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A few years back, I was visiting my favorite bookshop, William James Booksellers, in the darling Victorian town of Port Townsend, Washington, out on the Olympic Peninsula. And I will always remember this day for two reasons.
First: I had stopped at the inimitable Better Living Through Coffee to wait for the bookshop to open. I was there in the café with a whole herd of geriatric Harley Davidson enthusiasts. They had swooped into town in a spectacular roar. Several of these white haired couples were adorably holding hands across the tables or whispering and cuddling while sipping their lattes.
Who could forget that?
Second: After I made it to the bookshop, while perusing the shelves, I overheard a conversation between an unhappy old codger and a kind young shopkeeper.
You know how some older gentlemen seem to have only one volume when they speak, and it’s ELEVEN?
Customer, growling: “I SEE YOU HAVE THE ROAD IN THE WINDOW. BY THAT CORMAC MCCARTHY. DID YOU READ IT?”
Quiet bookshop person, unfazed: “Yes.”
“DID YOU FINISH IT?”
Quiet bookshop person, ever so gently: “Yes.”
“SO DID I. AND I’M NOT SURE WHY.”
Quiet bookshop person, earning my deepest respect: “What did you find unsatisfactory about it?”
“I USUALLY LIKE DYSTOPIAN NOVELS, BUT NOT THIS ONE.”
Quiet bookshop person, now legit approaching sainthood: “What do you like about them?”
“POST-APOCALYPSE, RECOVERY….” And here he paused, presumably for dramatic effect, and then roared: “HOPE…!”
Quiet bookshop person, killing me ded: “But you didn’t find that in The Road?”
“HELL. NO. THIS ONE WAS DARK AND DEPRESSING.” And here he took a deep breath before liftoff. “IN THE LAST FEW PAGES…DEATH…”
Dear reader, you can guess. Old Cranky McCrankerson described every. single. plot. detail. And in one fell swoop, gave away the ending.
For years, years, I had been looking forward to reading that book.
I am an inveterate and unapologetic eavesdropper. But, friends, I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Well, a few lessons.
I suppose this whole mess could have been avoided if I hadn’t procrastinated with my TBR pile. Check. I’ll get on it.
That quiet bookshop person! “…unsatisfactory.” I would never have thought of asking. I would instead have smiled sweetly and said something along the lines of, “Gosh! Too bad!” and then turned back to my accounting. Or inventorying. Or whatever it is that quiet bookshop persons do when they’re not being harassed by shouting geezers. And then I might have recommended another title, like a parent would try to distract a child on the verge of a tantrum. So I learned that it’s possible to exercise compassion through asking the right questions.
But my serious take-away is this: Since I’ll never be able to cure myself of listening in, if I ever hear an unhappy reader complaining at ELEVEN about a book I want to read, I will skedaddle, quickety-snip!