The Paris Review

Ode to the Library Museum

The Morgan Library.

There is no friend in the world better than a book; in the abode of grief that is this world there is no [better] consoler. —Mir Ali Heravi

In the Chester Beatty Library, there are books made entirely of jade. There are picture scrolls featuring calligraphy by the brother of the Japanese emperor. There are papyrus codices that constitute some of the few surviving texts of Manichaeism, a religion of darkness and light that rivaled Christianity in scale until its last believers died out in fourteenth-century China. There are Armenian hymnals, Renaissance catalogues of war machines, and monographs on native Australian fauna. There is all of this and more—thousands and thousands of other works diverse in period and place of origin, waiting for human eyes. And yet as I walk through the galleries, as I survey the cases of books safe behind their glass, it occurs to me that if a book is a thing meant to be read, then in a certain sense, these objects have lost their function to all but the

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Credits
Cover: courtesy of Francesca Colussi. Pages 40–69, courtesy of Robert Hass; page 70, © 1998 by Fred Viebahn; page 73, © 1996 by Jock McDonald; page 77, © 2007 by Miriam Berkley; pages 106–23, courtesy of Francesca Colussi; pages 124, 139, courtesy of