To Read Is to Fly

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” 
― Alberto Manguel


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A Short Stay in Hell - Steven L. Peck Peck uses the Borges story "The Library of Babel" as inspiration for his own take on a version of Hell in this thought-provoking novella.


As the story opens, Soren Johansson finds himself dressed in a robe, sitting on a metal folding chair with a view of men and women who are screaming while swimming in a lake of fire. He soon learns from Xandern, the 8-foot tall demon who welcomes him, that he has died, that Zoroastrianism is the one true religion, and that he is being sent to a specific version of hell, selected especially for him, until he has been "corrected" enough to go to heaven.

Soren finds himself whisked away into an unimaginably vast library, based on Borges' Library of Babel, where he has to locate his life story among the endless shelves of volumes. He is not alone -- other people have been assigned the same task. Soon, they all realize how much more difficult their quest is than they ever imagined it to be. In the process, Peck creates a microcosm of human history, as he describes how Soren and his companions deal with these challenges -- through intimate relationships, organized study, cults, violence, compassion, loneliness, pain, sorrow, hopelessness, and love.

Peck's novella first captured my imagination for the quirky details he uses to flesh out this vision of Hell. (He sold me from the start with the triumph of Zoroastrianism.) However, he kept my attention through his deft handling of key aspects of the human condition. The novella has stayed with me, as I continue to explore and consider the implications of the questions he raises.

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