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Seeing the future through tea leaves and book titles

| Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Let me tell you a story. It was a yawning New Mexican evening, the desert breeze running its fingers delicately through our living room blinds and the last spears of golden light playing across the tiled floor. My computer sat in front of me, a blank page glaring at me as I thought of what to write for my next column. As I sat locked in a furious staring contest with the blank page in front of me, I felt a curious sensation, as if a feather played across my neck. After a few seconds of silence, I realized that this sensation was not a sensation after all, but a tiny voice speaking barely above a whisper.

Immediately, I suspiciously scowled at my blank page, but it remained silent, content that I had looked away first. For a few moments, the only sound that could be heard was the ambient noise in my own head and the echoes of people talking to themselves in their backyards. 

But then I heard it again, and this time I jerked my head toward the direction of the voice. A book. “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli. I scoffed. This was the product of a tired and quarantined mind, and I turned back to writing. 

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”

I raised my eyes slowly and the worn spine of “The Prince” haughtily stared back from its perch on one of our living room bookshelves.

“Imagine being you. Not knowing what to write when the words are right in front of you. I literally wrote “Dictatorship for Dummies” in the blink of an eye and you can’t write a column. You call yourself a writer?”

Amazed that my book was hurling abuse at me, I sat speechless. It continued.

“I’ve been sitting on this dusty shelf for more than five years, in between “The Republic” and some title I can’t pronounce, and I deserve representation. Why don’t you write about me?”

“Fine, I’ll tell your story,” I told him, if only to make him quiet. It had not been more than five seconds since I uttered these words when a great chorus of voices rose from my bookshelves like a million cicadas in the cloying heat of summer. Now, it is not an exaggeration when I say I own thousands of books. Books on every shelf, on countertops, books as arm rests and even the book tower supporting the living room couch if you look close enough. With one great chorus of voices, each author entreated me to tell their story (I believe I heard various threats from Sun-Tzu and Hobbes).

I have compiled an abstract poem detailing the history of the universe, from spring to autumn, only using a choice selection of book titles in my house for the words. This is my offering to the authors who watch me with bated breath upon my bookshelves. Some of these titles will be familiar to you. Others are dusty tomes from the corners of thrift stores. This is their story as much as ours:

A brief history of time: a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy

At home in the universe and out of the easy

A mercy

A swiftly tilting planet, the fabric of the cosmos, a fine-tuned universe


Their eyes were watching God, reaching out

Number the stars and life with Picasso, the museum of innocence

The call of the wild, how good do we have to be?

A tale of two cities, the great divorce, Devil and the Good Lord

Roll of thunder, hear my cry that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead 

Man’s emerging mind

Metamorphosis, the Invisible Man

Imagine The lost world, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire

The pilgrim’s progress in a divine comedy, a brave new world

Waiting for God in the waste land, the demon-haunted world

Man’s search for meaning in this side of paradise

Speak, memory, help me with Seeing in the dark,

Mountains beyond mountains, the road less traveled, a journey to the center of the earth

In search of lost time, Chaos, the emperor of all maladies,

The fault in our stars, the wonderful wizard of Oz, the story of king Arthur and his knights

Revolution and Repetition

Atlas shrugged

The immense journey, Foundation and earth

Miracles, around the world in 80 days, the red badge of courage, snow

The world’s last night at the end of an age

The other side of the sky



Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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