Following the death a few weeks ago of Jeremy Taylor and his wife Kathy, I spoke with their daughter Tristy, and we agreed that I would take responsibility for moving, storing, and preserving his professional books and papers. Tristy understands that her father had a major influence on the contemporary study of dreams, and his works will have an enduring historical significance for the field. I told her that my wife and I have recently begun working with an architect to design a study and library devoted to dream research on property we own near Portland, so I can offer a place where his collection will be available to other dream investigators in the future.
In assuming this responsibility, I did not reckon with the fact that Jeremy apparently kept every single book he ever owned in his entire life. He loved his books, and he obviously drew great inspiration from their physical presence. However, to someone who did not share his (and my) bibliophilia, his collection appeared rather daunting. That, at any rate, was the response of the moving company estimator. When I met him for an initial survey of the house, he spent a couple of hours sighing, shaking his head, and measuring shelf lengths. He finally told me he’d never seen anything like it. There were approximately 300 boxes of books to pack up, with a total weight of around 15,000 pounds. It would take four guys a full day to get it all ready for the truck.
15,000 pounds of books. Seven and a half tons.
I’m going to need a bigger library.
Last Friday the packing crew arrived at the house at 7 am. There were four guys, none of them especially happy to be up at that hour. When they got inside the house, their momentary elation (just books, no couches or dressers!) turned to dread when I showed them the full extent of the job (oh my god, how many f***ing books are there??). We got to work, and to be honest, it was a struggle for the first few hours. The quarters were tight, the air was stale and musty, and the books came in all shapes, sizes, and conditions, which made the packing process much more complex than it usually would be. Several shelves had extra shelves behind them, so it literally seemed like the books were multiplying. The more the guys packed, the more books there were to pack. Suffice it to say, morale was low and tempers were short.
And then something cool happened. The books began to work a kind of magic. As the guys settled into the rhythm of removing the books from the shelves, wrapping them in paper, and placing them in the boxes, they inevitably noticed the covers, titles, and recurrent themes. Dreams, dreams, dreams. Mythology from all over the world. Tricksters. Ancient religions. Jungian psychology. Graphic novels. Science fiction. Surrealist art. Poetry. Weird stuff that’s hard even to categorize.
I heard them discussing these topics while they packed, as it dawned on them what this huge and very focused collection of books said about a person’s view of the world. They asked me a few questions about Jeremy, and over the course of the afternoon I told them about his life and works, and the importance of these books to him and to our field of study. Naturally this got them talking about their own dreams, and their personal speculations about the powers of the human mind. I wouldn’t say they were whistling while they worked, but it did make the time pass. Each of them seemed to find something of special interest among the dusty tomes that made them pause and ponder for a moment.
They finished the day with a burst of energy (it was Friday, after all), and before they left at 6:30 pm I gave them each a copy of Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. I knew this was risky—they might never want to see another book again—but if they didn’t want it, they could just give it to someone who did, and Jeremy would be happy either way.
Whether or not they keep their books, these guys were clearly moved by Jeremy’s passion for the study of dreams. I’m pretty sure they will henceforth look at their own dreams in a different light, with more curiosity about exploring their multiple dimensions of meaning.
As they drove away and I locked up the house, I thought, if this experience were a dream… I would interpret it as a vivid reminder that Jeremy’s books still have the power to teach and enlighten. Aha!