My first thought when it came to trying to describe this small, slim volume was that it was like Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris mixed with Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude. But that’s not quite it.
The House of Paper does share elements of extreme bookishness (as does Anne Fadiman’s collection of essays: one of my ATFs) and it has a fable-like quality (as does Too Loud a Solitude, which, too, is housed in that spare prose that hints at an extremely clever subtext that I struggled to decipher).
But it also has an element of Carlos Ruis Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, with its romanticism of the printed word and an overarching mystery connected to a specific book, a book with a past. And this comparison is the one which disappoints a little because I was one of those readers who really wanted to love Shadow of the Wind, but didn’t love it enough.
There are parts of The House of Paper that I love, but I might have loved it more. It wouldn’t have taken much. A wider understanding of some of the Spanish-language writers referred to therein. An appreciation of Joseph Conrad. A fondness for sea stories.
Yes, any one of these might have pushed me into the group of readers who pressed this book on every reading friend. You might be one of those readers.
“Every year I give away at least fifty of them to my students, yet I cannot avoid putting in another double row of shelves; the books are advancing silently, innocently through my house. There is no way I can stop them.”
“But how could I throw away The Call of the Wild, for example, without destroying one of the building bricks of my childhood…”
“Nobody wants to mislay a book. We prefer to lose a ring, a watch, our umbrella, rather than a book whose pages we will never read again, but which retains, just in the sound of its title, a remote and perhaps long-lost emotion.”
“To build up a library is to create a life. It’s never just a random collection of books.”
Have you read this one? Or something else extra-bookish lately?