Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude was read on the way to and from the London Book Fair 2015. It provided a provocative backdrop to the event and some attitudes encountered there to knowledge, censorship, transience, and resilience. It also contains an almost comprehensive list of elements of the publishing process and a real life story of the book that may act as a handy refresher course to all those attending this or any other book trade event.
Haňťa, the protagonist, has been pulping books for 35 years, rescuing odd volumes along the way and storing them in ever more precarious piles of books. Eventually his livelihood is threatened by increasing large-scale automation. One impressive sentence says it all.
“Now they were back at work, nicely tanned, the sun deepening the hue of their Grecian bodies even as they toiled, not at all upset at the thought of going to Hellas knowing next to nothing about Aristotle or Plato or even Goethe, that extension of ancient Greece, no, they just went on working, pulling covers off books and tossing the bristling, horrified pages on the conveyor belt with the utmost calm and indifference, with no feeling for what the book might mean, no thought that somebody had to write the book, somebody had to edit it, somebody had to design it, somebody had to set it, somebody had to proofread it, somebody had to make the corrections, somebody had to read the galley proofs, and somebody had to check the page proofs, print the book, and somebody had to bind the book, and somebody had to pack the books into boxes, and somebody had to do the accounts, and somebody had to decide that the book was unfit to read, and somebody had to order it pulped, and somebody had to put all the books in storage, and somebody had to load them onto the truck, and somebody had to drive the truck here, where workers wearing orange and baby-blue gloves tore out the books’ innards and tossed them onto the conveyor belt, which silently, inexorably jerked the bristling pages off to the gigantic press to turn them into bales, which went on to the paper mill to become innocent, white, immaculately letter-free paper, which eventually would be made into other, new, books.”
Bohumil Hrabal, Too Loud a Solitude, 1976