Murakami, Twain, and Libraries

Mark Twain Branch, Detroit Public Library from

The past haunts me.  My past haunts me.  The past haunts me.  It sometimes feels as if I’m being pulled back through time.  It’s a sucking sensation.  Physical and psychological.

Today, a friend shared an image similar to the one below, of the Mark Twain Branch of the the Detroit Public library .  It captured my interest for so many reasons.  The past.  Loss.  Forgetfulness.  The care of society as a whole. The love of books.  We need libraries.  I feel safe in libraries.  I love that there is so much saved there.  All of the teachers and parents that I didn’t have, they all live there, in their words.  On pages that smell like mildew and nutmeg.

According to, “The contract to demolish Mark Twain library was awarded to Adamo Demolition in July of 2011 for just under $200,000. It did not include any provision for salvage of books or materials. Asbestos abatement began in September, and the building was gutted within a few weeks. Structural demolition of the building lasted into October. After work was finished and the demolition crew had left for the day, scavengers would pick through the piles of debris for bits of metal pipe and wiring. Curious onlookers would sneak under the fence to gaze at what was left of the building, or to take a brick for a souvenir.”

Why did the onlookers take bricks?  I imagined Huck Finn happening upon this library in his travels, what would have happened?  Would he have stolen a brick?  Would some crazy character have chased him, throwing abandoned books toward his already wounded backside?  What pithy revelation would Mark Twain come up with in response to this?

I am currently reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.  I wondered what Murakami thought of libraries?  Thanks to GoodReads I found:

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”

― Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore

And I thought of the quote that I’d recently read that gave me hope for letting go of my past:

“…and then she said, ‘All the things you have been through […] have been painful and bitter for you, but as you say, you have been moving toward the proper state, step by step.  The worst is over for you, and it will never come back.  Such things will never happen to you again.  It will not be easy, but you will be able to forget many things once a certain amount of time has passed.'” –Malta Kano to her sister, Creta Kano, as told to the anti-hero/hero, Toru Okada.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (306)

So here I am, wanting to forget the past, and yet not wanting to lose the past.  I don’t know what to make of it. I want to forget the pain of my past and retain the respect and funding for books and libraries–places of solace.

2 thoughts on “Murakami, Twain, and Libraries

  1. I love libraries and books, too, and it hurts to see an image of books treated like so much demolition debris. I know that Detroit is hurting for money, I know that physical books aren’t the only way to read any more, I know the demolition contract went to the lowest bidder – but I wonder whether anyone even asked whether there might be a school or a group of volunteers interested in saving the physical volumes so that others could still have the pleasures of holding a good book of stories or poetry or adventure in their hands and reading it at leisure.


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