Burying Books

‘He regularly spent more than four hours a day moving books back and forth – for no good reason other than to ‘keep the little bastards guessing’. One upshot of this was that he was always losing books..’ (see below)

Another upshot of Speyer’s book-moving obsession was that people are still finding his books. His house in Southern Germany no longer stands: in 1991 property developers knocked it down to build flats for pensioners retired from the retail trade. These pensioners are rather fond of gardening, as is their wont. They wake, they drink tea, they dig holes for seeds, they drink tea, they fall asleep, they lose their false teeth, they dig holes for seeds, etcetera, etcetera. During these frequent digging sessions they are constantly coming across Speyer’s books buried beneath the soil.

There are two responses to this. Some people have suggested that the books have ‘somehow found their way into the earth’. Many things get covered in layers of dirt despite themselves: one cannot argue with this, eternal truth as it is. However, I know for sure that, late in life, Johannes Speyer developed a habit of deliberately burying books. Exactly why he did this I cannot say, but there is no disputing the fact. I saw him, with my own eyes, one Sunday morning, digging a grave for his Henry James novels.


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