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Dangerous Books is a small space with a high ceiling.

The aisles are narrow and labyrinthine, and seem to travel farther than the size of the building would permit. The shelves are tall; so tall you need a footstool to reach the higher books. Footstools are always easy to find.

The store only stocks high-quality books, no chaff. The books are not organized by genre, but if you were to accomplish a Fourier transform, re-sorting them into the dusty ghettos of an abandoned megastore, you would find much Science Fiction and very little Romance. Many volumes of Cultural Studies, but few of Business & Management. Heaps of Science & Nature. One Bible.

The back of the store hosts a small reading room, with comfortable chairs and a large, low table. It is said that meetings are held here; it is not said what sort of Clubs might find their home at Dangerous Books. There is no sign on the sidewalk advertising events. There is no bulletin board.

The front of the shop is brighter. Daylight streams in through tall windows. Here there is a cashier’s counter: an altar to Hermes, god of messengers and tricksters and thieves. Some nearly-tame books grace the window display. A small bar in one corner offers hot beverages but few seats; should you desire to get comfortable, you must find your way through the maze to the reading room.

Taking center stage is a massive globe, demarcated not by nation but by bioregion. The mountains and oceans and great rivers of the world are hand-painted and filigreed. The moon orbits on a hidden engine, sized to scale but unnaturally close.

On the walls are framed maps of imaginary territories: Blue Mars, Arrakis, Earthsea. Like an old Explorer’s Club, veterans of epic campaigns reminisce teary-eyed at the sight of the long-lost lands where they gained and lost so much.

Announced in a fine script above the altar of Hermes is a challenge:

“Welcome to Dangerous Books. All books here are known to be Puissant, Arcane, or Memetically Active. They should be used under occult supervision.

Books in the Restricted Section are available for purchase, but first you must unveil the Restricted Section. If you need assistance, please do not ask us.”

Beneath, in hasty block letters, another:

“PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE BOOKS!”

Whenever anyone enters the front door, a small gong peals from a hidden chamber. It pierces the ear at first, but soon melts away into the musty, incense-filled atmosphere. It fades so gradually that you cannot be certain whether it has stopped ringing.

If you were to spend your time here, to find your home amongst the tomes, to curl up catlike in the reading room and stretching sink your claws into the closest stack of books, you would sense a conspiracy within their pages. A thread runs through the shelves, a message repeated endlessly in different ciphers. A Rosetta stone in a thousand volumes.

One book tells the future history of a monastery of science. Another stars a relentless monstrosity, determined to climb out of the book and inhabit the body of the reader. A third describes a mystery of libraries, an encrypted puzzle distributed across the shelves of the whole world.

The books whisper of a secret society.

“Come with us”, they say, “come away, to the Place for People Who Still Read Books. We can be together there.”

If, like so many others, you get lost in Dangerous Books, and if you stay lost long enough, if you display no concern for your orientation, if you ignore your appointments and timetables and chores to wander the twists and turns of plot and phrase, you will – eventually – stumble on the Restricted Section.

A suitable amount of omens and disclaimers encrust the archway, such that you must bow your head to gain entry. The alcove is small, candlelit, and, crucially, deserted. Here you can find any book you imagine: the most obscure, arcane, risque, terrifying, revealing, demanding books, prestigious or notorious, substantial or slim. Books never published. Books not yet written.

What do you seek here?

What do you find?


What books do you find? You can respond to this email to let me know. Thanks for reading.

– Max

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