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The Library Angel

This 2018 post is from an old, now-defunct site.


Ever had a run-in with what dream-worker Robert Moss calls the "library angel?" It's hard to catch her in the act, but you know she's been around when just the right book falls into your hands (sometimes literally falls) at just the right moment: a book that speaks to exactly where you're at, that helps you make sense of the mess of your life. 


Sometimes the angel even goes so far as to help us open to the right page. I had a totally weird and wonderful experience of this years ago as an undergraduate.


Being believers in the magic of words, my roommate and co-conspirator Toby Lou and I were having a read-aloud session one evening. The only problem was deciding what to read--we had both brought in a sizable stack to choose from. I suggested we do the only sensible thing, namely to pick randomly. Together we devised a playfully elaborate means of narrowing down the options: flipping coins to choose this pile or that, then tossing objects onto a map to further narrow things down. It took us several rounds of random flips and tosses to pick out our book. A final flip or two determined the page we opened to...(cue drumroll...)


A short story Jorge Luis Borges entitled "The Babylon Lottery". Neither of us had ever read it. But as Toby read the opening lines aloud my jaw hit the floor. Here was a tale about a society structured according to an arcane game of chance. "If the lottery is an intensification of chance," one passage read, "a periodic infusion of chaos into the cosmos, then is it not appropriate that chance intervene at every aspect of the drawing, not just one?"


Our lottery had yielded a description of itself. What were the chances, out of all the thousands of pages we could have opened to? Somewhere, a bookish angel was having a good laugh. 


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