Her russet-colored eyes met mine as she whispered, “I love bats.” I considered proposing marriage right then and there. Or at least suggesting we go bat-watching in the Willamette Valley sometime, Merlin Tuttle’s America’s Neighborhood Bats in hand. Then her boyfriend arrived.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only person who saw books as potential filters for “love and other difficulties,” as Rainer Maria Rilke referred to such complicated matters of the heart. Some people used the author events I hosted as a place to troll for dates. Of the 50 folks who attended the 2005 reading of Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, the biography of sex-traordinary cinematographer Russ Meyer, the first to arrive was an artificially tan, mid-40s man with slick black hair. He marked his seat with the book, approached me, and, nudging the air with his elbow, said, “Hope some babes show up.” Then he winked. At the reading for Jennifer Leo’s The Thong Also Rises, I watched a man enter a fellow twentysomething’s number into his phone so they could arrange a time for what he promised would be “a night of wine and weirdness.” Was this a Portland thing, I wondered? A citywide behavioral quirk revealing another, more amorous layer to Portland’s bibliophilia?
But really, if I ask a woman what she’s reading and she says, Dr. Phil, is there any hope for us?
Unfortunately, I was never able to provide my own empirical support for the Barometric Book Theory—though I culled plenty of evidence by observing others. Yet there were still other kinds of book bonds besides romance I had yet to discover, ones that age and distance could not break.
One day, a clerk named Adam asked if my last name was Gilbreath. When I said yes, he showed me something scribbled on the covers of three Little Golden books: “Aaron Gilbreath,” each inscription said. “1979.” It was my mother’s unmistakably clean, looping script. My dear mom keeps my childhood artifacts in a chest back in Arizona: baby blankets, stuffed animals, Popsicle-stick art projects. Although I didn’t recall The Little Golden A B C in my infant library, if I owned it, Mom would have stored it in the chest. To this day, the appearance of the three books remains a mystery. My parents’ house has never been robbed, my folks never went on a pawn-it-all drug binge, and they definitely hadn’t entrusted these items to their then-wandering gypsy son. Yet somehow these books traveled from Phoenix to Powell’s as I had.
Minutes later, I carried them to the register, glad to have back what I didn’t know was missing in the first place.
Thankfully, unlike Philip’s mama, my mom wrote in ink.