The library is a massive domed building of wood and brick, located on the Kansas prairie many miles away from any other structure.
I have come to this place because I know that this library carries a copy of THE book, the one I have sought for many years. No, not
the Bible. Not any religious text. It is simply THE book, the one that makes all other books superfluous. I've always told myself that I am one of the few people capable of finding this work and reading it.
The library is a marvelous maze, filled with shelves and desks made of beautifully carved and polished wood. And the books! No other library has such books. Splendid oversize volumes with illustrations by artists I have never heard of before. Biographies of amazing individuals whose names were previously unfamiliar to me. Books of mystery. Mystery after mystery. It is all mesmerizing.
This library seems to carry the entire culture (and popular culture) of some rich and wonderful parallel Earth. One can lose oneself forever in these books.
But then I remember: Somewhere in this library, in a room at the center of the maze, is THE book. The shadows are lengthening; the sky outside is turning gold. Closing time will come soon.
So I wander further into the maze. Around every corner, there are more
books. These new discoveries are even more entrancing than the ones in the preceding rooms.
Another test. Well, it wouldn't do any harm to linger here a bit...
And linger I do, until I can summon the willpower to go forward again.
Finally, I find it: The great room at the center, the one that contains THE book.
My goal. I'm here. I'm about to enter the room....
A librarian taps my shoulder.
Closing time. You have to go.
I must have lost track of the time. Just one more minute...?
No. You have to go RIGHT NOW.
An instant later, I am being being driven away in a car. (Driven by whom? I don't know.) I am looking back at the great wooden dome as it catches the last golden rays of sunlight. You can came back,
I tell myself. On your next visit, you won't be distracted. You'll go straight to the room at the center.
But this is a lie. One visits this library only once.
I have had this dream many times, in many forms. In one variant, the library was a small used bookstore in a rural location -- a bookstore that somehow contained dozens of rooms, and of course the place closed just before I could reach the room in the back. On another occasion, I was lost in a dream version of the Library of Congress -- a vast, cavernous complex that ran underneath much of the east coast (and which bore no resemblance to the real Library of Congress).
The dream, in all of its variations, needs no interpretation, since the metaphor is obvious. Or so I thought until recently. I now think that this fable can be viewed more than one way.
The obvious interpretation: The library's holdings are a trap -- a seemingly infinite number of gaudy diversions, hypnotically fascinating but ultimately useless. Those other books exist for the sole purpose of keeping most members of the human race from reaching the room with THE book.
The second interpretation: We have no proof of THE book's existence. As far as anyone knows, THE book is just a myth. The reader who becomes obsessed with this myth commits a great crime against himself (or herself), because time is precious, and the building closes earlier than most people realize. Wouldn't it be better to spend every possible moment with the beautiful and enchanting holdings of the world's most marvelous library? Why waste one minute chasing something that probably does not exist?
Those two interpretations are the two ways of living life.