I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, by Connie Willis (Subterranean Press).
This latest novella from SFWA Grand Master Connie Willis offers a new take on the “magical bookstore” story. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of wandering the aisles of the Library of Alexandria or discovering a manuscript of Shakespeare’s lost Cardenio? Or a store where we can find books so odd, so enchanting, that we can never return unchanged to our mundane lives? (Actually, one could argue that all bookstores and libraries do this.) One of my favorites is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, in which a boy is taken into a library and allowed to choose “his” book.
In her inimitable fashion, Willis draws us into a magical realm coexisting with the drab life of an author on a book tour in New York City. Tucked among the skyscraper office buildings, he stumbles upon a shop named, oddly, Ozymandias Books. Any student of high school English will recall the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal Wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.
Slowly the author is drawn into the store and its mysterious workings, discovering on its shelves more and more obscure works (including the aforementioned play attributed to Shakespeare). Even more puzzling is the way the books are arranged, not by author or subject but by the disaster that destroyed the last remaining copy…except the one he holds in his hands. (Nothing beside remains…)
I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land is a delicious treat for readers and collectors, and a love song to those who treasure books.