You think your pains and heartbreaks are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who have ever been alive.
~ James Baldwin
Since I was a child, I’ve read books about grief and loss. Whether fiction or nonfiction, and no matter the genre, my reading tended toward the dark. This has remained true, even as an adult, a fact which prompts me to say when someone asks what’s the last great book I’ve read, “I don’t regularly recommend what I read to 99% of people.”
While growing up, I spent a lot of time at the hospital during visiting hours. If I were a character in a novel, becoming a doctor, and specifically one who worked in the ER, would be a predictable character arc. I’ve been in the ER as a doctor, a family member, a friend, and as a patient. I’ve been a witness to the acute pain of absence, whether temporary or permanent. There is a distinct before and after in the life of those left behind.
We send those people out into a foreign country whose language and inhabitants they likely don’t know and once the initial weeks have passed, we leave them alone to it, to do the rest of the work of grieving, as if there is ever an endpoint, a specific destination in mind. I didn’t speak much about what I was experiencing or feeling during those years. I read instead.
Rebel Heart Books is a small space, only 625 square feet, so when someone enters, I am immediately sensitive to the space they occupy and the way they move in a way I might not otherwise be. Often people are not quite sure what they’re looking for. When someone gravitates toward the section of books that is always in the store that has stories of grief and loss, they are usually quiet and express relief to me that it’s there. A few days ago, I moved many books from that section to the front display table. You cannot walk into the store now without seeing them first.
Yesterday, two older men walked into the store and one said to the other, “I can’t believe these are right here,” before quickly saying he was leaving to go on ahead. The other said he would catch up with him in a minute and stood reading one before buying it off the table.
I didn’t know either of these men. They were from out of town and I will likely never see them again. I think about the man who bought the book. I wonder if he wanted someone to talk to, and in the absence of that person, he read instead.
— Eileen Bobek, Rebel Heart Books, Jacksonville, OR
For some recommendations from Rebel Heart Books, click here.