Dreams of Books

It’s been two nights going with dreams of the same vein.

Both dreams were in separate places, both had separate casts, and both seemed to have different threads, but the core value was the same.

Both were about books.

I won’t go stand up on my usual soapbox to talk about how awesome reading is. I think you’ve got enough of that. So, instead, I’ll just get to the point: both dreams were about rescuing books.

In the first dream, I was headed home from Massachusetts, visiting friends. I’m not the religious sort, but I’d stopped in to a church, probably to ask directions or beg the use of a restroom. I got in, no problem, no one stopped me, and on my way through, I came across a filing cabinet, and atop it sat the ill-fated and oft-maligned box set of TSR’s ‘Spelljammer.’

Now, I’ve no particular love of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a lackluster system in my personal opinion. But, it had some remarkable worlds that went outside of the ‘wizard in the tall tower’ genre. In particular, Planescapes, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, and even the epic flop that was Spelljammer all caught my eye at various points. And, of all places to find Spelljammer, there it was, casually resting on a filing cabinet in a church.

And, to think my first thought was to steal it. Right inside the church full of nice, pious folks who had let me come inside without a care.

I immediately chastised myself. Stealing inside a church. I may not have a lot of real warm fuzzy feelings about church looking back on things, but stealing from one was a page too far in the book of hypocrisy. Of course I wouldn’t steal from a church.

Then I saw the room beyond the filing cabinet. It was full of books the church had collected for ‘safe keeping’. And by that, I mean to use as examples in their sermons of icons of wickedness. Possibly to burn. Mostly to keep them out of the hands of good, god-fearing kids who might otherwise discover them in local heathen bookstores.

Then, I knew I  had to steal them. Books being kept away from hands to read them doesn’t sit well with me. Books want to be read. And banning a book just makes me want to read it all the more. In my waking hours I have little patience for bible-thumping folks who mistake creativity and wonder for idolatry or devil worshipping.

The problem was that I was arriving just as the congregation was gathering, and in the end I had to leave the church – too many churchgoers had shown by the time I realized what had to be done. I remember standing in the parking lot of the church as the dream unravelled, furiously trying to think of a way to bust out those books. But a solution never came. And I came to in my bedroom, feeling like I had failed.

It bothered me all Saturday. I had let those crazy people hoard those books, keeping them from the people who needed them. Books they thought led to devil-worship. Books they thought would corrupt the young somehow. I was upset by a fictional, personal failure. That’s the weird thing about dreams – it seems odd and upsetting to betray them, intangible though they may be.

Then came the second night.

I was in un-Philadelphia. Oh, it was Philadelphia alright. I knew it in the way you do in your dream bones when you’re in those dreams – but it was too different, altered. There was an old university district lined up next to a disused canal, and it was filled with old crumbling buildings. It was somehow to the east beyond the Delaware, as if Philadelphia had somehow spilled over the river in Manifest Destiny gone terribly wrong, forcing itself into Camden and planting it’s flag. In this district, myself and a group of others found ourselves urban exploring, creeping into and out of dead end streets with condemned properties. As we wended our way through these places, we found small communal places. And in these places we found shelf upon shelf of books. Most were old and moldering, barely held together. But, as we searched, I found old roleplaying books from my youth between decaying encyclopedias and Chilton manuals. I remember picking up an armful of Exalted splatbooks and thinking ‘Shannon will want these. I can’t leave them here.’ Somehow, I knew that the people who’d seeded these books were long gone and that the books were homeless now. It would be a shame to leave them there – though I’ll admit I took a thief’s pleasure in knowing that some of these books would be mine.

Then the bad people came. You could tell they were bad people by the weapons they carried. Bats and boards studded with rusty nails and lengths of barbed wire. They chased and hunted us through the districts, and to make good on escape we were forced to shed some of the books to lighten our load. I managed to keep a clutch of them this time, safely tucked under my arm while we made our escape into better parts of town.

The dreams reflect a part of me I suppose – I’m a librarian of sorts (an intensely disorganized one) as I’ve discovered. My books are my chosen wards; some I ‘rescue’ for posterity, others I acquire for my own edification and personal advancement, and some simply because they seem like friends in a curious, inanimate way. And when it is their time, I let them go freely to the folks who need them. After all, books are meant to be read and shared (no matter what DRM  policies say), that’s a part of what make physical books wonderful.

I wonder if perhaps I will sleep tonight and dream again of strange library adventures. I wonder what books I shall save, and who will read them, and to whom I might pass them on to.

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