Johnny Goodstory hates being a book! Hates it cover to cover. This is because he belongs to Robert Neverreads.
Robert had stuffed him in a box in a closet a long time ago and there Johnny sat with other books he hardly knew. He waited patiently, though, because he knew someone would take him out eventually and read him.
They will, he thought, won’t they?
Of course, Robert felt sorry that he never read much, but that didn’t do Johnny any good.
So, Johnny sat in the box for ages and ages. He tried not to get irritated by the other books, some of which seemed to take up much more room than they deserved. He recalled a book review that said the only thing wrong with that particular book was the covers were too far apart. Johnny had laughed out loud at that, though he hoped no one would think his covers were too far apart.
He did his best to breathe in the cramped space. Turning to another book, he said, “Surely they won’t leave us in here forever…I mean, what good is a book stuck in a box in a closet?”
Mary Massmarket said, “Somebody bought me and only read my first three pages. And I’m a pretty good book. Look at my blurbs.” She stretched a bit.
“Oh, I noticed ‘em already, they’re very nice.”
“I feel like my life has no purpose,” Mary said. “I just want someone who can look inside me and see the real me, you know?”
Johnny understood how she felt and realized he wasn’t the only book that hated being stuck in the box, not being read.
One day, Johnny heard another book, Gordon Smallprint complain that a tinge of mold had begun to creep along his spine.
Gordon yelled at the other books. “Now look at me, I got some of that mold. That means one of you miserable creeps didn’t come clean when we were packed in here.” When he said this he looked straight at Tobias Largeprint.
“What are you looking at me for?” Tobias asked. “You’re putting it on me because I’m the oldest book here, is that it?”
“Well, it must have been you,” Gordon said. “Who else but you would have book mold?”
“Heck with you,” Tobias said. “I don’t even know why they wasted a hard cover on you. Mold or no mold, you’re a waste of paper.”
“Go pulp yourself,” Gordon said. “I’m end-cap display, old man.”
Tobias and Gordon continued to argue, rousing all the other books into a riot of note. Johnny and Mary tried their best to ignore them all, even though the commotion made the cramped quarters seem even more suffocating.
Now I’ll get book mold and no one will ever take me out and read me, Johnny thought. Instead they’ll throw me away and I’ll sit in a garbage heap for Gutenberg knows how long.
He began to think. That is, when Gordon and Tobias weren’t arguing, and when he wasn’t admiring Mary’s blurbs, he would think. He thought until he realized what he would do. I’ll break out of the box myself and go find someone to read me. Anyone will do…it doesn’t matter. Just as long as they can read, that’s all that counts, right? He told Mary about his plan and she laughed.
“We’re books. We can’t break out of a box,” she said. Gordon, Tobias and all the other books in the box agreed.
Irritated, Johnny asked Mary, “Are you coming with me or not?”
Mary searched herself but couldn’t find the words to explain to him why it was such a bad idea. “Okay, okay, I’ll go.”
When Johnny heard Robert Neverreads leave for the day, he began pushing against the lid. He heaved and he heaved and then stopped to rest. When he turned around, he saw that Gordon and Tobias were staring at him like they would an unedited first draft.
“What are you doing, you crazy pile of fiction?” Gordon asked.
“You trying to turn the whole box over?” Tobias asked. “We’ll be sitting upside down somewhere and the mold’ll spread for sure.”
“Mary and I are gonna find someone to read us,” Johnny said. “You can stay here for all we care.”
Mary nodded and added, “You two are just afraid no one will want to read you.”
“Oh, listen to Mary, she thinks she’s a psychology textbook now,” Gordon said.
Mary laughed. “You’re accusing me of taking myself too seriously?”
Tobias chuckled out loud and Gordon glared at him.
“Anyway,” Johnny said, “we’re going.”
With that, he pushed against the lid again and the box burst open. A stream of pale light lit up the interior of the box and Mary smiled at Johnny. The two of them rustled their covers until they were able to clear the box. They fell at the bottom of the closet and sat there listening to Gordon and Tobias jabbering about this foolishness and whether they should jump, too.
Johnny smoothed Mary’s dog-eared back cover. “Come on, let’s find us some readers.”
They wobbled back and forth until they came to the slightly-ajar closet door. Johnny peeked out. Seeing no one, he wobbled through the opening, Mary in tow.
In a moment, they reached the living room. There they saw a bookshelf full of mostly newish books. Some of the books just stared back at them.
But a worn old copy with yellowed pages yelled out. “Books don’t walk. Books sit. What’s wrong with you?” A dictionary quietly agreed.
Johnny said, “Easy for you to say, you been read frequently. But what do we got, sitting up in that closet?”
The same book said, “You wouldn’t be up there if you were interesting.”
Johnny didn’t like that, but he knew it hurt Mary even more. “Come on, Mary,” he said. “Don’t listen to them.”
When they got to the front door, they leaned against it and pressed as hard as they could, but it wouldn’t budge. They could hear some of the books in the living room laughing. Johnny let out a heavy breath and sagged a bit. He sniffed at his binding. Is that mold?
“Ignore them,” Mary said. She looked up at the mail slot above. “We can fit through there, I bet.”
“How do we get up there?” Johnny asked.
“We jump,” Mary said.
“Books don’t jump,” barked an old tome back in the living room, his gold leaf peeling.
With that, Johnny took a deep breath and jumped, jumped and jumped again.
Soon he wiggled through the mail slot until he just tipped and…thump…he fell on the doorstep. He called to Mary. “Come on, Mary, you can slip through easier than I did.” He listened while she jumped up and down. Then she wiggled side to side as she slid through the slot. She fell with more of a plop than a thump.
The two books looked at each other and smiled.
Mary realized the emotions inside her were plain to see, if one were to read her right. I never thought I would fall in love with epic fantasy fiction, she thought.
Johnny noticed he began to have feelings for Mary. He even looked past her blurbs, nice as they were. She has a very nice layout, and that font… He sighed to himself. Still, maybe I’m reading too much into it. It would help if she had an index. Then he recalled even he didn’t have an index. “Come on,” he said, “Robert took me to a coffee shop once where people can leave books. We can find some readers there.”
Hopping along the road, and quickly hiding from a kid on a bike, they finally found themselves at the door of the coffee shop. There, next to the door, they plopped themselves and waited.
It didn’t take long. A man walked up and, seeing the books, scooped them up and went into the coffee shop. He sat them on the shelf next to some other books and went about his business.
“There now, we’re getting closer,” Johnny said.
“I know, I know,” Mary agreed, “just look at all the people reading books,”
“And the ones not reading, you know they want to,” Johnny said.
An old book next to them harrumphed. “Don’t think you’re gonna come in here off the street and get picked up by a reader in the first five minutes.”
“Yeah, well,” Johnny said, “you never know.”
As he said this, a young woman with pink hair picked up Mary and took her to a seat and sat with her Indian-style, holding a cup of Sumatran coffee sweetened with one packet of Splenda. Johnny, slack jawed, ignored the old book, who mumbled something about ‘kid stuff.’ Johnny watched, mesmerized, as the girl turned one of Mary’s pages and then another. Soon, the girl made it way past page three. Mary must be so happy...
“Whoa,” Johnny said as a middle aged man picked him up and tucked him under his arm. Quickly though, he realized what had happened. He’s gonna read me, he’s gonna read me. But again, Johnny found himself in a place where he could hardly breathe. In fact, he found it harder to breathe under the man’s arm than in that old box in the closet. Thankfully, the man removed Johnny from under his arm after a few moments and sat in a chair where the light was good.
Johnny held his breath and only let it out when the man cracked open his cover and began to read his prologue. Some editors say nobody reads prologues, but they never met this guy, I guess. Johnny basked in the attention as the man’s eyes flowed across his pages, taking in every word, lingering on some. That’s a good part, isn’t it?
As the sunlight from the window dimmed, Johnny read along with the man, recalling each word and laughing with delight as the man whispered some of them.
After what seemed only a few minutes, Johnny blinked as the man closed him again. He breathed peacefully as the man walked to the bookshelf and placed him once more next to Mary. He took a deep breath and looked at her. She’s so happy…and so am I. He cleared his throat and stirred her from her reverie. She smiled.
She opened up and said, “Look at me; I got a coffee stain…on page one hundred and twelve. She read me all the way through.”
Johnny said, “Yes, she did.”
Mary beamed. “And she cried, too, though she tried not to let anyone see. What about you? I saw someone with you propped open all afternoon,”
“I know, I know,” Johnny said. “They even turned back and read this one part twice… It was great.”
“Oh, this was such a good idea, Johnny. I’m glad we jumped out of that old box.”
Recalling one of Mary’s blurbs, Johnny said, “‘Leaps out at the reader,’ indeed,”Mary grinned.