NEW YORK—The book sits on a crowded shelf in a small used bookstore on the Upper West Side.
The book has seen some use. Its dust jacket is frayed with small tears at the edges. The jacket’s colors, though—the vivid black and red—remain vibrant.
The name on the spine is familiar.
The book, “Emily’s Walk,” is one I started writing a quarter-century ago. It was published almost 20 years ago.
It was written primarily to help raise funds for spinal cord injury research.
It made a fair-sized splash in Indiana when it came out. I did TV standups around the state and appeared on radio shows. Several newspapers and magazines did stories about the book and excerpted sections from it.
The sales were good for a regional title. I remember signing hundreds of copies at galas and other fundraising events.
Then it faded away.
Now, a copy of my book sits on a shelf in a bookstore hundreds of miles from where I wrote it and from where almost all the sales occurred.
I pluck it from the shelf and look inside.
I inscribed it to someone. I don’t recognize the name. The date is for one of the fundraisers.
Someone I may have encountered for only the short time it takes to scratch a few words, my signature and the date on the title page launched this book of mine on its journey.
It appears to have been read, probably by more than one person.
The spine has seen some wear. It carries a permanent indent now, like the dimple in a well-knotted tie.
There are passages underlined and small notes and other marks in the margins. The handwriting looks different from place to place—small and cramped in some spots, bigger and more assertive in others.
I sift through the notes, trying to make out how these readers I don’t even know reacted to the tale of a little girl whose spine snapped in an Indiana amusement park wreck and of a family’s struggle both to survive and achieve justice.
It’s an impossible task. The jottings they left on the book’s pages are just enough to tantalize—and not nearly enough to satisfy curiosity.
As I hold the book in my hands, I think about the writing of it—the mornings I woke up at 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock to push the narrative forward before I headed off to my real job. I remember the sense of satisfaction I felt when the story seemed to take shape and assume a life of its own, when it felt like all I needed to do was get out of the way and let the tale tell itself.
I also think about the travels and travails of this well-worn tome I hold. How many sets of hands has it passed through in the nearly two decades since I signed this copy and sent it home with a new owner? What route has it traveled since that long-ago moment with how many stops along the way?
But that, I realize, is one of the reasons I fell in love with writing and with books in the first place. To take us places, they also must go places.
And the beauty of a book is that it endures.
Since this book came out, I’ve written and published a couple million words, many of them almost instantly perishable. Most are written to speak to specific moments and linger for only as long as that moment lasts.
I look to see what the store owner wants for this little book of mine. Not much, it turns out. That’s not surprising, given the book’s age and its signs of wear and tear.
For the price of a cup of coffee, I could take this tome home and bring its journey full circle.
I’m tempted, but that somehow seems wrong.
This book has done what a book should do. It has traveled far and touched lives. It has found its way in this great, wide world.
I slip my little book back onto the shelf, and wish it Godspeed as it continues its voyage of wonder and discovery.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected]