July 30
I'm a lawyer in my past life, who got the kids through college and decided to try something different and a little more fun. A used book store sounded like a good idea, so that's where I am for now. I just hadn't counted on a recession or E-readers and am a little afraid there's going to be a third act. In the meantime, I have plenty to read and a little time to write. Not a bad way to spend a day.


Jlsathre's Links

APRIL 3, 2012 10:01AM

Walking Out of a Bookstore With War and Peace

Rate: 26 Flag

They come into the  bookstore every several months. Never separately and always within a few minutes of opening, when no one else is there and a parking space is available right in front of the door.  He walks around and opens her car door and then guides her to the front door of the store. "Watch your step," he says as they reach a small incline. 

It appears that they're on an outing, as they're both well dressed and put together, making my jeans feel inappropriate.  She's in a suede coat with a fur collar when there's a chill and he's in a sport jacket always. But it's an outing with purpose as well as grace. She thinks she hasn't read enough of the classics and wants to catch up to where she believes she should be. 

She's from Germany and speaks with an accent that makes each word sound interesting.  He's a retired university professor and never browses or buys anything because he has a library full of books that were sent to him for review over the years that he's still reading.  The books have a bit of competition, though, because he brings stacks of well-read Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magaizines for me to put out on the free table.  He doesn't mention these other than to ask if people took the last batch.  I assure him that they did.

They're both well into their 80's, if not 90's, and I don't know their names, although I know their history because he sits and talks with me while she stands behind us looking at books. They met during the war and he returned soon after to bring her back to the States. They lived in small walk-up apartments on the East Coast, where he earned degrees, taught there for several years, and then moved to Illinois, where they've stayed, except for frequent travel.  She corrects him occassionally as to dates and descriptions of apartments and travel. There's been no mention of children and my feeling is that there are none, although I haven't asked.   

She never moves beyond the classics and never requests a specific book, but looks at several before choosing one or two.  On occassion she'll request an author--Proust and Joyce and Dickens have been covered.  She's returned to Proust, but not to Joyce. 

He sometimes has suggestions for her, but so far every choice has been her own.  Always a classic though, and always a hardback.   

The last time they came in she was using a cane and was walking slower. He was more solicitous.  And for the first time she had a specific book in mind. "War and Peace," she asked at my desk without moving to the shelves.  "Hard back, please."   

I found her a nearly new copy with bright pages and print that was easily readable. He took out his wallet as she leafed through the pages and declared that, "This will do." He didn't ask about the stack of mystery magazines although he left more. 

"I'm afraid I won't have enough time to finish this one," I heard her say as they walked out. He didn't respond as he guided her through the door. 

It's been several months since I've seen them.  I hope she's still reading. 

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I'm sure she is. What a lovely and touching post. I really enjoy your style and the subjects of your entries. R
How endearing and beautiful! So touching and so well-written.
I hope she's still reading, too.

Hmm...Illinois is not that far away; I may try to hunt down this shop of yours and pick up those Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines--because I LOVE them :)
"She's returned to Proust, but not to Joyce. "

I like this woman.

Hope she finishes Tolstoy's tome... it is a great book.
If it's to be your last, you might as well get one of those fat Russian books. And take your time reading.
This should be a Cover. Rated.
I can see them. Sweet story.
I can't pin down WHY but I really liked this story. The couple is cute, you described them well, and I want to know MORE. Excellent job.
Your observations serve this couple well, and I can see this being fleshed into a poignant and elegant short story.
Nicely done and well presented. I have never attempted War and Peace much less finished it. Sounds like you have a very well stocked book store. R
Thanks to everyone for stopping by and for the nice comments. Pick up your copy of War and Peace as you leave. And, sorry Pensive, but I'm all out of the magazines right now.
I agree with Bernadine's comment above. Really enjoyed this short piece, thank you for sharing.
My friend is a sailor.
A real sailor.
Once he saw an advertisement.
Someone, with different kinds of books, wanted to get rid of these.
Mt friend visited him.
The man aged about 85.
He was surrounded by books.
He felt it was time to pass over.
His books for example.
He didn't want his son to bring his books to a second-hand book trade
(Sorry jlsathre.)
And my friend left the house with some very precious books.
Nautical stories.
Nautical technique.

Did I tell you about "Die unsichtbare Sammlung" of Stefan Zweig?
No, of course I didn't.
It's a sad story about an old man, living in inflation ridden Hitler Germany, who is blind, but knows what's in his bookcase.
But it isn't there!

If you are interested, I'll try to summarize in a next comment.

Me, too, JL. Talk about your mystery stories. Well told, this one.
Wonderful: the couple, War and Peace and your writing.
I'm afraid I'd bin Joyce AND Proust. Tolstoy, now, he's a different matter entirely.

Meh, enough of that literary criticism stuff -- what a charming picture you word-paint here. I'd like to think of her finishing War and Peace, too. I hope she did. Like life itself, it's worth the journey.
Sweet story, well told. Here's hoping for a happy ending.
This is a poignant story. I felt for both of them. I loved War and Peace. I read that book.
Touching. This should have been an EP.
This is so poignant. Reminds me of an elderly couple who used to come into a card store (every Sunday morning for the newspaper) I worked at in college. They were so loving and solicitous of each other, holding hands and looking out for each other. I'll never forget them. Thanks for this.
How moving. I would have been thinking the same thing as you. I hope they're both okay.
This is better than most essays and books I've read this year (I read about 100 books a year and am a Longreads junkie!). I'm so glad I read this beautiful story at the beginning of the day - it will remind me to keep the important things in life in mind. Please put this on the cover of Salon - brilliant writing that deserves more readers!