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long road home Signposts and Junctions      


 (this story appears in Old Roads and Shadows, an eBook )


Richard Brautigan wrote an illuminating story titled "The Literary Life in California/1964", where he described browsing about the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco when he noticed a customer standing and scrutinizing a book of Brautigan's poetry. The stranger stood and alternately looked at the cover, read from the pages, and turned the book over in his hands, unaware that the author was but a few feet away, watching quietly. Eventually, the man decided not to purchase the collection of poems; he returned the book to the shelf and moved on. Brautigan ended his tale by walking over to the spot where the man had stood contemplating the book and once there, gathered up the man's "reluctance" that was lying on the floor and took it home with him to fashion into a story.

That story has aroused my imagination anew and here in Los Angeles, some 47 years after it first appeared, I sit thinking about the literary life in California in 2011. I currently have several eBooks for sale, digital editions available for download on the internet. As a digital volume has no physical form, I will never stand within the venerable City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and watch a potential buyer fondle one of my books and rifle through the pages searching for a snippet of prose before they return the book to the rack and depart.

Yet a discernible "reluctance" remains. In the digital world of eBooks, customers can peruse a cover-image and download several chapters at no cost, samples to read in the anonymous comfort of wherever they might currently be in the world. I logon to my publisher and find the number of books I have sold and compare that against the number of free excerpts that people have transferred. This is the tangible remainder, the large number of sample downloads is a new and manifest form of digital reluctance, that I gather up and fashion into a story today, here in the great City Lights of Cyberspace bookstore.

Los Angeles, CA
April 2011