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Covers. Titles. Chapters. Human Beings. Human Books.

Covers. Titles. Chapters. Human Beings. Human Books.

Covers. Though well taught never to judge a book that way, it was the cover of Isabel Allende's book that attracted me. Mellow bright shades and the woman nestled in her scarf in the corner. A novel in Spanish, it had been a long time. Three years after leaving Spanish filled days behind in Guatemala, I worried that I no longer could, at least not without great difficulty, read such a book. I worried. What did that say about what I had lost by returning home? I wondered. What might I not have ever had?

Titles. “Más Alla del Invierno.” The novel included escaped dictatorships in Chile, immigration reform hanging around a young Guatemalan woman's neck, a man with a Jewish father as the voice in his disconnected son’s head as humanity’s purpose to help, because in former years they were the group threatened. The novel’s human situation was ideal, though the story of a dead body found in a car trunk, a bit farfetched for me. In my own head and writing, this is the thickness that settles, a cloud.

"Fog isn't a cloud," my dad said.

Story? Situation? Which do I have? Which can I tell? To be utterly cliché, what’s in a name?

"But I like the idea that I am walking in a cloud," I replied. Like my willingness to rename white air, the question wasn't if I could read the novel or not, but whether or not my Spanish language smoothed out during my Guatemalan experience was a living part of me or not. I walked back to the desk to check out the book. To my right was the larger than life flat screen television rotating through upcoming programs. "Human Library," the announcement read. "Don't judge a book by its cover."

Chapters. For the first pages, I read slowly making sure I had the time and the energy. I was afraid if I didn't allot an entire hour, I wasn't building stamina. I was concerned if I wasn't able to focus all my attention on the words, all meaning would be lost. My diligence to define beginnings and endings marginalized the book. I soon left the novel behind to speed through other necessary titles connected to other tasks more practical, not the work of attempting to hold onto pieces of me. The renewal reminder for the novel arrived in my e-mail.

Covers. I renewed the book. Days later I encountered the book on another shelf in the library, in another form. Multiple other forms in fact. English. Large Print. "The Winter Within," its cover read in barely there shades of white and pink. It looked like an old lady book. I felt nothing of Lucia's character that shone out in the geometric color of the novel on my chair at home. I laughed to myself. I would never have picked this book up this way. "Mas alla del invierno", I rolled the Spanish title around in my chest. They didn't match. I slid the final book I was shelving between slippery hard covers and asked "I wonder which title she wrote first." Not the titles. Not the covers. Not for me, but. . . Which title did she write first? Did she translate the title herself? She must prefer one over the other. How does she feel about the other one? Allende is a bestselling author, could she have had no control over the translated title? So what hope do the rest of us have?

Titles. The more times the question occurred to me, the more it mattered. It mattered like the way it mattered that Spanish language needed to remain cut into my bone rising to leave the indentation of woven strings in my guipil. I helped a Spanish speaking patron and my colleague said, "I forgot you spoke Spanish. It surprised me when it came out of your mouth so easily." There is perhaps more to me than I see. There is perhaps more to me when encountered in alternate spaces. The large screen behind the desk flickered listing book after book recommendation accompanied by staff photos. Then, "Human Library", "Check out a human book and learn about someone who is different than you." Or maybe another "you" that you are.

Chapters. A confidence, a warmth for the words, a summer to plagiarize Albert Camus, seeped into my fingers through the pages. Over the weekend I sped through the novel letting my eyes hook pieces together in the words and feathered edges of the pages. The story, the situation, the words were all me. I need not have doubted because I am what I always was, what I worked to be, what I chose to be, despite the cover. The next weekend, for the first time, three years after returning from Guatemala, I felt comfortable wearing my guipil.

Covers. Titles. Chapters. Human Beings. Human Books.

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