Holly, Part 2

06 Jun

Here is a reason why ebooks will never replace paper books: They are not conversation pieces. No one in the short history of portable computing has ever approached someone hunched over scrolling words on a screen and asked, in the spirit of genuine curiosity and conversation, whether the author of that particular ebook was worth recommending. Reading a book in public drops a person into an odd pocket of both privacy and performance; readers communicate to the world what it would be like to encounter them, still reading, in the more intimate spaces of living or bedroom. The readers demonstrate to you how they would look as the furniture of your life.  They hold conversation pieces in lonely laps, silently begging to be asked about them. Observers judge the book by its cover, because that’s what the cover is for. Until a Kindle displays the cover of the book on its obverse, this artifactual use of books will never be replaced.

Holly was not difficult to recognize, but I didn’t notice her at first. She approached me while I temporarily engrossed myself in a hardcover Hardy Boys novel. Really, I’d meant to replace it with something wearing a more impressive dust jacket before she arrived, but these things happen. What you like and what you want to be seen liking diverge. One night, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and a documentary about Napoleon air in the same time slot. You can only watch one of them.

She pressed her fingers against the edge of the table and spoke softly. I looked up, shutting the book and placing it face down on the table.

“Um, are you Dan?”

I stood quickly, sliding the book beneath the shelf overhanging our table, and I shook her hand.

“Yes, I am,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you.” And it was.

Holly’s long red hair hung down in curls to her shoulders. She smiled at me. Her eyes were blue. As a rule, profile pictures (like people) fall on a spectrum of fidelity. By which I mean they lie, constantly, to greater or lesser degrees. Like human nature, this is to be expected rather than resented. Inexplicably, however, Holly looked exactly the way I’d expected her to. That had never happened before, and that alone exceeded my most fevered expectations. I gestured to the seat across from me. “Won’t you sit down?” She sat, lowering herself with ginger rigidity.

While we waited for service, we sat and talked. I have a repertoire of stories I use on first acquaintances (and so do you). I picked some of them, trying to impress her. She told me hers, and I learned things about her. She worked in a bookstore. She had survived lymphatic cancer. She had a titanium rod fused to her spine. She had met Stephenie Meyer during her work in the bookstore.

“Who?” I asked, attentive and smiling. At that point in our collective history, Twilight was yet avoidable.

First impressions color everything. Once you have decided that you like someone, or that you’d like to like them, or that you’d like them to like you, then you become willing to ignore all sorts of things, things that ordinarily would give your rational self sufficient will to restrain your libidinal self, perhaps with a vicious kick to the gonads. A good first impression can make the entirety of a date seem like it’s gone better than it has. From a perspective of years, some things make more sense now than they did at the time. Essentially, I willed myself to like her. She was beautiful and worked in a bookstore. Viewed through that lens, her uncomfortably intimate medical details, shared with a nearly complete stranger, became adorable quirks.

Perhaps adorable is too strong a word. Tolerable quirks, certainly.

The service at Kaldi’s seemed to have disappeared with the other half of the store. At length, someone took our order and brought food. We ate, talked, and planned our next date.

As we spoke, I happened to look past her shoulder. A rat the size of a tallboy scurried across the floor, aiming for the space behind the bar. I gagged and put down my fork. It seemed best not to mention it.


Leave a Reply


  1. LOL

    June 6, 2011 at 11:07 am

    She spells her name “Stephenie”. There’s some kind of reasoning behind it, but I’ll be arsed if I feel like googling it. Don’t ask why I know this, and don’t judge me.

    Also, ew to the rat at Kaldi’s.

  2. Sally

    June 7, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I have an e-book and someone asked me what i was reading on Saturday. But that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked that. I think most people aren’t really that interested in what strangers are reading.

  3. Dan

    June 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Judgment forever! Thanks for the tip, though.

    And yeah, the rat was super gross. I was simultaneously horrified and grateful that she hadn’t seen it. Didn’t I tell you this story at the time?

  4. Dan

    June 8, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    That’s really interesting. I think that’s literally the first time I’ve ever heard of that happening.

    And yeah, I’d agree that most people aren’t interested in what strangers are reading . . . unless, of course, they are interested in the stranger in the first place. I always secretly hope that someone will ask me about whatever book I’m reading, but the people who do are rarely the people I want to talk to.