Have you ever kissed a book?

Oops. Please excuse me. A little crowded here on the shelf, and I didn’t see you sitting there beside me. Bit on the skinny side, aren’t you? I almost squashed you! So sorry.

Only 10.2 ounces, you say? Very impressive for a greeting card. What? You say that you are not a greeting card. You’re …? Can you repeat that a little slower? You are a wireless reading device.

My, oh my, oh my.

Well, Mr. Reading Device, if I may call you that, most pleased to meet you. I should probably introduce myself as well. My name is East of Eden. I was written by John Steinbeck way back in … let me flip through and check my copyright page. Well … what do you know! Way back in 1952.

And, you, Mr. Reading Device? If I may inquire, which book are you?

Excuse me? I seem to be having problems hearing today. Would you repeat that, please? WHAT? You say that you are not only one book, you are 1,500 books, and that one of them is my book, East of Eden? My, oh my, oh my.

Yes. Yes. I hear you. And I repeat, I am most impressed. You say you have a battery charge that lasts seven days. I, alas, have no battery at all. I am just ink and paper between two hard covers with rather a nice book jacket, if I say so myself.

Indeed! No. You don’t have to repeat yourself. I heard quite well how versatile you are. You can download books in less than 60 seconds. You have over 400,000 titles to choose from, you can read aloud to your owner, and …what was that? An electronic paper display.

Ha! I guess that means none of your owners dribbled katsup on any of your pages when they were reading you at lunch! Speaking of which, who owned you first?

No. No. I mean the very first time that you were bought – when you were hot off the press. You know, that delicious start-of-a-journey feeling when you are crammed into the carton with all of your brothers and sisters on your way to the first bookstore where you will be sold.

Oh. You weren’t? So sorry. Well, it was quite a thrilling adventure. Has been all of these …what’s it been? Almost sixty years! I remember them vividly. Started off, of course, at Viking Press. Went from there to a huge distribution center. That’s the one thing I forget. Impersonal. Don’t remember its name. But from there, right to Mrs. Appleby’s Book Store on Cranberry Road – everything in that town seemed to have been named after a fruit. There was no Mrs. Appleby, of course. Had been once, but by the time I got there, the store was owned by her nephew. Sweet fellow. Shy. Bookish. No harm in him. Fortunately, he had a wife with enough sense to make the customers pay before they walked out with their book, or he would have given them away. My first time out … I call it my maiden (ha!) voyage … I was sold to Roger Wales. Spelled like the country. He never read me himself, but he wrote an inscription on my title page. See? You can read it yourself: “To Aunt Elizabeth on your birthday. You introduced me to your favorite books, now I’ll introduce you to mine. Enjoy the journey. Much love, Roger.”

Ah, yes. Roger loved East of Eden. Not me, personally. His own copy. So did Aunt Elizabeth. Look over here on page 247. It’s after I go on a bit about the bible and free will. Quite a beautiful passage: “…’Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods …” And see here. See those tears? There is one before, one after, and one right in the middle of these next few words: “I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.’”

Anyway, Aunt Elizabeth kept me for forty years. Read me over and over. Each one of those tears was a different reading. After she died, you’d think that I would have gone to Roger, but no. Fact of the matter is, I was stolen. Uh huh. By a nice girl. Jenny McGee. She was Aunt Elizabeth’s aide. Helped her to get dressed in the morning, pay bills, write letters. Toward the end, when her eyes went bad, Aunt Elizabeth often asked Jenny to read from her favorite book. Of course, that was me, and explains those four dog-eared pages. Jenny did that. Anyway, after Aunt Elizabeth died, Jenny took me home.

She had a boyfriend back then. A good man, Ned. He was a fireman. Loved to read. Used to read me on the bus going to and from the firehouse. One night, a car ran a red light and hit the bus. In all of the hullabaloo, Ned left me on the seat. Never got me back. I stayed at Lost and Found in the bus terminal for two years. A lonesome time for me. That was where I got the rip in my book jacket. Eventually Max Gottleib saved me. Bought me at an auction, and next thing you know, I’m on a shelf in his bookstore.

And that was where I stayed for five years. Pleasant years, all in all. Not much action, but I was on the same shelf with John Steinbeck’s other works, and I enjoyed the company.

Finally, a nice fellow, George Steeley, came along and bought me for his wife, Margaret. She was an actress, and she loved Steinbeck. Used to read me at least once every two years. If you put your nose up really close, you can still smell her perfume on my pages. And, see that little red mark? That’s from when she kissed me once. Ah, yes. She loved me.

But when she and George moved to Europe, they had to sell their library. That was when Florence Shay bought me. Florence owns Titles, Inc., in Highland Park. Lovely store. Lots of sunlight streaming in the window. A happy atmosphere. A nice place to be.

It’s where I am today, sitting beside you in spirit, advertising our wares on the Internet while, in fact, I am happily ensconced on a shelf in Florence’s store, waiting for the next person to fall in love and take me home.

What? What was that? Yes. Yes, Mr. Reading Device. I understand your pride. Justifiable, I’m sure. Global coverage. Uh huh. Ergonomic design. Uh huh. Extended warranty. Uh huh. But why would one need a warranty? Oh. I see. Malfunction. Uh huh. Lose your memory. Uh huh. No. No. I agree. We don’t have to talk about that. Instead, you want to tell me about your built-in dictionary and adjustable text size.

My, oh my, oh my. Aren’t you the cat’s pajamas!

And just to think! The next person who owns me will probably drop me in a bubble bath, shed another tear or …

Just a second there, Mr. Reading Device. One last thought, because I can’t help myself from wondering.

Have you ever been kissed?

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com

Copyright © 2010, Shelly Reuben

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