Friday, May 16, 2014

'some of the books had actually become migratory...'

I did not particularly like this book, but I LOVED this passage.

"I don't see anything."

"That's right. And where on campus does even a very good locator spell not work?"

"I have no idea." Admitting ignorance promptly was the fastest way to get information out of a Brakebills professor.

"Try the library." Professor Brzezinski closed his eyes again, like an old walrus settling back down onto a sunny rock. "There are so many old seek-and-finds in that room, you can't find a Goddamned ting."

Quentin had spent very little time in the Brakebills library. Hardly anybody did if they could help it. Visiting scholars had been so aggressive over the centuries in casting locator spells to find the books they wanted, and spells of concealment to hide those same books from rival scholars, that the entire area was more or less opaque to magic, like a palimpsest that has been scribbled on over and over, past the point of legibility.

To make matters worse, some of the books had actually become migratory. In the nineteenth century Brakebills had appointed a librarian with a highly Romantic imagination who had envisioned a mobile library in which the books fluttered from shelf to shelf like birds, reorganizing themselves spontaneously under their own power in response to searches.  For the first few months the effect was said to have been quite dramatic. A painting of the scene survived as a mural behind the circulation desk, with enormous atlases soaring around the place like condors.

But the system turned out to be totally impractical.  The wear and tear on the spines alone was too costly, and the books were horribly disobedient. The librarian had imagined he could summon a given book to perch on his hand just by shouting out its call number, but in actuality they were just too willful, and some were actively predatory. The librarian was swiftly deposed, and his successor set about domesticating the books again, but even now there were stragglers, notably in Swiss History and Architecture 300-1399, that stubbornly flapped around near the ceiling. Once in a while an entire sub-sub-category that had long been thought safely dormant would take wing with an indescribable papery susurrus.

So the library was mostly empty, and it wasn't hard to spot Josh in an alcove off the second floor, sitting at a small square table across from a tall, cadaverously thing man with chiseled cheekbones and a pencil mustache. The man wore a black suit that hung on him. He looked like an undertaker.

(Lev Grossman, The Magicians, p, 127-128)

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