ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"The Book", a short story by Lois Greene Stone

“I’m a book,” said Tome.  He was propped on a wooden desk in a room where the walls were filled with rectangles containing words. 

“What does that mean?”  I asked, pretending I really didn’t know. Table lamps with green shades formed a pretty sight.  There were students in the quiet place and I liked the majestic look of the architecture.

“Well, printed paper pages are put together in some order and then secured by either a hard or a soft cover.”  Tome was explaining how he was formed and came to be part of society.

“Okay. What’s on the printed pages, and what do you mean by a hard-or-soft cover?  A blanket type soft?”  I continued this interview.

Tome answered with enthusiasm.  “Soft cover is similar to cardboard that bends.”  He seemed happy to have someone really listen to his function in the world. “Could be a make-believe story, or words about a real happening.  I am a guide to your thoughts, can arouse a smile or tears, can be lines and lines of poetry, can even just be filled with pictures drawn by human hands or photos from a camera.” 

I decided to tease serious Tome, touched the desk gently and then put my fingers on the cover to see if it tickled him. I’d known about ‘talking books’ but they were on computers or tablets mostly, and this room, with its scent of musty oak trees and paper, just had shelves with print to be read not heard. Cardboard is supposed to be firm.  Why ruin it and make the product bend?  Makes no sense.  How come you, book, offer two choices of covers?  And if ‘hard’ is better, can’t you just have that!” 

Enjoying this discussion, Tome paused then responded,  “Interesting question about binding.  Give me a moment to think how I can explain that.” 

“Binding.” Hm, I often sign contracts that are legal and binding.  Did he think I was asking about some contractual agreement? I just wanted to know from a real book what a book felt about its existence and why it seemed necessary to exist at all. Did it feel confined being ‘bound’ so it couldn’t have pages freely fall even just to the floor?  Maybe, since his breed is headed toward extinction, and his real home was only called a ‘library’ also fading from many towns, I should stop.  However, I felt an urge to continue.  “And are make-believe words better than true?  Do more people want you if you are both?  Can you even be a mix of both?”

“Too many questions at once.”  No annoyance was in Tome’s voice.  “Make-believe isn’t better or worse than based on truth.  Some people want sentences about real events or humans; others look for a chance to pretend, or escape from the everyday things.”  Tome stopped for a second, then replied, “For me, binding isn’t a contract that may legally hold a person to his word, but is the way all paper pages are held tightly in place, in my case.”

I realized Tome was describing his body; his brain’s process and need to share with humans was between the pages that were being held in place. I shifted my question as if speaking to a human. “Are you good or are you evil?”

“What!”  Tome became aggressive.  “You only look at computer’s information, don’t you!”  Tome hesitated wondering whether to continue.  “If my pages contain a word or phrase some don’t like, I’m no longer allowed to be on a shelf!  Like the word ‘binding’, different meanings apply to the same word but offend some people.  And make-believe or real, words can do harm or also good.”  Tome paused and calmed down wanting me to understand him.  “Did you sing the rhyme ‘Ring around the Rosie’ when you were little?  Some say it’s about the disease Scarlet Fever which gives the body a rose-colored ring, and before vaccines many died from it, hence, ‘all fall down’?”

This was history, and society.  He was filled with time-place knowledge!  I continued mocking him, however, and responded, “I played ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ and loved falling down and giggling.”

“Ha!”  Tome began,”that’s really about Queen Mary Tudor from England and her homicidal tendencies.”

“And my mother sang ‘Rock a bye Baby’ to me and you’re going to convince me it wasn’t just a lullaby?”  I already knew Tome and his existence was important in the world, and was facing extinction because humans decide how and when and where any recording of life or such may be put into human hands to read about, but did ‘book’ sense that as well?  

“In 1688, a Catholic king, King James II, had a son and people sang that as a death wish for the infant so the country would only have Protestant leadership.” 

Tome-the-Book had realized that demonstrators could not change wording in every printed copy ever run off the press, so their goal was to declare some books unfit.  He thanked me for my time with him, asked me to place him from the table to a specific shelf, then we’d say goodbye. 

As I gently lifted him from the smooth oak surface, he spoke, almost in a whisper, “I can’t find my Cat in the Hat, and that Little House on the Prairie seems to be missing.”

I left the library, knowing an edict called Book-Banning would probably continue until his pages yellowed with time.


Author Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Her poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies.  Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.  The Smithsonian selected only her photo to represent all teens from the 1950's; a large showcase in its National Museum of American History featured her photo. hand-designed clothing, and her costume sketches. ‘Girlhood’ exhibit opened 10-2020 and began touring Jan. 2023.

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