“The trick is,” Xenon was saying, “to find the right books to read.”
This was a long time ago. Xenon, myself, and an earnest looking young man were sitting in the back room of the Cafe surrounded by its select group of volumes. The young man had turned up a week or so before and had quietly begun perusing the shelves. Every time I saw him the stack of books in front of him had grown. “He hardly utters a word,” Xenon whispered to me one day, “just reads; like a famished young lion eating for the first time in God knows how long.”
Well, this particular day he seemed to finally come up for air and had fallen into conversation with Xenon. I forget how it had started but I remember him in his serious intent way saying stuff about there being too many books to read and how was one person to succeed in putting it all together.
“When you’re truly a seeker after understanding,” Xenon said in his quiet calm manner, “—and most people aren’t, there’s only a handful of books in any given time, any particular age, worth reading. Everything else is derivative, contained and comprised in those ever so rare moments of absolute brilliance.”
“Take this wall of books,” he continued, pointing behind. “Now imagine that on the bottom shelf are the vast majority of works, arguing this point and that, enthusing over this feeling and that. On the next shelf up are fewer books, but with a broader perspective, their outlook comprehending everything on the shelf below but, like all the books on each shelf, not truly fathoming anything above. The higher the shelf from which you draw a book, the more comprehensive the vision, until you reach for those rare and few volumes on the very topmost shelf. Those are the ones worth studying. If you’re truly a seeker that is.”
The young man had been listening with all his being, definitely a good sign, when he broke in: “But, if I understand you correctly, how is one to know what shelf the book your reading at any given time is from? Who… where is the guide?”
“Ahh!” replied Xenon, loving this very sort of conversation, “a terrific question. How is one to know?”
“The guides are all around us. However, when all is said and done, you must be your own guide. When you read something and you feel like the words on the page were snatched from the very tip of your tongue, when your inner bells and whistles are set off, when the words, shining with golden sun-like brilliance, elicit an exultant—ecstatic— YES! from within, then you know you’re on the right path.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” he said, rising from his chair, “just as the books become more comprehensive, more encompassing, the higher the shelf to which they belong, we as readers grasp the books only on and below a certain shelf according to our own nature. How is anyone to tell you what shelf you should be reading from? How is anyone to know your level of comprehension, the scope of your inner vision?”
“That you must discover for yourself.”
And with that he left the room. The young man pondered Xenon’s words for quite some time while I quietly appeared to read my book but secretly watched his reactions.
It wasn’t long after that the young man in question disappeared, to where I have no idea. “He said something about travel,” Xenon told me later, “India and Tibet were on his mind more and more.”
I knew what Xenon was thinking. Those exotic, compelling destinations held as much fascination for him as any other place.
He simply doesn’t see the need to travel so far for what he feels is right at hand.