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As a kid Kawabata is said to have read every book in the elementary school library. However modest its collection, I doubt this feat of universal perusal had been accomplished before—or has been duplicated, since—at that particular site. For unless you can’t stop reading, you will. There is a limit to everything, save literary obsession.

What drives someone to consume all available books? Not a desire for glory or victory (reading is the activity which bears the least resemblance to war, or its primary surrogate, competitive sport) but an inner need—the need to turn away from the deceptive mirage of the world and descend into the infinite potential of the inherent emptiness of one’s own mind. Books are a ladder which facilitates this descent—the first we usually encounter—and every page of text a rung touched on the climb down.

Now, this need to descend into oneself rather than to flee outward is experienced by no one more urgently than the writer, who goes on to further satisfy it by writing books himself, until soon the only world that exists for him is the world of words. Thus, having turned away from the illusion of the world, he ends by replacing it with an illusion of his own devising, at once more limited yet more elaborate than the collective one he has renounced.

But on occasion one of these rare beings who does not seek reality outside of words has no library at his disposal. So what does he do? He makes due with whatever he has—even to the point of endlessly turning the pages worn ragged of one and the same book in an act of continuous reading, or (drawing courage from the example of a somewhat older Kawabata) he buys on credit more books than he can ever hope to afford, then carefully avoids crossing paths with an irate shopkeeper.

But should a library open its doors to him one day, the volumes on its shelves in their collective presence may be sure their purpose will be fulfilled. Was not his coming prophesied by the vast silence of this place more than half of whose titles no human hand has touched for decades? Was it not he whose unbridled enthusiasm was meant to sweep away the cobwebs that hang in its dark, neglected corners?

Every library patiently awaits the birth of the writer who will devour it.