Today I went over to the local big bookstore, in search of Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul", but instead I found myself with his novel "Snow" - which I've also wanted to read - in my hand. I was ready to leave, and then I turned back to the in-store computer which had helped me locate "Istanbul" (shelved in the Middle East History section.)
"Maybe I'll just look my book up and see if by any chance it's come in," I thought to myself. I typed and clicked, and to my surprise, it said, "In store. Church History and Theology." Somewhat mechanically, I followed the aisles down to the religion section, and started scanning for Church History. There was the section, yes, alphabetical by author, OK, up on the wall to the left, there are the "A's" -- and there it was. My heart did a little flip, and then I stood there and stared, very quietly, without moving.
It was a happy moment when my publisher handed me the first copy of my book, in Columbus, Ohio, this spring at General Convention. But it wasn't the thrilled-to-the tips of-my-toes sort of feeling I've heard other authors talk about, nor did I expect it to be. J. and I had designed the cover, and I had already looked at a lot of page proofs, so the visual appearance was no surprise - plus, I've spent my professional life designing things for print, and holding the final copies isn't a new experience for me - in fact it's often accompanied by a huge sigh of relief that the whole production process is finally sucessfully over. I was also in the throes of recent grief. When the box of books arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago, that was a little anticlimatic, because I had already seen them in Columbus and then again in Montreal. I didn't really have any feeling of unfulfilled anticipation and excitement today...but I guess I was meant to feel something extra-special sometime, and this was when it happened.
Maybe it was because I was all alone, browsing in a bookstore - that most ordinary and familiar place, but one that still retains a kind of magic for me. There is always some sense of quest, or of finding something I don't expect at all; of appreciation for the works on the shelves; and of being in a place where, from a young age, I've always cherished a small hope of finding a work of my own on the shelf too. There, today, it was.
I stood, and looked, and thought. And then I reached up and took the book - one of two copies - off the shelf, and placed it facing out. I stepped back, and looked for the first time at the other books keeping it company, to the right. Only two other authors in all the rest of that short shelf: St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Augustine. I had to smile at that. Then I just looked a little bit longer, wrapping up the memory of something that has never happened before in my life, and will never happen to me in the same way again. And then I walked up to the counter and paid for "Snow."