Fifty Shades of Grey is currently hot. The newest James Patterson book is always hot. For reasons I don't fully understand, Amish romances continue to be hot. And for six long weeks this summer, every book in my store was hot. Not because of a sudden rush of customers, but because the air conditioner spewed its last breath of cool air in early June and it took six weeks for my landlord to get a new one installed and working.
As someone who grew up without air conditioning, I thought I'd be fine. I'd been through something like this before.
Years ago, when my daughters and I moved into a house with central air, we basked in the controlled comfort of cool air for several summers before the whole system quit working.
It turned out to be a major breakdown of something called the compressor, which was going to cost about the same as buying a whole new system. Because that seemed like a foolish purchase to make in late August, I decided to finish off the summer with open windows and fans.
Four years later, our windows were still open, the fans were still going, and the compressor was still not fixed.
My daughters watched me leave for an air conditioned office every morning and argued that my own daily comfort was letting me sacrifice theirs. They might have been right. But I didn't think so at the time. I thought that living without air conditioning was a way of capturing some of the unknown promise that the endless days of summer used to hold.
I thought I was bringing back simpler days where the haves were defined by air conditioning and color TV's, where restaurants were chosen for how cool they were kept rather than the quality of their food, where public pools were crowded, where nothing tasted better than a glass of ice water, where the heat of summer was a reminder of endless days filled with unknown possibilities.
At the time, I had just read the novel All Summer Long, by Bob Greene, where three middle aged friends from high school take the summer off and travel aimlessly around the states in an attempt to recreate the open-eneded promise that defined their youthful summers.
It's a book that I often put out on my "Favorites" shelf at the store even though no one ever seems to choose it. It made me hungry for my own youthful summers and wanting to share their promise with my daughters. Without the steady hum of fans, and the cool breezes and night sounds from open windows, I was afraid that the promise of summer could slip by them unnoticed.
Only when we were getting ready to sell the house did I finally and relucantly fix the air conditioning. My daughters were quick to close the windows, put away the fans, and bask in the controlled comfort for our few remaining days.
I'm realistic enough to know that they don't look back on those days of no air conditioning with fondness. And now, looking back myself, I'd be willing to bet that those three men in Bob Greene's book were riding in a car with air conditioning.
This summer in the bookstore convinced me. It was endless. But without promise. Indeed, the six weeks of no air conditioning just about did me in.
The first sign that I might not be revisiting my idyllic vision of open windows and screen doors was when I realized that none of my windows opened and my door didn't have a screen. When I propped it open with a heavy book, the only thing that came in was a bird looking for refuge from the heat. He was happy to leave. As were most customers.
The second sign was when an elderly customer passed out when paying for his books and I found the store crowded for the first time in weeks. Unfortunately, not with customers, but with a fire engine and ambulance out front and ten firefighters and EMT's crowded inside with a stretcher that couldn't get past the piles of books. Luckily, the customer had already paid for his books and I made a sale, and the problem turned out to be heart related rather than heat related. When his medicine was adjusted, he was fine, thankful, and back for more books.
There weren't a lot of people lingering in the stacks this summer and the dedicated readers that did come in picked out books so fast that they didn't even notice that I was shedding more and more clothes as the days went by.
It's all been more than enough to convince me to put to rest my longing for the simpler days of open doors and wafting breezes.
For reasons I'll probably never fully understand, Amish romances are still hot.
But I no longer am. It feels a little idyllic.