“I need a new book to read,” a friend asks. “Do you have any to recommend?”
I have to steady myself against a wall; tell my thudding heart to slow. Almost euphoric, I compose myself. It simply wouldn’t do for a bibliophile of my standing to be caught drooling.
I straighten my posture and eyeglasses, immediately donning my physician’s overcoat. My pipe rests gently against my lip, held in my right hand. The left, of course, finds a casual perch halfway in a front pocket.
“What have you read lately?” I query.
The friend’s response is crucial. “Oh, I just finished up This Popular Novel,” she may say, telling me of an interest in mainstream, feel-good stories. Or maybe she admits to perusing dystopia, sampling science fiction, catching a guilty whiff of fantasy, or snitching a teen romance before dinner.
Without prompt, the information is almost always followed by, “I liked these details or this character, but am looking more for less violence or more of that world.”
I liked, but… is the imperative response to furthering my prognosis.
“Ah, yes,” I muse, pondering; filling the conversational space as my eyes wander a few titles. “Would you like another of that same genre?”
Yes or no will sort my mind to a flow-chart diagram of question, response, action. Yes leads to more of that section; then Same author?, Want another female lead?, or What about this one?
No, of course, follows an arrow to What other type would you like, then?
I’ve been out of practice for a tad longer than I’ve wished, life circumstances being what they are. I try not to allow this lapse to show, however. Professionalism is paramount; poise essential.
I clear my throat, nestling the unlit pipe in the right pocket. Striding excitedly to a shelf, I begin extracting pharmaceutical samples.
My patient listens, keenly, fully prepared to ignore my advice once within access of internet searches. For now, she watches my sorting hands move through the pile of books. She is judging appearances as I detail contents.
My calm demeanor is more difficult to maintain. I had thought my raised pressure, sweating palms, and nervous movements to be results of an overexcited reaction to a question. Instead, I realize I’ve dipped into the medicine cabinet a few times more than was healthy. I’ve become attached.
“I think you’d really like reading this one,” I say, feeling the shaky stress of a salesman’s position as I proffer a favorite.
A shrug; a, “Meh.”
I hock a few more titles. Strangely, I begin to view the rectangle-bound writings as closer friends than the human patient before me. In judging and dismissing these fragments of my soul, she has become an unwanted interloper at our private family party.
If she snubs another book, I may have to show her the door.
“I think I’ll go with your first one, here,” she finally says, drawing out the prettiest cover.
“Excellent,” I say, nodding. I gather my smock more snugly round the buttons; find the pipe with my right, and the pocket with my left. I attempt a businesslike smile.
“Thank you, Chelsea,” she smiles, holding a hand out to hug.
“Of course,” I respond, embracing. “Let me know how you like it.”
My friend departs, smiling. I close the shop door; its bell tinkles. Alone with my books, I collapse into a handy overstuffed armchair.
I pull an illicit title from a nearby shelf, immediately recalling its pleasurable side effects. I’d love to share it with another.
As I pass through the first chapter, I eagerly anticipate my next patient.