I’m reading Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon. It’s a novel consisting of one hundred anecdotes, each around a page long. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, this has only been published in the UK so far, by Granta. (Thanks to Frances Cook for sending me the book from England!) I hope this book comes out in the States soon. It’s very good. Here is one of the pieces:
While visiting a used bookstore, a man who had suffered a run of bad luck bought a paperbound work of philosophy, hoping that a new paradigm for looking at the world would help him turn his life around. He brought the book home and studied it carefully, underlining key passages with a ball-point pen. The new ideas were indeed helpful, and he grew happier in both his marriage and his work, rediscovering skills he had forgotten he possessed and generally changing his outlook for the better.
One evening, while gathering old items for a yard sale, he discovered in a dusty cardboard box a stack of books he had read years before, when he was a student. Among them was another copy of the very work of philosophy he had recently bought and that had changed his life. When he opened the older book, which he had no recollection of ever having read before, he realized that he had underlined exactly the same passages that he had in his new copy. It occurred to him that if he had absorbed these ideas in the past, and they eventually gave way to the miserable period that had preceded reading them the second time, then it was inevitable that he would enter another, similar, period of ill fortune and despair, and in fact at that moment he began to sink into a depression that would only widen and deepen in the months to come.
Eventually he and his wife grew apart and they filed for divorce. Over several wordless days they separated the possessions they had shared for so many years, and soon he moved into an apartment.
Shortly before the divorce was to be finalized, the man discovered that he had somehow retained both copies of the fateful book, and in the process of throwing them out noticed that the older copy bore his wife’s name on the inside cover. He realized that the dusty box had not contained his books from college, but his wife’s, and that he could not recall reading the book the first time because, in fact, he hadn’t.
He quickly phoned his wife and they agreed to call off the divorce. They are now in counseling, working to understand their new circumstances.
For more information on the author, visit http://www.jrobertlennon.com/
Or to hear him read this story on the radio, go here: http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/programs/index_20040925.html