dream books


Lying in bed one morning, on the blurry border of sleep, I realized that the three books I was currently reading all conjured up the fantastic realism of a dream. In each, incidents were depicted with hyper-lifelike clarity, but the story lines flagrantly, even preposterously, violated the rules by which we live, the very assumptions which govern our next step. Sequentiality itself was overthrown, or at least undermined. The narratives advanced, as if towards a crisis or climax, yet they seemed suspended in an aspic of frozen time. Or such was my dreamy epiphany. To a wide-awake mind, the books appeared at first to have almost nothing in common.

Little Nemo, a New York Herald Sunday comic strip of the early twentieth century, starred its eponymous little-boy hero each week in a dreamworld adventure (a selection was recently reissued in a full-sized facsimile edition edited by Peter Maresca). I Will Bear Witness is the abridged diary (even so, it fills up two fat volumes) of Victor Klemperer, a Jewish humanities professor who survived in Dresden under the Third Reich. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a landmark of postmodern literature, imagines Marco Polo regaling Kublai Khan with descriptions of the cities that he has seen in his travels.

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