The Universal Register of Personal Opinion (URPO). This is a hardback volume with an erasable slate on the cover. Write your question – any question – there, then open the book to find answers from various living and historical figures, listed alphabetically. Close the book and write a different question on the cover and the contents are magically rearranged and updated. No single answer is definitive and contradictions will abound. Anachronism is more than half the fun since the book allows you to learn, for example, Cleopatra’s take on American health reform legislation, or Emily Dickinson’s opinion of Hammurabi’s personal hygiene. As such, the URPO suggests that Eternity is the simultaneous presence of all time rather than a matter of infinite sequence.
Category Archives: Bibliotheca Abscondita
Seven Million Stray Dogs, by Acre. On the cover is a Byzantine-style icon of Neil Armstrong standing on the lunar surface, his hand raised in blessing and a golden nimbus round his helmet. The book is bound in curious triangular fashion and opens (impossibly) from two different sides. It is covered with a clear cellophane wrapper. Seven Million Stray Dogs is a universal almanac which I consult, in my dream, for Ikea-style instructions on assembling Italian Renaissance furniture pieces.
Hannibal at Sea, anon. On the cover is a silhouette image of a Phoenician trireme with three elephants aboard lifting their trunks in salute. The book is a collection of aphorisms for the strategically uncertain.
[NB: I've officially made this another series. For a refresher/introduction and a link to past posts, click here.]
Sir Thomas Browne left among his miscellaneous papers a catalog of imaginary books, the Musaeum Clausum or Bibliotheca Abscondita. Included are unknown works by Ovid and Pytheas, an account of the death of Avicenna, and (my favorite) a Sub Marine Herbal ‘describing the several Vegetables found on the Rocks, Hills, Valleys, Meadows at the bottom of the Sea.’
Better than Browne’s list, however, is the library dreamt up by Rabelais, which includes such promising titles as Folk Dances for Heretics, Close Shaven Clerks (by Ockham), Advanced Asslicking for Graduate Students and the not-to-be-omitted And Cheese, Too.
Detailed descriptions of the dreams of others can make life unbearable, I know, but I’ll briefly mention a curious personal phenomenon. For several years now I’ve had recurring dreams of an imaginary bookshop set in the middle of a city, entered by a flight of stairs from street level and extending two or three floors below ground. It is ill-lit, dusty and labyrinthine, the best imaginable place for browsing, and I never fail to make unheard-of discoveries there among the ghostly stacks.
This is my Bibliotheca Abscondita, my bookshop of dreams. I’ve decided to begin cataloging the titles I find there or in other dreams. Posts for this series will necessarily be sporadic.
The first two volumes:
Cassseraghi, author unknown, trans. Mary Wortley Montagu. An early Italian opera libretto. The book is full of the most wonderful illustrations done in a style that somehow weds Watteau, Blake and early Picasso – harlequin figures emerge from velvety green shadows, highlighted in turquoise, red and shimmering gold leaf.
Collected Works, Augustynde. This is a Library of America volume I’d never seen before, the collected novels and stories of a mid-twentieth century writer known only by his peculiar surname. A photograph of the author is printed on the back cover: a latter-day Whitman with a pendulous beard, dressed in a casual-cut white suit and hat, smoking a pipe. Most of his stories concern WWII. Every sentence is an intense surprise and pleasure. In my dream I can’t understand how it’s possible I’d never heard of Augustynde before.