If anything, Binny read The Madrona Heroes, the book of which she was the star, even faster than she had read Michel’s book, Paris in the Twentieth Century. The man had left some time ago, and apparently Marvin, the Paranoid Android had decided to slink off somewhere as well.
Maybe it was narcissistic, but there was something undeniably exciting in getting to read a full length novel all about oneself. Binny would cheer when she did something amazing, and cringe when she knew she was making a mistake. But nowhere could she really argue with what had happened. The book was so clearly… her.
But reading not just about yourself, but about a future that you hadn’t yet experienced was positively surreal. Not that Binny really knew what it meant to describe the events in the book as her future. Wasn’t her real future here in the Stacks? It was all very confusing. Binny didn’t imagine there was a book detailing what would happen to her in the Stacks. That might clear things up a bit.
“It’s hard to stop isn’t it.”
Binny looked up from her spot on the couch. She hadn’t yet stretched her legs from the curled up position in which she’d been reading. It was Michel. He was smiling gently at her.
“Yeah. It is,” Binny said, smiling back at Michel.
“I keep re-reading mine,” Michel said.
“Really? But yours… well… it ends so sadly.”
“Yeah. That’s what I like about it.”
“You like being sad?” Binny asked.
“At least when I’m reading the book I’m feeling something,” Michel answered.
“But your book of poetry, Hopes, was rejected by every Paris publisher, and you never even reunited with Lucy!”
“Not all books end happily.”
Binny and Michel sat for a moment in silence. Contemplating.
“Michel. Can I ask you a question?”
“And I don’t mean to be insulting.”
“Don’t worry Binny. Even being insulted would be more interesting than this existence.” Michel’s smile reminded Binny of her older brother Zach in those scant moments when he was being big brotherly towards her.
“Do you ever worry that people won’t like your book and will stop reading it?”
“I wish they would.”
“Wait, what? You wish people would stop reading your book?”
“Binny, my author, he is very well known. He wrote some incredibly popular books. Perhaps you’ve heard of them: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea? Around the World in Eighty Days? Journey to the Center of the Earth? His books have as they say, stood the test of time.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard of them.” Binny looked deflated.
“What’s wrong? Does my author’s success make you sad?”
“Oh. No. I’m sorry.” Binny caught herself. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m happy for you of course.”
“Binny, what is worrying you?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not something you would understand.”
Michel lowered his head, and an uncharacteristic grin spread across his face. “Try me.”
Binny looked in his eyes for a moment and made a decision. “You, and that robot, wish people would stop reading your books, but you’re gonna be here forever because you have popular books or popular authors or whatever. From what I can tell, my author’s books won’t stand the test of time. I’m afraid that nobody will like them.”
Michel laughed out loud and shook his head. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, Katniss keeps saying my book isn’t very good. And then Marvin said it was frivolous. But then he said that people like frivolous. And, well, I just don’t know what to think.”
“But Binny, you’re ignoring the most important opinion of all?”
It took Binny a moment to register what Michel was asking.
Michel continued, “You just finished it, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” Binny’s cheeks pinkened.
“And?” Michel asked.
“Well, I’m not sure my opinion counts.”
“My god Binny, why wouldn’t your opinion count?”
Binny became more animated. “’Cause it’s all about me. Who doesn’t love reading all about themselves?”
Michel laughed again. This time a warm rumble. “I see your point. But that aside, did you like it? The book?”
Binny flushed. “Yeah. I loved it. It was exciting, and I got to do all this amazing stuff.” Binny thought for a moment, “There were sad parts, and scary parts too. But in the end, really good.”
“What more can you ask for from a book? Sad, scary, exciting, and really good – sounds like a wonderful book to me.”
“Thanks. But I’m not even sure it matters how good it is if nobody reads it. If that happens…” Binny’s voice trailed off.
“If that happens what?” Michel prodded.
“Well, you wouldn’t know. Your author is famous, and people will be reading your books for centuries I’m sure.”
Michel looked oddly depressed at the prospect. “Oh really? You think I don’t know what happens when people stop reading your book?”
“How would you know?”
“There was a long period between when my book was written and first read, and when it was eventually published.” Michel explained.
“Yes, I actually knew that.”
“Well then you also know that the publisher who read it? That publisher who’s reading of it was directly responsible for me being here in the Stacks? He hated it. Despised the book. He called it ‘lacklustre and lifeless’”.
Binny’s mouth made an ‘O’. “Wow.”
“Yes. Pretty rough.”
Michel continued, “The publisher sent it back to my author who promptly locked it away in a safe where it sat for over a century.” Michel nodded solemnly as he spoke. “You’d be surprised how few people read your book when the only copy is sealed in a safe.”
“Soon after my author locked my book in his safe, I disappeared from the Stacks. I was only here for a little while. And I only returned to the Stacks after my author’s grandson got my book published. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today.” Michel looked bittersweet as he described his fate.
Binny looked deflated.
“It’s alright Binny. Don’t be sad. I escaped from the locked safe. I’m like a literary Houdini!”
Binny smiled weakly but didn’t look mollified. After a moment, Binny asked, “Did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?” Now it was Michel’s turn to be confused.
“You know. When you ‘disappeared’ the first time? When your book got locked in the safe? Did it hurt?”
Michel searched his thoughts for a moment and then answered. “It was a long time ago Binny, and things were different here then.” Michel paused for a moment, and then finally answered Binny’s question. “Yes. It hurt.”
Michel regretted what he’d said as soon as he saw Binny’s face fall. “Don’t worry about that. It’s not something you need to be concerned about.”
Binny wasn’t listening though her sobs were slowly decreasing in intensity.
“Trust me Binny. It’s not an issue.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I read your book Binny Jordan. And not only was it wonderful and entertaining, but you were fantastic in it.”
Binny did her best to smile. At least for the moment, she felt a little better.
By the time Michel left, the library had gotten much busier. Binny wasn’t sure exactly what time it was, but she was pretty sure she didn’t have enough time to go back to the house before she had to go to work.
Binny thought about her discussion with Michel. She’d spent so much time worrying about potentially disappearing from the Stacks, that she was only now noticing some new things about what Michel had said.
As sad as Binny was to consider the possibility of the end of her existence at the hands of uninterested readers, Michel didn’t seem entirely upset at the prospect. In fact, he didn’t seem particularly thrilled to be in the Stacks at all. Did he want to leave? Did he want to go into the fire? And what had he meant when he’d said the Stacks were ‘different back then’.
Binny thought about Michel’s book and how it ended. And to Michel’s Lucy who he never found again in the book. Maybe that’s why he seemed indifferent. In Binny’s book, things weren’t all sunshine and flowers, but, still, Binny had been a hero. Binny smiled to herself at the thought.
It made Binny want to cheer up Michel. If she wanted to exist here in the Stacks, why wouldn’t he? Of course he would. Maybe she could do something nice for him. She’d have to think on what she could do to cheer him up.
“You got here early.”
Binny looked up to see Hermione’s smiling face and realized she was closer to the start of work than she had realized, having spent half the night at the library. “You have no idea.”