Speed Dating Books
by Sarina Dorie
A gravelly voice projected itself from a copy of the Stephen King novel, "Hey, lady. You want some literary thrills? Get between these sheets." The book on the table of best-sellers flipped to its climax, exposing the juiciest part of the story. I turned my gaze to the floor, not ready to see so much. Really, I didn't even know the book.
I backed away, past the shelves of dusty volumes in the used bookstore, scanning the spines for a good match. The tattooed,
purple-haired bookstore clerk sitting behind the register didn't look up from his sketch of a robot as I walked by. I hesitated at the
display of romances. One of the books bounced up and down, unable to contain itself. "You know you want to take me home and rip off my dust jacket."
Even as I edged away, it continued to call after me. "I want to feel your bookmark between my pages."
Perhaps other readers were drawn to the forwardness of these books. I definitely wasn't. Passing the romance and mystery
section, I pretended not to hear the books' cat-calls. I stopped at the next shelf, thinking I would be safe in the classics.
A hardback on a stand opened, fluttering pages like eyelashes. A sultry, feminine voice said, "Who's afraid of Virginia
Wolf? Not you. I bet you like to curl up with a good book at night."
I blushed, wishing I wasn't so transparent. No matter what my friends and family said, I would never find Jane Eyre or Orlando
boring. More than anything, I wanted to lie in bed and leisurely peruse a novel. Of course, not just any novel would do. I wanted the right one for me.
I reached for A Room of One's Own, hesitating when the book continued on. "I'm a big book with big words. Are you woman
enough to handle that?"
Other hardbacks called out to me. "Vonnegut laid tonight?"
These were classics behaving like this? Books at the library never acted this way. I glanced around the nearly empty
bookstore. An older man on the other side of the shelves stared through bifocals, practically drooling over two paperbacks on a shelf rubbing up against each other in an embarrassingly suggestive way.
I wandered from section to section, feeling more lost than ever.
Was literature in bookstores always so risqué? I had been a frequenter of the library up until I'd become too busy with my new
job as a chemist to find time to read. But my previous relationship with book loans had always left me feeling unsatisfied. Maybe it was knowing I had a finite amount of time to finish that book and I felt rushed. Or knowing those books were never truly mine and it was best not to grow too attached. Now that my work schedule had become less demanding and I had time to read again, I wanted something more than a temporary relationship with a novel. I wanted a keeper.
"Is this your first time in a bookstore?" someone asked from behind me. I whirled, toppling over a stack of paperbacks. I
found myself face to face with the clerk. Centipede tattoos sprawled across his neck and peeked out from under the sleeve of his T-shirt, intermingling with inked spiders and scorpions. His purple Mohawk loomed over me.
"Um, well, it's been a while," I lied.
One side of his mouth quirked up into a lopsided smile, like he knew I'd never been in a bookstore. "Maybe you need a book
that will take things a little slower? Speed dating books isn't for everyone."
"What do you mean? Speed dating?"
He waved a spider tattooed hand at the shelves. "People have less time and patience than they used to. They want everything
right now. And they don't bother with the courtship of books. So novels have had to change to meet these demands. But just like people, some books have a specific idea how things should be done. Particularly books with an older copyright date."
He gestured for me to follow him into a little side room. Faded volumes filled the shelves on the walls. The two plump couches
and beaded lamps gave the room a cozy and inviting air.
The bookstore clerk eyed my grandmother's tweed coat that I wore and my Mary-Jane shoes. "My guess is you'll like these
classics. They're less outspoken in here." Apparently reading the skepticism on my face, he added, "Trust me. I've been working as a book matchmaker for a few years."
He left me. It certainly was quieter.
I scanned a bookshelf, stopping at Jane Austen's section.
"Hello. I'm Sense and Sensibility. Nice to meet you," the maroon book in front of me said in a British accent.
"Oh, um, I read you already. It was from the library," I said, feeling awkward and embarrassed. I quickly added, "We were good
friends. But it just didn't work out."
"Have you tried Emma? Pride and Prejudice? Maybe one of them will be what you're looking for."
I had heard a lot of good things about Jane Austen's other works. Especially Pride and Prejudice. At the library, two of the
three copies had been "lost," or possibly stolen due to its popularity, and the one copy left had always been checked out.
Considering I had fifty other unread books on my wish list, I figured I'd get to it eventually.
I selected a once black book, the fabric cover now faded to gray.
A deep male voice cleared its throat. "Be gentle. I'm...a first edition." Something about the sheepish hesitation in the
refined British accent caught my attention.
I smoothed my fingers over the faded embossing on the worn cover. The yellow pages were ragged and uneven. I opened to the title
page. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. If this was a first edition, this book had to be two hundred years old.
I carefully returned the novel to the shelf. "I wouldn't be able to afford you."
He chuckled, not in a superior and arrogant manner, but more as if he were tickled by the idea. "I would like to say I'm worth
it, but that would come across as prideful and immodest, wouldn't it? The truth is, I'm not as expensive as you'd think. I have some water damage. And my previous owner dog-eared my pages."
I picked up the book again, noticing the way the thick paper crackled as I turned the pages. I rubbed a thumb over the fray
of hand-stitched binding. In the pencil on the interior was the price: sixty-five dollars.
"Tell me a little more about yourself," I said. I glanced out the door of the side room. The little old man was now watching
Fifty Shades of Grey whip sequels with bookmarks.
"Call me old fashioned," Pride and Prejudice said. "but I'm a book that starts with character and setting before building up
the plot. I take things slow with my reader. I realize that isn't for everyone."
My heart skipped a beat. This classic sounded perfect. But I didn't want to rush into anything. Even with water damage, it was
"You don't have to make a commitment now. You can sit and get to know me before you decide if you want to take me home."
I sat on the couch, cradling the book in my lap as I read. I lost track of time, completely engrossed in the story.
The bookstore clerk cleared his throat from the doorway. "We're closing in ten minutes. Are you going to buy that or come back
tomorrow and read some more?"
My pulse quickened when I considered how Pride and Prejudice might not be here if I waited until after work tomorrow. I
smoothed my hand over the worn cover and gazed fondly at the novel.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single book in possession of a good plot must be in want of a reader," Pride
and Prejudice said.
Without a doubt, I had found the right book for me.