22. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections 4 The Man @ Alabaster Books

How many letters can you write to lovers you never had?


He hands you a slip of paper and a black pen. You consider what to write. You begin writing the first letters of the author’s name you mentioned to this man, who you don’t know but are made nervous by. This is the same man who asked you if you needed any help navigating a bookstore double the size of your childhood bedroom. Because you are independent, because you have learned how to suffer quietly, you say no and browse the shelves without taking notice of this man’s face. He may have smiled or might not have and you continue to look for One Hundred Years of Solitude. How fitting. But then you realize, you cannot figure out if it’s filed under Garcia or Marquez or, perhaps, a special section for authors with two names.

Eyes scan the shelves. No luck. You turn, cheeks rouged with embarrassment, smile and ask for the man’s help. Maybe it’s the newsboy cap that makes him look so young, or the way in which he perks up and does not judge you when you speak, that makes you consider yourself ready to tackle loving someone. Maybe it’s in the way he says we probably don’t have it; popular books like that go quickly but looks through the stacks of books piled on the floor anyway. And when you ask him what the last great book he read was, he says sometimes I give people my opinion and then they don’t like the book and then those people come back here, reselling the book I just suggested. Maybe it is one of those things that make you feel secure enough to be honest with a stranger and you are.

You forget the titles of books you’ve read more than once, you misplace the names of authors you discuss frequently. Your mind goes blank and all you see is a person in a newsboy hat that you want to impress. So you start looking through the shelves with this man and he begins suggesting books and soon you’ve got 5 books laying in the nest of your arms. Books you have no intention of buying. Books that were not on your list but you take them, as if only to say even if I don’t like them, I will return none of these.But then you remember you want something, want a specific book and you ask for Lorde and he asks you who that is. So you sum her up and he says wow, can you write that down? 

And here you are, with a slip of paper and a black pen. You handwriting is awkward — hands shaking, the letters written fatter than you usually make them. After writing Audre Lorde you momentarily consider scribbling down your number or a smiley face or whatever contact information brave people give to strangers they want to know. But you don’t because he could already have a partner, or is asexual, or would be freaked out by your forwardness. You hand him the slip of paper and look at the ground. He folds it and places it in the breast pocket of his dress shirt. He says given your taste, you’d love this. He hands you The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. You say you have too many books. He helps you decide which ones you should wait to buy. Interestingly enough, you keep The Corrections and Midnight’s Children by Rushdie.


How many letters can you write to lovers you never had?


You decide to read one of the books in a week and return to the bookstore, hopefully when he’s there. If he isn’t, you will be persistent in your attempts. One day you will be successful. And you won’t be shy. You will come up with a list of books he hasn’t read and you will write out your intentions in the margins. After the titles and names and ISBN numbers, he will see you words, your identifying numbers. You don’t know what you’ll say, but it will be succinct and surprising and a creation all for him.


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