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November 28, 2008

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The Blogger I Miss Most...

… is easily Ben Vershbow, formerly of if:book.

The only post-IFB news I can find of him is a Book Expo Canada from June. I hope he is doing something appropriately awesome.

Posted November 28, 2008 at 10:53 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Media Galaxy


Wow, I totally agree. Always so excited to see those if:book posts -- and especially his -- light up in my RSS reader.

It's one of those things that is hard to notice until it's gone. Vershbow wasn't a high-personality blogger; he was just incredibly, consistently smart and aware. And he anchored a really strong crew -- Chris Meade was the other frequent co-poster -- who kept everything cracking.

The blog at if: book still posts some good stuff, but the posting rate is less frequent, and it has a different personality. I am still devoted to it, but it's like watching Simpsons Season Nine after watching Season Four.

I just had a nano-daydream about the missing Vershbow trudging through Himalayan snow -- on the penultimate leg of an epic quest that has led him twice around the earth since June -- when, at Book Expo Canada, he met a man who gave him the clue he'd been looking for... the first clue as to the hiding place of the Omega Book.

Which is not Ulysses, and it isn't 2666 either.

It is not in any library, not in any bookstore. Only one exists.

It is not made of paper at all (although it has the form factor of a Penguin Classic).

In fact, it's not made of any material you can find in this solar system.

But when you open it -- when you fold back the matte black cover, which crackles a bit and smells like ozone -- you see...

On the back part of the step, toward the right, I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance. At first I thought it was revolving; then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounded. The Aleph's diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror's face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I'd seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny -- Philemon Holland's -- and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon -- the unimaginable universe.

I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity.

Jorge Luis Borges, "The Aleph"

Close, but it was the Imposter Omega Book, discovered in the catacombs of a 4th Century monastery in the south of France, that was Borges.

Well, it was Borges except for every prime-numbered word, which had been switched for a synonym, and the distance between the original word and the synonym in the 2014 OED (long story), modulo 26, yielded a string of letters that pointed Vershbow to Lhasa.

Incredible as it may seem, I believe that the Aleph of Garay Street was a false Aleph. -- JLB, "The Aleph"

You win this round, Borges... you win this round.

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