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July 15, 2023

How I Time-Travel

I don’t analyze the used book I buy because I don’t want to ruin the event, and by the time I get home, I’ve even forgotten about the possibility of the event, and the book ends up on the shelf, sometimes for months, and when I begin reading it at last, nothing happens yet—certainly not the event I forgot about—just the story, figurative language, theme, and then, with some luck, awe, awe at how inspiration turns a writer into a perceiver, and when that awe strikes me so hard that I have to take a long sigh about humanity, nature, the past—life—then I look at the front of the book and caress it and scan the back of the book and take another long sigh, and then I go to the copyright page and that’s when the event happens. 


Whoooosh: I time-travel.


This 1997 edition of Chekov’s plays—once I saw that year and looked at the font, position, length of the publisher’s back-slashed website on the back of the book, I was instantly watching my friend visit websites written in Times New Roman, embellished with MIDI music and visitor counters, and because his family paid for internet by the hour, mostly I see the darkened monitor dappled in light as he and I play front-yard baseball. The internet was on the periphery of the book and our lives then, and—


If this book came out in June, then my first love was just beginning, when each day started with a marine layer and ended at a clear 74, the dappled light on her forearms while this book was now in the world with us, when I was a mortal worth hailing, and I feel the awe of her lips and laughter, the Hs behind her knees.


The quotes on the back of this book—professors—when professors lent cache, and I see these professors walking across more affordable campuses, assured they teach the Eternal—brick and sculpture and discourse are Eternal, romantic love is Eternal, Humanism eternal, the American Century good, flawed, and Eternal.


My awe at Chekov’s relevant prescience about karma, decadence, upstarts, and collapse does not negatively affect my time-travel but enriches it. Amazon, September 11,, January 6, Heat Domes, doxxing--this copy is not only an artifact of the time that created it but the times that didn’t, and I set the ignorant book against my old heart. 


This copy has a catalog in the back. Check off the books you want, calculate the tax and send a check.


I love these order forms because I like to imagine there is someone out there steadfastly working this analog job. They take lunch on a Central Park bench with self-possession and palpable (but not cloying) agape. Then they dutifully return to their responsibility, which isn’t actually getting books to people but preserving how times feel—


Because this stalwart, like all us readers, knows literature is history. 


by Sean Riley

Sean Riley is a teacher and writer from Seattle, Washington. His works on school integration and teaching during crisis have been published in The Stranger and Cagibi. His most recent piece--Public Service During the Fall--earned third-place in Humans of the World’s Spring Poetry Contest. His work and philosophy can be found at

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