I bought this book because it had a giant bite taken out of it, and it said it was about a rat who grew up in the basement of a bookstore. What’s not to like? (Well, okay, I kind of have a rat phobia, but I was willing to give it a try.)
Firmin is born in a nest made of a shredded copy of Finnegan’s Wake, in the basement of a 1960s-era Boston used bookstore. He’s the runt of the litter and often gets shorted at feeding time. As a result, he turns to the books surrounding him for something to chew on and finds that he can’t stop.
Like many things that start as small, illicit pleasures, paper chewing soon became an imperative, and then an addiction, a mortal hunger whose satisfaction was so delightful that I would often hesitate to pounce on the first free tit. (17)
In this way, Firmin becomes a literal consumer of literature. After a while, however, he learns to read what is written on the pages, and switches to only chewing on the margins. Soon he is better read than most humans, and he migrates to the ceiling where he watches the bookstore below. I love his description of what he observes, because it reminds me of the joy inherent in having a bricks-and-mortar bookstore to visit: