by Peter Aaron
Saturday mornings are magical. Getting there early—before anyone else arrives. The quiet of the bookstore, all to myself. For a while. Dim gleam of the jackets, dun suede of the shelves in half-light. Exaggerated ring of my footsteps, familiar complaint of floorboards. And the smells—wood, paper, phantom scents of coffee, scones. A peace like no other I’ve known—poised to welcome the stir and clamor of the coming day, certain to return—survive—reinfuse beyond, between. Breathe out, breathe in.
Saturday afternoon. The young woman—she could be a model—has been wandering around the store for about two hours. She walks up to me—I’m at the front counter—and demands, What’s your favorite book? Existential inquisition. I draw a panicked blank, hesitate, then stammer The Magic Mountain. She asks why. I blather about it moving at a glacial pace, being idea- rather than plot-driven, how it suspends, warps, sculpts time—is about time. (Passive dissuasion?) That it compends all of Western civilization on the verge of the vortex that will erupt into the First World War and is still swirling today. (Better.)
And all the while a different conversation in my head: Can’t I recommend a book for you? Let me find out what your interests are—tastes, authors, books you’ve liked recently—what you’re in the mood for; our externals, you see, couldn’t possibly be more divergent. What are the probabilities you’ll love the book that I love?
But that’s not what she asked. Not for me to impose the line of inquiry—or make assumptions. She buys the book. I worry—hoping she’ll like it because as the Paterson bard says, So much depends/ upon… On the way out she asks where to go for the best coffee. That’s much easier.