Saturday, June 20, 2009

True Story

She steps into the bookstore. It's the old-fashioned kind, the kind filled with books rather than magazines, tchotchkes and coffee shops. There are no bar scanners, no titles ending in "for Dummies." It's just stacks and stacks of used books. The stacks are somewhat labeled, "Mysteries","Non-fiction","Fiction", and there is a random jumble above each and every bookshelf labeled simply "Overstocks." Any sound is immediately dampened.

Which is why she came. Just a quick way, she thought, to decompress, to take me away, as the old commercial said. I'll just hang out here a minute to peace out, and then I'll go back refreshed. What she really wanted was a week in a tent in the woods, but the bookstore also had that faintly organic smell that stimulated that particular sense memory for her.

She finds archaic hardbound reference books, books in languages other than English (imagine that, she thought, an acknowledgment that all is not "middle America") but then something shifts. She heads over to fiction. To the U's. She met the author, at a talk, and found him charming and funny. And married, it wasn't like that at all, but she'd had so little opportunity for fandom, she reveled in it.

Sure enough, there it was, an early collection of short stories, half price. She thought that this was a terrific idea, to support the author, read some more of his work, everybody wins. She immediately lost the equanimity she had gained, for she tended to get caught up in things. That's okay, she thought, a joyful passion is far better than a general contentment.

She had work, so she had to wait until she got home to begin to read. She sat in the rocker she hardly ever uses, and devoured the first short story; it was about youth, and magic, and credulity. It was very funny. The second was about loss, and revenge, and danger, and kindness.

But then something happened. She read a page she had already read before. Not like when one is falling asleep, and reads the same page again, but it was an earlier page. Much earlier. She flips back. Sure enough, a whole section of text was repeated! After page 62, it goes back to 21! Then 22! and on and on.

How fascinating! A binding problem of this magnitude hardly ever happens. Of all the thousands and thousands of books one reads, one generally has faith that the pages will proceed as intended. Yes, there's the occasional uncut page (particularly humorous in a used textbook, "You didn't read the whole thing!") but hardly ever does one find extra pages.

Oh, but wait. Her stomach fell. What if, she thought, she began to flip forward in the book. 61, 62, 117. Sure enough. Another section of text was missing. Gone, completely. Not there. The missing text was replaced by the duplicated text from the beginning. A story and a half, replaced by a story and a half that was already told.

She felt strangely unmoored. Of all things to be defective. You expect your laptop to crash periodically, but not your book. "My book is broken," she thought, turning that phrase over and over for its ridiculousness.

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