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The Ideal Reader Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

13 January 2015

There are some writers who address large audiences. "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," they like to begin, standing on a soap box with their arms outstretched to make themselves look bigger, as if they were trying to scare off a coyote.

We're not one of them.

In the afternoons, we often take a walk so the flattened sedentary parts of our anatomy get a chance to regain their natural if not athletic form. And on the way back, just before the cocktail hour, we would often pass a particular house that contained just the sort of reader we thought of as ideal.

You only need one. If she's ideal.

The house was on a winding and hilly street shaded by redwoods. It was downhill from the sidewalk so floor level was below street level. Maybe that's what made us think it was all right to peek in the front window.

She would read a few pages every day late in the afternoon, we imagined, and then put the book down to fix dinner.

From the sidewalk, the house looked like a cottage. But it cascaded down the hill three levels to a large, well manicured yard. It wasn't tiny at all.

We thought of our reader that way, too.

She appeared to be elderly, folded into the corners of her large wing back chair, which seemed about as comfortable as an airline seat. But in the late afternoon light filtering through the redwoods, we would see her surrounded by her tidy living room deep in the pages of one book or another.

The living room was decorated in Asian artifacts but the adjective is too modern to describe the effect. We should properly call them Oriental art objects because they were acquired with a Western mind. She found some affinity in a culture not her own, our ideal reader.

So she was larger than the little old woman in the wing back chair just the way her home was larger than the little living room you could see from the street.

She would read a few pages every day late in the afternoon and then, we imagined, put the book down to fix dinner. Just for herself by then, most likely.

Perhaps remembering a husband who had still gone to the office even though he was no longer appreciated as much as he had been nor quite as much as he was when he came home to the house on the side of the hill. And how she would tell him about the book she had been reading as they finished their bottle of wine.

We remember passing one day when she was near the end of some thick paperback. Her books would not have been displayed among her art objects. Maybe she volunteered at the library and would occasionally bring home a donated, battered paperback to go through before putting it on the library bookstore shelves.

We thought it marvelous that she was near the end of that book. That she had read it. We almost wanted to cheer.

Exploring other routes, we didn't go by her house for a few months. And then, the next few times we did, the drapes had been drawn. We imagined she had taken a trip. Perhaps to Japan.

But no. The last time we passed by the mystery was solved. The place was for sale. She was gone.

We often come back from our walk brimming with sentences we have to keyboard as quickly as we can think before they flee like shadows in the evening. A walk can do that for you. Especially when you pass by the house of your ideal reader.

But now that we have lost her, it's different. We never met her but we can barely bring ourselves to walk that way again. We will forever be tempted to peek in that front window hoping to see her again in her wing back chair with a book on her lap before she has to put it down to fix dinner.

And not finding our ideal reader there any more, we might easily be at a loss for words. If not, perhaps, for you.

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