Stripped

OK, one more thing, to introduce what's coming, then maybe I can go into Turow mode, Turow gear, and give you the legal thriller in all this. Ha! Joke. Just joking.

I remember my father had a book stamped

Advance Review Copy. Not For Sale.

I asked him where it came from and he said a friend wrote it, a friend he went to school with.

"You can't sell this?"

He started to say something, like a teachable moment, but he just laughed. "We had to quit asking my friend that."

I showed him another book from his shelf, a paperback with no cover. It was stamped in red:

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

That's too long for a red stamp. Nobody will read all that. But whatever.

He said there are a lot of books that nobody buys. They aren't even worth sending back where they came from.

I felt sad about that. I remember one time we were hiking on our ridge on the Appalachian trail, our favorite spot, and I found some shiny gold tree bark that fell off in sheets like paper, but thick and rounded, more like a old time bookcover if you could get it flat.

"Turn around and don't look," I told Dad. "Kneel down. Sit on something. I want to put something in your backpack. Don't look."

He sat on a log and looked away while I unzipped a flat pocket and slowly slid the gold bark in.

"Don't look at home either," I told him. "It's a surprise."

At home I put the bark in a fat book on his shelf, Middlemarch. I imagined holding out Middlemarch later, and telling him look in it.

He wrote all through his books, in microscopic architect letters with a .5 mm pencil. He could pick up any book and remember where he was living and how it changed him at that age. When he looked in Middlemarch he would find my bark, my gold book cover for him.

When he was in jail his landlady put all his books in the mud by the street, his years and years of books, including I guess Middlemarch and the gold bark. People picked through his books for days, like pigeons pecking a loaf of bread all apart. I know because my bus drove over them every afternoon, like roadkill, like a truck full of chickens had tipped over and their feathers were blowing all around. I pretended I didn't know or care. Did someone find Middlemarch and my gold bark? Or is it deep in a dump somewhere, many years too soon?

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