54                         The Bayou Review


Value of Books

Yoshiro Takayasu (translated by Toshiya Kamei)


One day after dinner I needed to conduct research, so I went

into a book vault that had been built in one corner of the yard. Three

walls were covered with bookcases, seven shelves high. Even though

I had organized books by subject, it proved more difficult than I had

expected to find what I was looking for, and I had hardly made any

progress on my research. There was another reason why my research

didn't come about; whenever I found a book that had so captivated

me in my youth, I would open and peruse it. The picture books I read

to my children when they were young were lined up on the top shelf.

I picked up and opened a book that had pleased my eldest son. I also

spotted a book I had borrowed from a woman before I got married. It

would be silly to return it now. I flipped through the pages, remember-

ing those long-gone days when I dated her.


Five hours had passed. It was already past midnight by the

time I finally found the book I was looking for and settled down to a

low table in the center of the book vault. My research had to do with

local history, and I was getting nowhere with just one book. While

I turned over books lying around, drowsiness overcame me. Soon I

began to doze off.


I must have slept for half an hour when I was awakened by a

voice. Maybe I only imagined it; there was complete silence. After

a while, I fell asleep again. I heard a voice again. This time I slowly

looked up.


"He seems to have awakened," a voice said.


Then it became quiet again. I wondered if someone had been watching

me all along. I looked around, but the doors and windows were closed,


Fall 2018                                                                                               55

and the blackout curtains were also drawn. While I thought there was

no way I had been watched, I pretended to be asleep. After a while I

began to hear the murmur of voices. I opened my eyes slightly with

my face still buried in my arms, but no one was there; only voices

were heard. I feigned sleep and listened to them.


"So, like I was saying earlier, the encyclopedia is best when it

comes to knowledge."

"Well, the encyclopedia is broad but shallow. The Japanese un-

abridged dictionary is better than all other dictionaries if you're look-

ing up words. As for biology, the encyclopedia of biology will do just

fine. The art almanac is best suited for art."


It seems that the books were the ones who were talking. When

the dictionary shelf got a little quiet, a voice came from a shelf out of


"You all seem to think you're great if you have a lot of knowl-

edge, but nobody has ever read any of you cover to cover. In that re-

spect, people finish a book like me. Sometimes they cuddle me while

shedding tears. A book's worth depends on how much it impresses

readers. Knowledge alone can't move readers' hearts."


"If you want to move readers' hearts, look no farther than a

poetry collection like me. First of all, many of us poetry books are

elaborately bound, which means that poetry reflects people's hearts."


"No, that's not so. Nobody reads poetry nowadays. You're just

using your appearance to draw attention. That's heresy."


"I just don't think you're in a position to judge anybody.

You're a specialized book on how to make money in stocks or callig-


"I don't think there are any books that deceive people as

much as specialized books do. There's hardly anybody who has made


56                                                                       The Bayou Review

money in stocks by reading up on stock market investing. Nor is there

anybody who has read a book on calligraphy and become a calligra-



Then a picture book on the top shelf said, "Can you tone it

down a bit? I just wanted to know which among us was the most re-

spectable book. You shouldn't fight."


"Oh, yes. But it won't be settled by talking. I'll tell you what:

Let the master decide when he wakes up. The one he picks up when

he leaves this room is the most respectable book today," the bookends


Having heard their discussion, I had no idea which book I

should choose. I put aside my research and thought hard, unable to

come up with an answer. Then I ended up sleeping until morning.


I awoke when I heard my wife open the door of the main



"Such a strange dream," I thought to myself, as I hurriedly left

the book vault, holding a book that had been lying beside me. It was a

picture journal my eldest son kept when he was in elementary school

twenty years ago.


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