, you’ll also experience a glimmer of recognition. The narrator’s sensible German grandmother warned him when she found him reading in bed, “Stop that, books are dangerous” but he didn’t listen.
You might not be building a house of books on the sand, but you may well be letting books take over your life. Ever missed your subway stop because you were so involved in the book you were reading? Stayed up far too late to find out how a story ended? Maybe you can see how it could have been Emily Dickinson’s fault.
The fantastic illustrations by Sís — books with faces, with landscapes, human-headed birds with suspiciously page-like wing feathers — add to sense of play and possibility of the story. It’s a fun, quick read and also a meditation on the power and place of books:
The relations humanity has had with these tough objects capable of surviving one, two, or twenty centuries, of in some way defeating the sands of time, have never been innocent. A human vocation has become attached to this soft, indestructable wood pulp.