Two Pandemic Book Moments

Kenny Brechner - April 22, 2021

Virginia Woolf, in a letter to Vita Sackville-West, reflected on the tenor of the prior evening which they had spent together.  They had met in person after a long, event-filled separation. She compared their surprisingly quiet and banal reunion to a full jug of water with a narrow opening which when turned suddenly upside down has nothing come out. They had, Woolf observed, trouble finding anything to say because there was too much to talk about. So it is with this pandemic year. Too much has happened.

One moment getting designated an essential business is life and death, a month later it is irrelevant. When I think of what will remain in mind, I reflect that the very things we miss the most were also the most painful when present. Here are two examples.

Like every bookseller who has found themselves with the unhappy task of mask policing their customers, it has been an odious task and yet it gave rise to one of my favorite pandemic moments. A group of two older couples were in the store who appeared to be related. One of them had no mask on. I leapt up and asked him to please put a mask on. He was standing in the literature section with the other gentleman. After my mask appeal he said, “Oh sorry. I have one in my car.” As he headed out of the store his relation deftly reached over into the Dostoyevsky shelf area to his left, plucked out The Idiot, and gave me a wink.

Books are a tool for every eventuality!

I miss children in the store more than anything. We have a few come in of course, but only a tiny fraction of what was, and often under strict and sobering instructions from the parents not to touch anything. Last week a five-year-old girl was in the store. She was in tearing good spirits. At one point, after she had picked out the book that was going home with her, she came within hailing distance of me and said:

Do you like books that make you feel things all over? I do!

I have one you’ll love. The Itchy Book. I picked it out for me!”

Nothing could have made me more aware of how much I missed having children in the store. And yet having children in the store also is responsible for one of my least favorite things: children well over two brought into the store without masks. An affliction, but nothing The Itchy Book can’t salve!

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