"Can I help you?" he asked, standing up. The man looked at Peter through round gold-rimmed glasses. He looked to be about thirty and had blond, almost white, perfectly straight and groomed hair hanging to his shoulders and an equally pale beard sticking several inches straight out from his face. He smiled through his beard and Peter's first thought was that he looked like a Muppet. Peter couldn't help but smile back.
"I have a book that needs repair," said Peter.
"It has to be referred by library personnel," said the man, his smile fading and his tone of voice indicating that Peter was not the first person to come barging into the Conservation department uninvited.
"I am library personnel," said Peter. "I work in circulation."
"Put it over there," said the man with a sigh, nodding to a high pile of damaged books on a table near the door and turning his attention back to his work.
"When do you think it will be done?" asked Peter.
"We're running about six months right now, assuming nothing major comes down from Special Collections."
"Six months," said Peter. "But I have?.?.?.?? I mean, we have a cli ent?.?.?.?That is, a student who needs this book in a couple of days. It just needs the cover attached." Peter held up the book in one hand and its wayward front cover in the other. The man in the lab coat turned back toward him and considered both the book and Peter for a moment. His face softened and his smile returned.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll put it in the girlfriend pile." He took the book and cover from Peter.
"The girlfriend pile?"
"Usually when a guy comes in here in a rush to get something repaired it's because his girlfriend needs it. What can I say, I'm a sucker for love and chivalry and all that. How about I have it for you Monday afternoon?"
"Monday would be great," said Peter, and he backed slowly out of the room, watching the young man return to his oatmeal paste.
Back in the stacks Peter could not get the Conservation department out of his mind. Suddenly he was seeing damaged books everywhere he looked: a frayed spine here, a torn endpaper there. He had thought of books before only as his shield, but now they seemed to be taking on lives of their own, not so much as works of literature or history or poetry, but as objects, collections of paper and thread and cloth and glue and leather and ink.
When he returned to the Conservation department on Monday afternoon, the book was waiting for him on the counter near the door. Peter inspected the front cover, the spine, and the front endpapers. "I can't even tell it was ever detached," he said.
"What can I say, I do good work," said the man in the lab coat.
"I don't suppose you ever let students work in here," said Peter.
"We sometimes have a student intern," said the man, "but they usually come from Special Collections."
"Yeah, you know, the top floor. The Devereaux Room."
"What's the Devereaux Room?"
"You've never been to Special Collections?"
"No," said Peter.
"You're a book lover, right?"
"Absolutely," said Peter, who had never thought of himself as a book lover before this moment.
"Well, if you love books, you're going to adore the Devereaux Room," said the man. "Listen, I think there's a work-study position available up there right now. I could put in a good word for you with Francis."
"Francis Leland, the head of Special Collections. I'll tell him we've got a budding bibliophile on our hands and maybe he'll take you on."
"That would be great," said Peter, wondering what exactly one did in Special Collections.
Excerpted from The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett. Copyright © 2013 by Charlie Lovett. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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