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TO READ OR NOT TO READ
“What’s your favorite book?”
I frequently surprise Accompanying Browsers with this question.
Clarification: an Accompanying Browser is someone who enters the shop in the company of a booklover who is searching for just the right thing to read. The booklover is always avid and enthusiastic and heads for the shelves to see What’s Where. The Accompanying Browser simply has no interest in the books and gazes into space, waiting patiently for the booklover to get it over with.
That’s when I’ll come out with something like, “What are you reading right now?” or “What kinds of books are you looking for today?” or the inevitable, “What’s your favorite book?” I pretty much know what the response will be, but sometimes it’s worth the effort.
Standard replies to these questions include, “Uh, I don’t know…” or “I don’t really read…” or “I don’t have time to read…” or “I tried to read a book once, but I only got halfway through.” No kidding–this last response came just this week from a twenty-something person.
Whenever I feel it is safe to trade pleasantries with such a responder, I say something like, “Can you read?” as in “Are you an adult illiterate?” If this evokes a smile or a defensive response, it is usually, “Of course I know how to read. I just don’t like to read.”
Later, the once-read-half-a-book customer and her partner arrive at the check-out desk with two books in hand. One is a biography of Dylan Thomas, the other a collection of John Masefield poems. I effuse: “Great selection—Dylan Thomas is one of the five best employers of the English language, and Masefield was a great poet. You’ll love these.”
The male of the couple stares at me for a puzzled moment, then comments, “Oh. Well, I never heard of Dylan Thomas or this other guy,” at which point I realize that both books sport solid black bindings and are being purchased for decorative purposes only. The couple confirms this.
I hold up the Thomas volume and try once more, reciting, “Do not go gentle unto that good night…rage against the dying…” The male smiles in recognition and says, “Is he the one who said that?” followed by a “Wow!”
The young woman smiles and drawls, “I just don’t understand anything y’all are talking about,” in her best “I’m-just-an-ignorant-old-gal-who-has-more-important-things-to-spend-my-time-doing” voice. But at least the male says, “I guess I should try reading this Dylan Thomas.”
They leave happy.
As the afternoon tumbles forth, another Accompanying Browser engages with me for some pleasantries. She brags about never reading, although it is all right with her that her grown daughter loves to read. I can’t help giving it a shot, “Maybe you could get started by reading books that are only a page in length.” She is curious, so I do go on, “Here’s an example of a one-page novel. It’s so brief you won’t even have time to doze or be distracted.” I’m showing her the story, “The Earth Overhead,” from my book DAD’S TWEED COAT: SMALL WISDOMS HIDDEN COMFORTS UNEXPECTED JOYS.
I quickly read the story aloud. She smiles, looks somewhat stunned, and soon becomes my friend for a moment. She and her daughter buy stuff and leave happy.
Oh, in case you’re interested, here is my one-page two-paragrah novel:
THE EARTH OVERHEAD
Above my head in the book loft there floats a foot-wide, thirty-foot-long red orange yellow green kite, waving in the air-conditioning breeze and making me look up occasionally to remember a time far gone, when my small daughter and I stood in the abandoned parking lot of the old Liberty supermarket on Greensprings Highway and held on to the longlong string for dear life, the string that kept the world from breaking loose and floating away from that wonderful solid stationary kite around which the entire universe moved.
The asphalt under our feet felt light as seafoam and the kite weighed a million pounds and we wanted so much to climb that silver strand and reach deep into the rainbow kite and bring up the mystery of being, hold it in our hands for a few precious seconds, then let it fly away from its kitebound center and travel to a place where it could make someone else intensely happy for a few ticks
© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.