A RIDDLE

THE MOST WONDROUS BOOK OF ALL

A Riddle, translated by Mark Z. Danielewski

You read this book many years ago. You read it every day.

The book is famous. Of course. It is always recommended by someone else-the best definition of fame-though it is also always recommended by its self.

The book is just for children. It is easy. There are no long words. There are no long sentences. All the sentences are complete. There is something green, something blue, something fast and red. What did you tell me? Out of the noon comes a beaming white moon late for its date with the dusk. Not to be outdone a Mongolian donkey racing a spoon snorts like a king while kicking up dust. Every river's an invitation. Snowfall's a spell, even though baskets of corn and apple trees and forests of beech will soon enough need to be learned.

Of course the book is not just for children. It's just for young girls and boys. Too. Who else could such thunder play for? Bus routes are introduced or trains or carpools which is nonsensical briefly even if it continues to sound pleasant on hot afternoons after school. Separation is made less painful by the appearance of new guests. Rather than taste yet has arrived the possibility of tastes. Many possibilities and promises. What did you show me? The fastways of black lanes, asphalt and airwaves, tarmac and tollbooths, subways and jet fuel and photos and newsprint, gateways and greatways to reach a strange coast, an ocean, a home, with maybe, along the way, a detour or two. The word isn't crash but crush, not rash but rush, not trash but trust.

Of course the book's not just for young girls and boys. It's just for young men and women. For them too. Trickier and lengthy with meanings in tandem in triplicate in four. Hurt's no longer just present but measured out against what happened before. To complicate matters names, like chapters, proliferate. Strangers and friends, cousins and trends, the beginnings of romance and history; an emphasis on ends. Take the money and run, you feel you learn you're told. Gorge and purge. Binge and blow. Curse that dot, that wood, that p.d. or jefe or corn-rowed, brown, rice-burning, rag-headed, desert-doting dozen misunderstood. Which how did you translate and so accurately and bravely too despite the temptation not to translate at all? My hands are frail. My knees are weak. I have seen how large this world is and it is too much for rail and wing and too dark for ass or moon and too great for every name. I am afraid. Which was when you fell in love.

Obviously then the book's not only for young men and women. It is only for adults. Multisyllabic, hardcore. Fragments, dysfunction and languages and idiom out of which, quite unexpectedly, comes a strangely plaintive and parental song. Some assembly required. But all that it cradles is grateful. This is the first time they'll hear of dusk and sun asunder or think to taste with a spoon its wonder or ask why color's so, where a river goes, or why the name is different when water's cold. Out of different pieces and different tongues comes these gentle and simple sums. What did you take away? The illness I have known, the fractures I could tell, the mistakes and prejudice I've sown. Night from the day. Heartache like a great black bell counting out an improbable hour for all who fell, far from less, more than more, a broken headlight swerving from the road, a dead horse lying by your family's sinking tower, an intimate procession to funeral from divorce. What's fastened; what's loose. What's memorized or...;refuse. Your future scored and sacked and a past sadly saddled still by the darkest specter of war.

Fortunately, you'll agree, the book's not just for adults. The book is only for the old who like the children and the very young strike a cunning bargain with their years negotiating better ways to compose all that still remains. Not too long and only as difficult as suits the mood. Yet deep enough to contain the most important clues for what endures or what's lost or desired or present or goes on or halts or returns like a Viennese waltz or an ever unfolding tune. Either way something appealing. Something cool. What did you give me then? All of it, some of it, none of it. A handful of pleasant or rueful remarks. Happily scattered. From finish to start. Enough to make the pages vanish, the words brighten. There was never any paper or ink you suddenly think. Beech trees return. Gold. To read is to find. To see well is to mind. To learn is to last. A strange parade's now in progress and rounding the corner fast. Racial, generational, and tonal. "I am Erica!" "I'm no feast!" "I'm awake!" "I'm A.W. Earl!" "I'm Pete!" Thousands of faces and names miraculously if momentarily complete. But where, says the youngest pointing to the field below, did that star over there finally go? Someone ancient closes their eyes and finds the mountains and sleeps.

Do you know the book I mean? Do not guess. It's more complicated than a no or yes. Impossible without search but easiest to imagine. Like a life. Simple as breath. Look to the obvious. After all, you already know many passages and pages by heart.

The book's all around. It's nowhere bound. You're close, you think. You're not, you say. As beautiful as it's many as it's most definitely less than few. Tell me when you find it. I hope so soon. In turn I'll confide the book's yours when you're lost, there for you on the way; it keeps you in your thoughts and no matter the long months and dark years, reads you every day.

Mark Z. Danielewski is the author of the novel House of Leaves (Pantheon, 2000).

Illustration: Spirals, 1953, wood engraving, 10 5/8 X 13 1/8", from The Magic of MC Escher, by Joost Eiffers and Andreas Landshoff. New York: Abrams. 196 pages. $39.95

This column was featured in the Winter 2000 issue of Bookforum Magazine.

Special thanks to Mark Z. Danielewski and Andrew @ Bookforum for providing the article to Exploration Z