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How You’d Read a Book If You Were In a Lorrie Moore Short Story

Vivienne Woodward lives in Philly and works as the events coordinator for an indie bookstore. She can often be found drinking too much coffee in the sunny spot on her couch and over-identifying with fictional characters. She enjoys collecting hobbies, dancing to radio pop, and rearranging the book stacks on her side tables.

Twitter Handle: @viviennelouisee

You wear your beige coat on a butternut squash afternoon and visit your friend who lives Uptown on the East Side. The one with all the books. As he shows you around his new apartment, you see it, sitting alone on a shelf that hasn’t yet been filled with tchotchkes and cheap paperbacks. It is paper over boards. It is brand new. You walk up to it and put your fingers on the front cover, even though your friend is in the middle of telling you about the chaise lounge he bought for 50 percent off that then wouldn’t fit up the stairs. You pick it up, turn it over and over in your hands, sniff the binding like it’s the first day of spring.

books and coffee

It sounds dumb. It makes no sense. But it is how you meet.*

You begin with Chapter One, as you are meant to, but you become curious about what year the book was written, where the book was copyrighted from. 2004. United States of America. You return to page three where you had left off and begin turning pages using just your thumb and your pointer finger. You get up and have a glass of seltzer and when you try to look at the world through the seltzer, it is foggy and the cover of your book is obscured. You don’t like the feeling that you can’t recognize it, that it is so easily obscured. You put down your glass and pick the book back up. You find that in turning the pages you neglected to read the words. Turn back to page three. Begin again.

You meet your friend, the book’s rightful owner, during your lunch break from your job as an editorial assistant at a small publishing house. You sit out in the park with takeaway sandwiches and you tell him about how many manuscripts you’re supposed to read by tomorrow’s editorial meeting.

“Have you had a chance to finish that book you borrowed from me?” he asks, dripping mayo from the turkey club he’s biting into.  

“Almost,” you say.

“I haven’t read a book in months and I’ve been waiting to read that one,” he nudges you.

“Oh,” you say. You can’t remember the last time you went a day without reading something.

You don’t return the book that week. You don’t return the book the week after.

It is like having a book out from the library. It is like constantly having a book out from the library.*

You hold on to the book. You read the book a few pages at a time, making tiny notes in the margin like “animal or mineral?” that make sense only to you—and maybe not even you when you look back at them. Sometimes you don’t even read it, sometimes you just flip through the pages to feel them like a cool breeze. Sometimes you don’t even read it and you just fall asleep with your finger stuck inside the page you left off on. Sometimes you read and are filled with such regret that you wake up in the morning and wish it had never happened. With each page, time is taken away from you.

On the morning you wake up, black coffee in hand, and read the last few pages, you read, too, the acknowledgments, the praise, the author bio. You open the book back up and start reading any old page you turn to. Eventually your coffee is cold and the color of slush that dried on your welcome mat.

You don’t return the book to your friend. You buy him a new copy of the same book in hardcover, even though it’s been out in paperback for weeks. You hold on to the book; you slip back into the manuscripts.

*Actual lines from “How to Be An Other Woman” by Lorrie Moore