About Michael Cadnum
Michael Cadnum at work

 

 

Michael Cadnum is the author of thirty-five books, including the National Book Award finalist The Book of the Lion.  Several of Cadnum's books have been released as audio books by Audible, and Open Road has published e-book editions of many of his classic thrillers.  He lives in Albany, California.

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Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCadnum.  And Facebook.




 

 

Author photo:  Arianne Hastings

 

Invisible Spider:  An Autobiography in Reading

The tarantula was lifeless, protected by a half dome of glass, but it looked every bit alive--blond and dangerous.

My grandfather loved rocks--agate and amethyst, highly polished quartz and native California jade. He kept his tarantula specimen on a bookshelf, among dictionaries and other reference books about minerals, and near his books of poetry and his Bible, too.  And then, on the top shelf of his living room library were books a child was not supposed to see.  And I think this might have been the beginning of my feeling that books were objects of uncanny power.  

You might have a book that was a pleasure to browse.  And you might also possess a book that told you secrets no one liked to talk about--what happened in war, for example.  There were peaceful subjects, and reassuring books, and there were unmerciful books, books that grownups kept high on the top shelf, volumes describing killers and bloody histories of the Civil War, with the dead captured in gray, bruise-dark photos.

And always there, treasured among all the books, like a eerie, delicate, severed hand, was the lifeless prince of knowledge, the golden-haired spider, preserved in a crystal dome.

I grew up in Southern California, and many of our towns were just being constructed.  Many of the libraries I visited were newly built, with recently hired librarians stamping due dates in our science fiction novels.  I enjoyed the fresh shelves of recently printed books, but I think I treasured the worn volumes of my grandfather’s bookshelf even more.

The first word I could ever read was the word We.  My father pointed it out to me as I sat in the garage.  He was repairing a piece of furniture, using a wood plane and sandpaper.  He ambled over and looked over my shoulder at the book I was puzzling through. I was five-years-old and ready to learn.  I can't recall the story, or any of the pictures. But I remember his sawdust-grimed finger pointing down at the page, and his warmhearted voice saying. "See that word?"

We.

What a wonderful first word!  But I saw at once, even then, that the word was not as innocent as it might have seemed.  Turn the word over, and you can see the problem.  The W looks alive, as though it has as though it has legs.  It lurks like a creature, ready ready to approach and befriend.   Or, perhaps, to bite.

One day my grandfather's spider, the specimen that had seemed fixed to last forever, suffered a mishap.

My little sister Laura Lee was holding the crystal dome containing the preserved tarantula--and she dropped it.  There was a musical crash, and at once there were shards of glass all over the hardwood floor.  

But the spider had vanished.  There was no sign of the arachnid, not even a pinch or two of gold, arachnid-colored dust.

The spider was absolutely gone.

Or, perhaps it had in an instant turned into all the words, in all the pages on the bookshelf. Because it's true—words are so powerful.

They sometimes seem to have more life than we do, which is why we take such care in naming a new baby, or in writing a poem.  Our souls are too often like that golden, perfect spider--illusions kept trapped in silence.  But through language in an instant we can discover, on the blank of the page, or the void of the computer screen, a secret that gives us life.




 

   

Tarantula artwork by Robert Cadnum

 

© 2017 Michael Cadnum, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Content and content layout by Michael Cadnum
Programming and design by Cousin Isaac