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An elderly collector of second-hand books wrestles with his unusual ability to "read" the lives of his books' previous owners... and with one unique book he can't seem to read.
Lewis' book collection comprised more than five thousand volumes. Each contained at least two stories—one told by an author, and one told by a person who was just living their life with no notion that anyone would ever hear their story. Lewis had long ago gotten over the sensation of voyeurism. They were just stories.
Sometimes, though, he worried that these stories had become a sort of counterfeit life, a replacement for ordinary social interaction, an empty substitute for "real people." Perhaps he had become an observer of life, rather than a participant, but what of it? Real people could be so difficult to deal with and understand but his stories always played out effortlessly and in such rich detail. It was better than the real thing. Better than real people.
And they were real, too, weren't they? The people in his stories? Sometimes he wasn't certain. Perhaps he was making the stories up there on the spot and experiencing them as some form of elaborate daydream or hallucination. If so, he was not merely substituting one reality for another—in fact, his reality would be rendered completely fictional. But hadn't he read once that made-up stories were truer than true stories?
Lewis sighed heavily and frowned. The answer was in this book. He just knew it somehow. He picked up the thin leather volume and gave it a puzzled look. If they were just daydreams, then what made this book any different? Why couldn’t he read it? Oh, of course he could read it in the conventional manner, but that wasn’t the point, was it?
"The Book Reader," he said out loud. Leaning against the table, he gripped the book firmly and closed his eyes. He concentrated on the feel of it, the weight of it, the smell of it. Nothing. Rain pelted the roof of his apartment and a slight flickering from the lamps followed another loud crash of thunder.