Views of an Imaginary City 37: Inside the Imperial Library

The Imperial Library in the Kaduyorma (See n. 4) holds the largest collection of books in all of the empire. Indeed, it is supposed to house all of the books ever published in the imperial domains since the advent there of the first printing presses, some seven hundred years ago. For ease of consultation, most of the books are housed on tarotukeh (“book-mills”), enormous wooden wheels mounted with bookshelves. Each individual bookshelf is attached in such a way that, as the tarotukeh is turned, they always remain upright, in much the same way as the chairs in a panoramic pleasure wheel. Pulling on a chord that hangs at the side of each tarotukeh engages the gears that cause the wheel to rotate, allowing library users to easily scroll down from one row of books to the next, without even needing to adjust their eye level.   

The figures in the green robes are kimidatoki (“library monks”), men and women who have chosen to dedicate their lives entirely to the consumption of the written word. These permanent denizens of the Imperial Library will typically sleep under a specially designated awning that projects from one of the building’s exterior side walls, save during the winter months, when they are permitted to spend the night in the back vestibule. The whole of their day, from when they take their morning tea to just before they close their eyes at night, is devoted to reading. While it is generally acknowledged that getting through the entirety of the vast and, what’s more, ever-expanding collection of books in the Imperial Library is beyond the scope of a single human lifetime, the kimidatoki endeavor to arrive as close to this goal as possible.

Various kimidatoki take different approaches to how they work their way through the library’s holdings. They may alternate between subjects and authors or ingest all the volumes in one such category before proceeding to the next. Broadly speaking, however, the kimidatoki are fairly indiscriminate in their choice of reading material. Their aim is to arrive at as complete a knowledge as possible both of the external reality of the world and of the internal reality of the human soul, and they have determined that reading—all reading—is the most effective and time-efficient way to do so. Factually incorrect or poorly written texts, to their way of thinking, are scarcely less valuable than accurate and well-written ones, as this material, too, provides a perspective into how some people think and feel, or at one time thought and felt. Moreover, kimidatoki believe that it is only in relation to other texts—and, ideally speaking, all other texts—that the true value of a piece of writing can be judged. Kimidatoki are viewed as fulfilling a public service, since it is thought that many—if not the majority—of the books in the library collection would never be read otherwise. Furthermore, these devotees constitute a convenient resource when looking for fast answers to questions on any variety of topics. It is customary, therefore, for library-goers to leave a small donation in the alms bowls that the monks always keep set before them while reading.

The most famous kimidatoki was one Retrinu, who was born during the reign of Ojori I. At the age of twelve, Retrinu answered the call of the written word, and took up residence in the Imperial Library. Beginning with the first tarotukeh to the left of the main entrance, Retrinu proceeded systematically from there, reading every book in each successive book-mill. He continued in this fashion for several decades until he happened to reach the section devoted to love poetry. Retrinu was profoundly shaken by the what he found there, so much so that, midway through the section, he made the weighty decision to leave the library. The book monk now stepped back out into the world, filled with a determination to experience for himself the heady emotions that had inspired his recent reading material. One imagines his social skills were not the best developed at this point, but perhaps his vast storehouse of accumulated knowledge on the most disparate subjects rendered him an interesting conversationalist to some. At any rate, after a certain time he seems to have met a kindred soul, and the two were married. Shortly afterwards, Retrinu reappeared at the Imperial Library, now accompanied by his wife, who had decided to join him in the life of a kimidatoki. The veteran reader returned to the book-mill dedicated to love poetry, went through the last remaining volumes, and then moved on to the next section.    

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6 Responses to Views of an Imaginary City 37: Inside the Imperial Library

  1. Isabelle Pouliot says:

    Fantastique! Quelle belle histoire et quelle superbe illustration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JAMES AVIS says:

    A waterwheel of books, mon Dieu! I sniff the inspiration of a Buddhist prayer wheel. Keep turning. All answers are there, somewhere.


  3. Jeff says:

    Wonderful – my favorite so far in the “Views of an Imaginary City” series!


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