The Book I Will Write #51: The Silverfish Theme Park

THE BOOK I WILL WRITE by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. THE BOOK I WILL WRITE is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment, and is living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. Now he’s being stalked by the murderous son of Reid Markham, the author of The Devil’s Good Graces, a book Fleming is trying to track down and read as an influence to his own, still unwritten, novel. Annie, the editorial assistant, has been filling in at Knopf while her boss is in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct. She’s trying to help Fleming track down the book.


Dear John Henry,

Ms. Hollymore’s a book hoarder. That much is obvious when you walk into her apartment. She has plenty of bookshelves, but they’re afterthoughts. They’re the Reserve Desk. The stacks are on her floor. Some of the stacks are stacks of open books. Like she didn’t have a bookmark, so she just placed one open book on top of another. Some of the stacks are arranged in precise towers of same-size books. Some spiral up like DNA strands. They’re on tables, desks, and chairs wherever you look. It’s like an earth-toned crystal garden grown out of control. They line the hallways, almost to the ceiling in spots. I tiptoed around her apartment, afraid if I elbowed one book, I’d be crushed by ten thousand. I worried the floor would give way.

She told me she had a dog. I don’t know how a dog could survive in there. And where did the dog go? Did Seamus take it? Did you? On top of one stack, I found a framed photo of Ms. Hollymore and her dog. Except Ms. Hollymore looked younger, so that must have been her old dog, the one she lost.

There are books on the kitchen counters. Books in the kitchen cabinets. I didn’t check the fridge. I was afraid to open it. Closets full of books. A silverfish theme park in every room.

So where am I supposed to find a copy of The Devil’s Good Graces? Where do I even start?

The bedroom, of course. Reid Markham was her lover. I don’t know the whole story. I wish I did. I’m thinking it would explain a lot.

There’s only one bedroom, but it took me a while to find it. The door was shut, and I thought it was a closet.

But look! In the bedroom there aren’t any books! Does that make any sense? Is it her refuge from books?

No, I decided. It’s a shrine for just one. The one I wanted. And there on the nightstand was a book-sized rectangle in the dust. The shape of a 1980s hardcover.

It must have been taken recently, like maybe in the last few days. Or hours.

The thought creeped me out. Someone might still be in the apartment, crouching behind a stack of books with a sharpened steel bookmark to slip between my ribs.

I stiff-walked, breath held, back out of the room, through the kitchen, down the hall, through the living room with its funhouse of stacks. I almost made it.

Actually, I did make it. Except, in trying to shut the door softly and quickly, I did the opposite. Maybe I’d already jarred loose a stack and it would have happened anyway.

Behind the door, a hard rain turned to thunder, and the thunder became an earthquake, and I thought the whole building might collapse. I tripped my way down the stairs and ran two blocks before I called a cab.

Here I am back at the office.

It must have been Seamus who stole the book. Who else?

Did he know I wanted it? Did he know I stole his man-purse to get Ms. Hollymore’s keys?

I’m sure of it. And the only way I’m going to get the book for you is if I call Seamus, fess up, and cut some kind of deal with him.

Am I willing to do this for you? For someone I’m pretending I used to be in love with?

Depends on how important my false memories are to my general well-being. But I suppose that’s the whole point of false memories.

So I probably will.