Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Shock of Recognition from Richard Selzer

I've been gone again nearly a month... idly reading, writing a bit, working. I've read some good books, but a "Readings" selection from the March 2011 Harper's Magazine really got under my skin today. Part of the effect -- pleasure, recognition, nostalgia, sadness, and fear -- was turning the page of the magazine and unexpectedly finding the piece: an excerpt from a new book, Diary, by Richard Selzer. It begins:

"Yale's Sterling Memorial Library is chock full of loonies, of whom I am one."

Selzer goes on to describe shushing, rescuing, and defending the library loonies. And then he muses about falling asleep at the library and the chance that he might die there, "with my head resting on the desk, half-hidden behind the partitions of the cubicle.... It's as happy as death can arrange itself to be."

Selzer is a marvelous, mysterious, introspective writer. He was a surgeon, whose writing first grew out of his medical practice and then wandered elsewhere.

But this reading experience was personal -- a mirror biography of sorts. I remember well falling asleep in my carrel, head on desk, in the stacks of this very library. But to be honest, I am not so much Selzer as one of his library loonies. Or am I mistaken?

I pull a couple of books off my shelf that have been gathering proverbial dust for some time. I think they might be signed, but I can't remember. Sure, the loopy graduate student talks with Dr. Selzer, but would he foist books for signature upon the kindly man?

They are inscribed, and there I am again in the cavernous library being unknowingly ministered to by his warm conversation: "For Doug, To remember our visits at Sterling Library[...] Richard"; and "For Doug, my friend and colleague To remember our many visits at the Yale Library[...] Richard."

Image: Sage Ross, Wikimedia Commons

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