Columns > Published on May 15th, 2014

Book Breakup: Tell The Story, Break Up With A Bad Book

To finish this column, you’ll have to tell me a story. The story of a book that haunts your nightstand. The story of a book you throw in your bag every day, the same book you toss in your bag for weeks with the best intentions. The story you’ll tell me is the story of a book you’ve loved too long.

Bad book relationships have a way of dragging on. So many bad Friday nights with this book. So many uncomfortable afternoons. This book doesn’t treat you right. It’s almost more like being alone than being with a book.

How do you know when it’s time to break up with a book, and how do you pull the trigger?

That’s where your story comes in. This is where you can tell your book breakup story to someone else, get it down to where you believe it yourself. It’s the easiest way out of your bad book relationship.

Tell me the story. Let me help. I’m the right person. I've read a lot of books. I’ve broken up with lots of books. You can trust me. I'm sensitive. I've peed my pants stone sober three times in my adult life. I wouldn’t tell you that if you couldn’t trust me.

It’s nice to meet you.

Now that we're friends, let’s be honest with each other and figure out if it’s time. Okay, Muffin?

Don’t worry, I won't read too much into things here. Won’t try and catch you on the Moby Dick rebound. I only use words like Muffin and Cupcake because those are the words my sister uses for me. My sister’s bakery words that make me feel better. I’m not good at bakery words like her, but I’ll try.

First things first, put the book in a drawer. Really. In another room. Really. Put the book in the bathroom cabinet and turn on the fan. Really get up and do it. Right now. I’ll wait.

Done? Good.

Tell me about the book. Tell me the How We Met story. Really, say it out loud. Chance meeting at the library? A look across the room at the bookstore? One pickup line from the inside flap and you were done for?

Close your eyes at the end of this paragraph. Tell me that romance kind of story, Baklava. Say it out loud, like a story you’re telling for the first time. Breathe once, lick your lips, and say it out loud.

Tell me another story. The part where things got deep. What got you so in love that you wanted this book with you all the time, carried it with you. Slept next to it.

Close your eyes and say it out loud, Crumb Cake, like a story. Say it out loud like I’m across the table from you at a café. Like I got here early to make sure we’d get the good table, the one with no wobbles. Sit here with me, your friend, and tell me that fairy tale love story.

Now tell me what the book is about. The truth this time. Not the story you made up in your head when you guessed and filled things in for yourself. Tell the hard facts, the non-fiction story of the truth, how the book isn't the way you'd like. Really. Do it. Tell me. Say it out loud. Say it out loud to me and to yourself. It's okay.

If we really were at that café table I’d put my hand on top of yours. It doesn’t mean anything, Bear Claw, other than I’m listening.

Now tell me the story of time. How long you’ve been together. Tell me that time travel kind of story.

If we really were at that cafe table without wobbles, I’d rub the knuckle on your thumb while you talked. Rub my thumb on it. Tell you with touch how I'm listening.

Tell me the story of how long it’s been. Tell me the story of how long, and use something besides days or weeks or months to explain it to me.

Tell me about the you from when you picked up the book. Those clothes you don’t wear anymore. The blank patch of skin that’s tattoo now. Remember and tell the story. Out loud, for real.

Tell me another story about time. How long since you were happy? Excited to get in between the covers with the book? Tell me. Out loud. For real.

This one’s tough. Tell me another story about time. How long since you were happy? Excited to get in between the covers with the book? Tell me. Out loud. For real.

Think about the stories you told me. How you met, what you liked, what you didn’t like, how long it’s been. Our coffees empty on the cafe table in front of us. Tell me, with all those stories together, do those stories sound like the end of something?

And can I tell you? Nobody who’s happy asks those questions. Nobody breathing asks if this is drowning. Nobody still in love asks if this is still love.

If we really were at that table without wobbles, I’d turn your hand over and curl your fingers into mine, tell you with touch that I want to say something.

This Ulysses guy, he was there for me. On the train this one time. Heavy in my bag, bumping against my back. He was right for a long time. Then he wasn’t.

When you find the right book, when you find the right man or the right woman, when you find James Galvin or Sharon Olds, you’ll regret the wasted days. When you find your Mark Richard you'll curse all those yesterdays forcing it with Ulysses. Sweet Roll, Coffee Cake, trusted friend, Cannoli, I don't want to panic you, but your Ben Winters or your Grace Paley is out there, and you’re spending another day without them.

Before you really break up, one more story. The fantasy kind of story about how someday you might give it another whirl. Think it. We all think it. You can't get away from that. Take a second. You're older. Sophisticated the way you always thought you would be. Different glasses for red wine and white wine. Party clothes. You don't wear coats for skiing or camping unless you're skiing or camping.

You show up at a party and take off your coat, the one that's for walking and taking cabs to parties, not for skiing or camping, and that's when you see the book’s familiar cover across the room. It's hard to say. You changed. It changed. Something's different. Something is different and it makes you grab at your wrist the way you always do when you're nervous. Makes you tell yourself to stop grabbing at your wrist the way you always do when you're nervous.

Hello, old love.

Now lock it up. Scone, It won't happen, but if the fantasy story has to happen at least a little bit in your head so you can put it away, let it. Tell that story now because you can’t say that part to the book. You can’t leave the door propped open. Or unlocked. Or locked with just a cheap barrel bolt. You have to board this one up.

Now Macaron, Cinnamon Roll, it's time.

Get the book out. Hold the book in your hands. Touch. Touch is important.

Slip out the bookmark. Don't check the page number. Just pinch the bookmark between your finger and thumb and pull.

If you're a corner folder, iron that corner down with your finger. It's okay if you're a corner folder. I like you. We're friends. Your little things you do, they're like the way my old girlfriend would breathe loud when she slept on the couch. Not a good sound, but good to me.

Don’t feel like you’re quitting because you can’t do it. Tell me another story. About a time you stuck it out with a book and things worked out. Tell me an underdog kind of story. Tell me why you did it.

Tell me a story how this feels different.

We’ll take the book to the library. To return or recycle or donate. Whatever they do. Trust me, they have ways. The important thing is that the book leaves your nightstand. The back seat of your car. Your hands. The important thing is that the book leaves your touch.

I’ll walk with you from the cafe. We'll do it together.

On the way, tell me a story of the book’s next lover. Maybe she’s glamorous and wonderful and has her life together like this book deserves. Maybe he’s a loser and you feel better because you moved on to a handsomer book with the kind of characters you always hoped would love you back.

Now tell the story to the book. The parts you need to tell. Remember how they felt on your lips when you told me.

Say, It's time. Hold it with your hands. Touch is important, Brownie. Tell the story, just like we practiced. Out loud. For real. The non-fiction parts, the parts about time. Tell the breakup story.

Finish up in front of the library, then carry the book inside. Through the doors. Through the lobby.

If you can't, just put it in the return, the outside one. It's okay. They'll figure it out. They handle this stuff all the time.

A last touch. Touch is important. Touch is a great end to any story.

Come back to the cafe. To our table without wobbles. Come back to the cafe and hold my hand.

Like with any breakup, you’ll want to go back most in the next couple days. You’ll feel the void of story. Don’t go back. Just don’t. We can tell other stories to fill that emptiness.

We can talk about new books. We can joke about you slumming it. We can tell a gossip story about how you'll find a bad boy, how Jim Thompson will take you home. We can laugh about you looking for a new mother, how what you really need right now is a strange mother, maybe a Mona Simpson.

But we don't have to talk about new books. You don't have to see anyone else yet. You don't have to say it anyway, even if you've got Tom Spanbauer waiting for you at home. It's not dishonest. It's breaking up.

Tell me a story about the first book you ever fell for. A young love kind of story.

Tell me the story of a book you shouldn’t have fallen for and did. A forbidden love kind of story.

Tell me stories. Turn them all into stories.

And Sugar? Muffin? Cupcake? Scone? Jam Bar?

This story? Pumpkin Loaf? This breakup story, it’s part of the big story of how you found your true book love.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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