My friend and mentor often tells me this story – of being allowed back into his office after the bomb had hit Manchester. The IRA blast meant that his publishing house, Carcanet, was closed off, even to him, for months. So what he tells me is this – that for years after he would take a book down from the shelf, open it, and splinters would fall out.
John Biguenet is talking to us in New Orleans. He is talking about levees and lakes and not about Katrina. The difference, he says, is important. It was Lake Pontchartrain that hit, not the hurricane. It gets emotional and is a lot to take in, but one image stands out for me. Again – it is the books. These, destroyed. And heavy, John tells us. You would not believe how heavy a library of soaked books can be.
I am thinking now about books that hold on to the basic evidence of disasters – splinters, and ounces of lake water. I am thinking too, what does it mean to write a book that could drown you, a page that could cut your fingers?