Photo: Steve Weigle drives the bookmobile for Portland Public Library.
I read a book I loved and looked up the author. Big mistake. What? He was born a year after me and he’s published 50 books! Then I remembered: quantity wasn’t the important thing. I recalled what Nancy Werlin said in an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith:
There’s a sort of fable I tell myself. I imagine that a single reader has picked up one of my books for free at the city dump. The book has lost its cover and front matter, so that there’s no sign of my name anywhere. The reader reads the book. The reader loves the book—for a while, it’s her favorite and her friend. She never knows who I am, and I never know about her. And let’s suppose further that this is the only reader there ever is, for that book. Let’s say that nobody else ever liked it. But for this one reader, for whatever reason, this was the book. In terms of my purpose in the world, this has to be enough.
I love that—the idea that if even one reader loved your book, that’s enough. And I’m lucky, because my books have been that book for some kids. The book. And I actually know about it, thanks to their grown-ups. One friend told me my first book was her granddaughter’s favorite, the one that helped her discover she liked reading. Another friend said my second book was his daughters’ go-to read-aloud.
And Steve Weigle, my coworker at Portland Public Library, told me about the boy on the bookmobile. Over and over, the boy climbs up the big steps of the bookmobile and asks for my third book, “The Waffler.” He’s already read it. But he wants to read it again.
Do I wish my books were best-sellers? Sure! But what if that wasn’t a choice? What if the only choice was between not being a writer, and writing a book that only one kid would read? But it would the book for that kid. Would I choose to do all that work for a single reader? One boy on a bookmobile?
In a single heartbeat.